By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Within a clubhouse of loud music and louder personalities, Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward quietly goes about his business each day.
It’s a reflection of the person and player. Heyward is the same steady professional before, during and after each ballgame. That’s only a small part of the reason why manager Joe Maddon has such an appreciation for Heyward, who’s working through a comeback season.
Maddon admires Heyward’s demeanor through the highs and lows of a long season but also the way he plays the game. In fact, he couldn’t pinpoint the one aspect Heyward does best.
“I just think he’s a good baseball player,” Maddon said Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
One could point to the increased hard contact for Heyward, who boasts a slash line of .264/.322/.415 this season. That .737 OPS entering Wednesday’s series finale with the Marlins is a great improvement from his meager .631 mark of last season.
Heyward’s four Gold Glove awards speak for themselves. His defense is outstanding. Maddon placed him among “the top two or three outfielders in baseball” with respect to that defense.
But then there are the little details to his game — that first step to a flyball, his crisp turns around the basepaths, the ability to always make the right play. Maddon went as far to marvel at how Heyward throws the ball with such power and precision with a lesser arm stroke.
Heyward is among the leaders in NL All-Star voting at 498,079 votes, third place behind Nationals superstar Bryce Harper and Rockies rising star Charlie Blackmon. One could take Heyward’s placement with a grain of salt given that teammates Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber (yes, the same Schwarber who’s hitting .162 this season) rank fourth and sixth in the ballot, respectively.
The All-Star Game voting is a fan process, one that often becomes a popularity contest. It doesn’t reward true value to a team. Instead, it’s a nod to names and traditional stats like home runs and RBIs.
Consistency won’t blow anyone away, but there’s a case to be made for Heyward.
Heyward leads all outfielders with eight defensive runs saved this season. His UZR/150, a cumulative measurement of defensive value, ranks second among outfielders.
Heyward is a plus hitter, fielder and baserunner with a plus arm and power now coming off the bat. He’s finally looking like that five-tool player the Cubs awarded $184 million over eight years.
But Chicago knows well the work that has gone into Heyward’s turnaround season. After delivering a rousing rain delay speech during Game 7 of the World Series and earning a championship ring, he traveled down to Arizona with hitting coach John Mallee and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske and went to work on correcting his swing.
Frankly, Heyward was disappointed if not embarrassed about his abysmal 2016 season at the plate, one in which he posted a slash of .230/.306/.325. He’s better than that.
So, he went to work.
“Success pretty much evolves around those moments where nobody else sees you,” Maddon said. “Where you’re doing this work that’s not glamorous, it’s not glorious, you’re not getting credit for it.”
“Give him all the credit in the world.”
All-Star votes work, too.
This is already a game of fan favorites and feel-good stories. By those merits, his comeback efforts are worthy of the praise. But that would be a disservice to Heyward, who’s now among the National League’s most complete outfielders.
Heyward doesn’t have the overwhelming numbers that typically merit a selection to the Midsummer Classic. His placement as an All-Star starter is more of a nod to the Cubs’ popularity and his successes this season. So in casting those votes, acknowledge Heyward’s all-around impact and steady play.
He’s deserving of whatever recognition comes his way.