When the Dodgers signed Jason Heyward to a minor league contract last offseason, there was little anticipation for the five time Gold Glove winner to resurrect his career.
Heyward made the opening day roster after signing as a non-roster invitee.
In 2023, he posted his best regular season offensive numbers since the 2012 season, when he was with the Atlanta Braves. For his efforts both on the field and in the clubhouse as a mentor and leader, he was awarded with the Roy Campanella Award, recognized by his teammates as the Dodgers player who best embodies the spirit and leadership of the late Hall of Fame catcher.
Heyward is once again on the open market, leaving the Dodgers with just one primary right fielder on their roster. With the Dodgers in need of supplemental corner outfield depth, the Dodgers could use a revitalized bat, stellar defense, and clubhouse leadership that Heyward brought with him this past season. Here is why the Dodgers should bring back Heyward for the 2024 season.
A reinvigorated bat
Jason Heyward has never been a true power threat throughout his 14-year career, only surpassing the 20 home run mark twice, hitting 27 in 2012 with Atlanta and 21 in 2019 with the Chicago Cubs, the latter when league-wide home run numbers inflated. In those seasons his at-bats per home run were 21.7 and 24.5, respectively.
In a part-time platoon role, Heyward connected for 15 home runs in just 334 at-bats, equating to a 22.3 AB/HR, the best mark for any Dodger with less than 400 at-bats this season.
When looking at Statcast numbers, Heyward emphasized on driving the ball in the air with more authority, leading to a 112.7 mph max exit velocity and an average launch angle of 15.5 degrees, the highest of his career in the Statcast era. When looking at his barrels— balls hit in play whose comparable hit types in terms of launch angle and exit velocity that lead to a minimum .500 average and 1.500 slugging percentage— Heyward hit a career high 22 barrels and posted a barrel percent of 8.0 percent, the first time in his career he netted over a 5.0 percent clip. This all led to him posting a .204 ISO (isolated power which subtracts batting average from slugging percentage), the highest mark he’s displayed since the 2012 season.
Proven track record of stellar defense
From 2012 to 2017, Jason Heyward was one of the best defensive right fielders in all of baseball, posting a combined 9.0 dWAR, a combined DRS of 113, and a combined UZR of 80.1, winning five Gold Glove awards in the process. While his defense has tapered off in recent years, namely a -1.6 UZR in his final year with the Cubs, Heyward was still a reliable defender this season, posting 3 DRS, 6 outs above average (OAA), and a 0.9 UZR.
In similar fashion to Mookie Betts, Heyward expanded his defensive versatility by playing a position foreign to him at the major league level, as he made six appearances as a first baseman, albeit in an extremely limited sample size.
Leader in the clubhouse
In Game 7 of the 2016 World Series during a rain delay, Heyward delivered a powerful speech that helped Chicago mount a two-run rally in the top half of the tenth inning, ultimately securing the Cubs their first World Series championship in 108 years.
When Heyward inked his deal with the Dodgers, manager Dave Roberts notified him that he would be playing within a platoon role, and Heyward didn’t hesitate to accept his new role. He fully embraced whatever game plan Roberts had for him, notably when he started against Baltimore and was pulled after just one at-bat, where he connected for a home run.
Many Dodgers, including Max Muncy and James Outman, praised Heyward on his leadership abilities, his mentorship, and for picking up the rest of the team when the results aren’t in their favor:
Per Muncy: “He’s such a great guy. He’s so positive. He’s always there picking everybody up. That’s what he’s best at... He’s always doing it on an everyday basis. He’s never wavered from who he was. That speaks to his character. He’s been a special guy to be around.”
Per Outman: “He’s just been a great mentor to me. Kind of ever since spring training, he’s always trying to help me get better... I think that speaks a lot to his character, especially considering there were only so many outfield spots and stuff like that. He kind of took me under his wing right away. He’s just been a steady mentor for me.”
Heyward’s free agency value has risen after his successes with the Dodgers, but the Dodgers’ outfield depth on their current 40-man roster is paper thin. Bringing back Heyward means bringing back a leader in the clubhouse, bringing back a mentor who will guide the rookies through an arduous 162 game season, and bringing back a player who is in the midst of a career resurgence.