For some, 2016 Spring Training marks the start of a brand new Major League Baseball season. For others, this time of year marks the height of the presidential primary elections. While many pontificate over who is best suited to lead the country, The Sports Fan Journal fam decided to take a look at which player, manager, or front office member is the best candidate to lead their team to the top of the baseball mountain.
The Chicago Cubs are built to systematically destroy Major League Baseball as we know it. They were scary in their jaunt to a National League Championship Series appearance last season. This offseason they added free agent outfielder Jason Heyward to their lineup and the nightmare that is the Chicago Cubs has its Freddy Krueger.
With Heyward inserted into a lineup that already includes Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Dexter Fowlder and also added Ben Zobrist this winter, the Cubs might literally end franchises.
Heyward spent 2015 in St. Louis and was his usual, consistent self. He clubbed 13 homers, hit .293 and got on base at a .359 clip. The average and on-base percentage were both career highs for Heyward, who the Cubs hope can continue getting on base at that rate.
Some people admonished Heyward for going to an already stacked Cubs team, but the reality is his offensive skill set slots in perfectly at the top of the Cubs’ order. Heyward, despite his six-foot-five-inch, 245-pound frame, is not going to be a power guy that drives in a ton of runs. He did park 27 in 2012, but outside of that, he’s never hit more than 18 in a season.
This is a lineup that includes three 30 home run guys in Rizzo, Bryant and Schwarber. The Cubs are banking Heyward's uptick in average and on-base percentage in 2015 will carry over this season and give their power guys the opportunity to make an even greater impact. And why not? He’s 26, his strikeout rate has decreased every year since 2012, his average has increased every year since 2013 and his OBP has increased every year since 2011. Along with those things, his walk rate and home run totals have been consistent, while his slugging percentage has for the most part stayed level as well. What you see is what you get for the most part with Heyward, and what that is makes him a perfect table setter for a team that is covered when it comes to run production sources, which is what he was miscast as in St. Louis.
Even with his offensive prowess, where Heyward will benefit Chicago the most is defensively. After all, this is the man that posted the third highest defensive runs saved among Major League outfielders last season with 24. He also posted the second highest UZR at 22.6 (UZR quantifies how many runs a player saved compared to the average defender at his position).
If advanced metrics aren’t for you, here’s the layman's version: Jason Heyward is one of the three best defensive outfielders in the Majors. You can glean this just by watching him. He makes good reads with the proper angle and his tremendous strides cover a ton of ground. He changes the game defensively from a position that it is rare to have this happen from, and this ability alone will result in a couple more wins for the Cubs. And even a pair of additional victories in the air tight NL Central could be the difference between the playoffs running through Wrigley Field, and a return to the sudden death situation that is the Wild Card Play-In game.
So, did the Cubs add an MVP candidate? Well, not in a traditional sense. While he is an immensely skilled defender with a terrific approach at the plate that leads him to be very productive, Heyward doesn’t quite get into that MVP conversation due to the fact he will not overwhelm any offensive category. Nobody has ever won an MVP based on defense, and Heyward isn’t elite offensively. Bryant and Rizzo likely make it into this discussion, but the newly acquired outfielder will not.
That being said, he will be an indispensable addition that does exactly what Chicago needs him to do. While Heyward won’t be THE guy on the North Side, his all-around production will be vital. We’ll continue seeing the superb defense in cavernous Wrigley field, and his consistency at the plate will round out this outstanding lineup and elevate Chicago to another year of being legitimate World Series contenders.
Experiment 626. Coffee drinker and cat enthusiast. Pro-avocado. Anti-sac bunt. Habitual bat flipper. Alex Smith apologist. Yoenis Cespedes fanboy.