It’s impossible to chronicle Jason Heyward’s 2023 season with the Dodgers without mentioning his stature. Not necessarily that he’s a 6’5 giant with a commanding presence, but rather how revered he is within the clubhouse.
After two injury-plagued seasons in a row with Chicago, the Cubs released Heyward last November with one season and $22 million remaining on his eight-year contract. The Dodgers in December signed Heyward to a minor league deal, and were only responsible for paying him the major league minimum salary of $720,000 once he made the team.
Freddie Freeman, who was drafted in the second round by Atlanta in 2007, one round after the Braves drafted Heyward, has been great friends with Heyward for years. Freeman lobbied the Dodgers to sign Heyward, and explained their relationship on the On Base with Mookie Betts podcast in October.
“I never talked about really the baseball player Jason Heyward, I always talk about the person Jason Heyward,” Freeman told Betts. “Because if anybody comes in contact with Jason, for me it’s a life-changing moment for a lot of people. The wisdom, the care, the love that he has for each person that he comes across.”
Heyward made the team in spring training, which was going to happen if he showed any kind of pulse at all. On opening day, Heyward presented each Dodgers player and coach with a 2020 bottle of cabernet sauvignon from Caymus Vineyards. You might recognize this vintage, which retails from between $70-90 per bottle, as the same gift the Oakland A’s gave to Tigers star Miguel Cabrera in September during his retirement tour.
Two weeks into the season, on Jackie Robinson Day at Dodger Stadium, it was Heyward tabbed to speak in front of the Robinson statue in the center field plaza at Dodger Stadium, not just to the Dodgers but to the Cubs as well, who shared in the remembrance.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to be on the same team with Jason. I heard so many things about him, and people talk in this game,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, offering exceedingly high praise for his new outfielder. “He’s still got a charity in Chicago, and he does a lot of stuff off the field. It’s not surprising, his willingness to use his voice and experience to help our ballclub and our organization.”
Heyward quickly earned the Dodgers respect with his presence. But he also impressed with his play, having his best and healthiest season in years.
Heyward hit 15 home runs in 377 plate appearances with the Dodgers, matching his home run total from 2020-22 in 685 PA with the Cubs. His isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) of .205 was his best since 2012. Heyward’s 121 wRC+ was his best over a full season since 2015.
He was relatively consistent, an above-average hitter in each of the three thirds of the season.
Even when he made outs, Heyward made an impact, sometimes literally. He flew out to the warning track in right field on April 28, hitting a 99.9-mph laser even though he was interfered with by Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras, a physical feat that doesn’t even seem possible.
That play did not count as an out. In such a situation, the batter has the option to choose the outcome they prefer, so he reched on catcher’s interference. Heyward recalled hitting a triple off R.A. Dickey in 2012 despite his bat hitting the catcher’s glove en route to his triple.
Heyward had three catcher’s interference calls during the season, which led the team.
Heyward mixed in some time in center field, starting 12 times at the position. He also played for the first time in his career in left field (seven games, two starts, 25 innings) and first base (six games, 11 innings), and he even made his first five career starts at designated hitter in 2023.
Right field is where Heyward made his bones, winning five Gold Gloves at the position. Once Mookie Betts expanded his tool box this season to include both second base and shortstop, that opened up right field for Heyward, who would start there against most right-handed pitchers. He excelled in right field, above average by both Outs Above Average (+6) and Defensive Runs Saved (+5) in his 79 starts and 624 innings at the position.
The left-handed-hitting Heyward was used in a strict platoon role in 2023, with all 98 of his starts coming against right-handed pitchers. He batted only 28 times against southpaws all year, with 92.6 percent of his plate appearances coming against right-handers.
The result was Heyward’s best offensive season in years.
Stats: .269/.340/.473, 121 wRC+, 377 PA, 15 HR, 23 2B, 2.2 fWAR, 1.9 bWAR
Salary: $720,000 (Dodgers portion); Cubs paid the remaining $21.28 million of his salary after releasing him in November 2022.
Game of the year
Heyward tied a Dodgers record with three doubles on September 16 in Seattle, the game in which the Dodgers clinched the division. It was an odd game that was scoreless through nine innings, and the Dodgers won 6-2 in 11 innings.
Heyward had four hits. None of his doubles came with anyone on base, and he was stranded every single time, including after a leadoff double in the fifth. Heyward’s single in the 11th — a 101.5-mph drive that was his fourth triple-digit exit velocity of the night — came with runners on first and second base, but Amed Rosario was held at third base.
The result was Heyward having just the 56th game in Dodgers history with at least four hits with no runs scored and no runs batted in. He’s the only one to do so with three extra-base hits.
Naturally, Heyward was one of two Dodgers veterans (along with Miguel Rojas) to address the team in the clubhouse to start the post-clinch celebration.
“This is one step. Let’s get ‘em.“ pic.twitter.com/TOjzDUiJzL— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) September 17, 2023
Heyward is a free agent.