No Cubs-related topic has gotten more play over the last month or so than Jason Heyward’s swing. Hell, we’ve even had a dude creeping around Sloan Park’s backfields to capture video of the right fielders BP drills. Hope that the big-ticket right fielder could return to form offensively ran high as his teammates joined him in Mesa, where Heyward had purchased a home in order to remain close to the Cubs’ facilities all winter.
And then the games started. Not even the residual happiness from the World Series title and knowledge that you can’t draw conclusions from a few at-bats stopped people from rendering early verdicts on the new swing. Never mind that Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Miguel Montero and Ben Zobrist have combined for only two hits in 32 at-bats thus far, or that Matt Szczur has five knocks all by himself.
But with another 0-for-2 effort Friday, Heyward has come up empty 13 times and the hand-wringing has commenced. Not for him personally, mind you, as that particularly annoying facet of his swing seems to be gone. Results, particularly those in a small sample, can often belie the effectiveness of the process, and that may well be the case with Heyward. That’s certainly what his manager thinks.
“I like the way he’s getting the bat started,” Joe Maddon said Friday from Sloan (video below). “Right now, Jayward’s really getting that nice, loose feeling the way he’s starting the bat. And when you do that and you’re on time and you get your hands involved, good things are going to happen.
“I am really focused on how he’s starting because I think that’s going to permit the end result that we’re looking for. Then you start to get it. You can do that in practice from now until 2020 in Spring Training. And if it’s practice, that’s one thing. The best teacher of this game is 9 innings of baseball. You gotta get it out there where it’s really occurring in real time. And I’m seeing it now. I think he’s taking what he’s been practicing into the game.”
And that’s all you can ask for or expect at this point, for the player to continue to trust the process. He must be willing to push through the struggles — however minor they might be right now — and not try to go back to the drawing board again and again. For those who haven’t followed Heyward’s career, this isn’t the first time he’s tinkered with his swing. It’s not even the third or fourth.
In an excellent piece from a short while back, Brendan Miller looked at the impact of the Cubs’ mental skills program and how it allows players to have the confidence to adopt changes in their approach. In Heyward’s case, that means not only adjusting his swing but also staying the course and remaining confident in the face of lagging results. We saw last season how his (presumed) mental anguish manifested itself in a swing that was a series of disparate parts, none of which were moving in concert.
Heyward doesn’t need to add a Silver Slugger to his Gold Gloves in order to provide value to the Cubs. Heck, he was a big part of last year’s title despite an abysmal offensive campaign. But if he can just make a positive regression toward being an average hitter, the impact would be tremendous. And I’ve got a pretty good feeling that he’ll be able to match that career 111 wRC+ this season, if not better it.
So even though Maddon is focused on how Heyward is starting his swing, fans need not be concerned with how the outfielder is starting his spring. If he’s still hitless in May, then we can talk.