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Jason Heyward has righted the ship

Despite a rough start in April, Jason Heyward has improved his plate discipline each month, and is on pace for another typically well-rounded season in time for free agency.

Despite a rough start, Heyward is providing typical value in all aspects of the game.
Despite a rough start, Heyward is providing typical value in all aspects of the game.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Heyward had, by all measures, a bad and heavily publicized April. He struck out at a rate that would have been his highest in years (19.3 percent) and walked at a career-worst rate (5.7 percent), all while hitting two-thirds of his batted balls on the ground. His high defensive marks from UZR and adroit baserunning counterbalanced his 69 wRC+ for a positive total fWAR, but there was reason to be concerned about the pending free agent.

Since then, Heyward has improved his plate discipline by the month, on the way to what appears to be a typical well-rounded, productive season (data from FanGraphs).

Month O-Swing% Z-Swing% BB% K%
Mar/Apr 31.2% 59.6% 5.7% 19.3%
May 29.3% 63.9% 7.2% 18.6%
Jun 24.9% 64.2% 6.3% 14.6%
Jul 27.0% 65.8% 10.3% 13.1%
Aug (Thru 8/14) 25.2% 62.5% 10.0% 12.0%

With the exception of a slight bump in July, each month of the 2015 season has seen Jason Heyward swing less at pitches outside of the zone and swing more often at pitches in the zone. Every month (partial month of August included) has seen fewer strikeouts, and his walk rate jumped in July. These clips are helping to propel forward his offensive season after that early slump (data from FanGraphs).

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% SwStr%
2010 24.2% 58.8% 8.0%
2011 28.8% 66.4% 10.0%
2012 32.7% 67.0% 11.4%
2013 28.3% 68.4% 8.8%
2014 28.1% 63.9% 7.7%
2015 27.8% 63.4% 6.6%

In 2015, Heyward is swinging at the fewest balls since his rookie season and is similarly swinging at the fewest strikes (specifically fastballs) since 2010. His swinging strike rate is the lowest it has ever been — as well as the highest contact rate of his career — and he's almost never missing hard pitches (3.95 percent whiff rate, per Brooks Baseball).

2010-2014 2015
Fourseam 0.267 0.424 0.157 0.303 0.294 0.434 0.140 0.304
Sinker 0.309 0.501 0.192 0.318 0.348 0.494 0.146 0.372
Cutter 0.234 0.373 0.139 0.275 0.269 0.385 0.115 0.350

Jason Heyward is eyeing up velocity more effectively this season with strong results. While he is still searching for the power he had in 2012, his current 112 wRC+ puts him back within his typical range. That is not to say he is without his problems — he is just effectively counterbalancing them with his new fastball contact-oriented approach.

His 54.8 percent ground ball rate is still higher than one would like, he's walking at the lowest rate of his career, and his .133 ISO is below league-average (.146). However, Heyward turned 26 exactly one week ago and is just now hitting what is typically thought of as a player's power peak - there's some upside here. That is in addition to being one of the premier defenders in right field by any metric and a superb base-runner.

In terms of his impending free agency, he might not have the skillset to command $25-30 million average annual value, but his proven consistency plus atypical youth makes him a strong candidate to be the next $200 million contract (as has been previously suggested) through the number of years on the deal. If the power does pick up, we are certainly looking at one of the few true five-tool players in the game. Regardless, Heyward has righted the ship after his early season struggles.

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Spencer Bingol is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpencerBingol.