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Jason Heyward thriving in new leading role

Aug 15, 2013, 6:45 PM EDT

Jason Heyward AP

Braves outfielder Jason Heyward was carrying a sub-.700 OPS near the end of July when Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez decided to move him from the #2 spot in the lineup, where he had hit for most of the season, to the lead-off spot. Despite owning baseball’s best record at 74-47, the Braves have lacked a “true” lead-off hitter for most of the season. Andrelton Simmons (.643 OPS) has led off 62 times and Jordan Schafer (.828 OPS) has led off 20 times but has also been injured for most of the season. Even B.J. Upton led off 13 times at the beginning of the season.

On July 27, Gonzalez moved Heyward up a spot in the lineup and it has been just what the doctor ordered. In 18 games since, Heyward is hitting .382/.455/.603. He has had multiple hits in six out of his last seven games. The Braves, meanwhile, have won 16 of those games (89%), averaging 5.4 runs per game. Their first place lead in the NL East has increased from 8.5 games to 14.5 games.

Because of his size and power potential, Heyward was never really thought of as a lead-off hitter, but he has the second-best walk-to-strikeout ratio on the team (0.67). He trails Simmons, but has reached base overall nearly seven percent more often, which is what really matters. Designating Heyward as the lead-off man was certainly not an obvious move, but considering how well things have gone for the Braves since, it was a necessary move.

  1. rpink24 - Aug 15, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    too bad he’s made of glass.

    • Ducky Medwick - Aug 15, 2013 at 7:38 PM

      His appendix lacks the will to not rupture.

      • bigmeechy74 - Aug 15, 2013 at 10:38 PM

        that’s hilarious

      • mrpinkca - Aug 16, 2013 at 2:04 AM

        It’s a good thing he doesn’t play for Kirk Gibson.

        If you want to keep your appendix healthy you need to have grit.

  2. bobulated - Aug 15, 2013 at 7:09 PM

    Don Sutton (yes, I know he’s a huge Braves homer, after all they do sign his checks to talk about these things) mentioned that it’s a tough adjustment for a starting pitcher to immediately face a 6’5″ hitter that knows the k zone and can hit for power to start a game. That as a starter, a pitcher is much more used to a smaller, faster player without much power potential that might not do as much damage to early mistakes as the pitcher is getting a “feel” for his stuff in those first few pitches of the game.

  3. scdocal - Aug 15, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    Don Sutton is one of the least “homer” announcers out there but yes he is payed to speak about the Braves both positive and negative. You do realize he worked for the nats a couple years ago. Jason Heyward has been killing it lately. I don’t think it has much to do with batting leadoff. He has crushing balls right at people and now they are finding gaps or going over the fence. I live him as our leadoff guy but I think he is a bandaid until we get a true leadoff guy in this lineup. Simmons may need a couple of years to fully be comfortable at that spot. Either way Braves are rolling so why would you change anything right now.

    • bobulated - Aug 16, 2013 at 12:09 PM

      Lol. I was just trying to head off the critics that would say any quote from a Braves employee was fishy; I agree that Don is one of the more candid local commentators/color guys in the league. Also didn’t say this was ‘why” J-Hay was killing but just an interesting anecdote from HOF starting pitcher verbalizing what a SP is thinking when Heyward walks out to start the game.

  4. dondada10 - Aug 15, 2013 at 7:57 PM

    I personally feel that line-up strategy is the most antiquated strategy in sports. A manger should bat his line-up in order of OPS: highest to lowest.

    The name of the game is run creation. Bat the guy most capable of netting bases first; give him the most at-bats, not the 3rd or 4th most.

  5. scdocal - Aug 15, 2013 at 8:09 PM

    I agree for the most part but you have players like Dan uggla that have a decent OBP but can’t drive in rubs

    • clemente2 - Aug 15, 2013 at 8:54 PM

      Uggla has had runners on 2nd and 3rd this year (one scenario for RBI potential) about 85 times (117th in MLB) and hit horribly. In 2012, it was 130 times (77th in MLB) and he hit great.

      But, getting RBIs is a function of who is on base in front of you (how many, speed, etc.) the circumstances of the AB (how many outs, score, defensive alignment, etc.), and other factors. There is no evidence of a ‘getting RBIs’ ability or ‘clutch’ ability–players over time exhibit almost no ability to hit ‘better’ when faced with an RBI potential. See Uggla above. Consistent “RBI men” have consistent opportunities and are good hitters anyway.

  6. misterj167 - Aug 15, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    That top three can be pretty devastating: Heyward, Upton and Freeman. When J-Up is on a roll he’s a holy terror, and yes I know he’s streaky. And I still think Freeman is the Braves’ best overall hitter this year, Chris Johnson notwithstanding.

    Also, both Heyward and J-Up have speed, and as someone once famously said, speed never slumps.

    No team is unbeatable of course, we’ve seen great pitchers shut down this Braves lineup, look at what Cole Hamels did to them the other day. But if you can put up runs right away and drive the pitch count up, that’s always a positive.

    The question is how good this lineup will be at manufacturing runs once you get into the playoffs and have to face much better pitching staffs.

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