The Phillies are young, the Phillies are starting to get exciting, and the Phillies have a lot of money to spend. That makes a lot of people gravitate to the youngest big name free agent on the market in Jason Heyward. There is a lot to like about Heyward, he is 26, he has put up 6 wins multiple times in his career, and did I mention he was young? We all know that he is going to cost a ton of money, on the surface he should totally be worth it. So here is why he isn’t in some quick points.
- The value with the bat is poor compared to over big money guys. His 121 wRC+ was tied for his highest in the past 4 seasons (with 2012) and he hasn’t hit more than 14 HR in the past 3 seasons. That 121 wRC+ placed him 16th among qualified major league outfielders in 2015, and 25th among outfielders with at least 300 PAs. So he is not a big lineup carrying bat.
- The bat has not been getting better, it has been getting different. Over the past 4 seasons, Heyward has swung at fewer and fewer pitches (46.9% in 2012, 41.7% in 2015), and he is making contact even more often (75.4% in 2012 and 84.2% in 2015). As we expect his K% has dropped dramatically as well, falling from 23.3% to 14.8%. But also his walk rate has dropped after making in 2013 and 2014, with him walking in 9.2% of his PAs in 2015.
- The power just isn’t coming. To along with the higher contact rate, Heyward set a career high for ground balls in 2015 posting a 57.2% rate (career rate 49.9%). He posted a career low fly ball rate (while keeping his HR/FB rate near career levels). He did hit a career high in doubles, but his second lowest HR total (13) of his career (behind 2014’s HR/FB influenced 11). The consequence was a .146 ISO with a 12.0% HR/FB rate. The one bonus of all of this is that he posted a career high BABIP which lead to a career high in batting average and OBP.
- The value is all in the glove. Here is how Fangraphs broke down Heyward’s 6 fWAR last year
- 14.6 batting runs above average
- 7.0 baserunning runs above average
- 22.6 fielding runs above average
- -6.2 positional runs above average
- 17.8 runs converting average to replacement
- 1.2 runs to even out all the modeling errors
- That means Heyward posted 38 runs above average in in 2015 and 22.6 of them were his glove above average in right field. That is a lot of faith in defensive metrics as currently constructed. A couple of people (@realandrewgrant and @Odinsbeard) have worked on using Inside Edge’s fielding numbers to find plays above average based on expected play outcomes. Heyward’s 2015 still comes in with an impressive 6.6 plays above average, which may end up being closer to 10 or so runs depending on the value of the plays (turning a double into an out). But that is almost a win less on defense, which puts his peak more in the 5 win range.
- Defense and speed are the first things to go, which hits right into Heyward’s strengths, so there will be some future declines even though he such a smart player.
- Finally, the money. It is going to be a ton. To come to Philly Heyward is likely going to want a 3 or 4 year opt out to hit the market again. To buy him out of that would take the Phillies replacing that second contract, so 10 years is not off the table. If do go with the buyout route, you are looking at a 3-4 year deal with the team really in contention for 1-2 years of the 3 year or 2-3 of the 4 year. That is a lot to pay and risk (that he is bad and you pay the rest of the deal) for not many year of impact.
In the end Heyward is a risky player that has his most value to a team looking for 2016 impact that can walk away after a buyout while getting full value. For the Phillies to outbid everyone they are going to put themselves in a compromising position with a very good player who has little room to be a truly great player. It isn’t my money so I won’t be too upset if they go all in, but it doesn’t look like a rational deal to me.