Dodgers offseason signing Jason Heyward has had quite the career arc despite only being 33.
He was one of the more hyped prospects in the past 15 years, and he instantly capitalized on that success winning National League Rookie of the Year in 2010. His level of play yo-yoed for the next five years before the Braves traded him to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller. He played well in his contract season, parlaying it into an 8-year, $184-million deal with the Cubs, which whom he won a World Series to break the infamous 108-year curse of the billy goat. Chicago released him this offseason with one year left on his contract, and the five-time Gold Glove Award winner signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers. Now, he’ll be on the opening day roster.
Heyward is coming off a very poor season at the dish where he had an xBA (expected batting average) of .218 to go along with an xSLG of .322. So instantly upon seeing numbers like that, amongst many others from his 2022 season, it is fair for Dodgers fans to wonder how exactly he made the big league roster coming out of spring training, especially since he hit .213/.288/.383 in 53 plate appearances through Saturday.
For starters, Heyward still grades out as a plus defender with an extremely strong throwing arm despite being old in baseball years. However, even at 33, Heyward offers some untapped potential this season due to a swing change that he made in the offseason which we will get into below.
2002 swing (left) vs. 2023 swing (right)
Pre-swing, there is not a whole lot of change. Heyward looks slightly more closed off with his front foot in 2023 but it is not a significant change. Once the swing starts is when the difference is truly noticeable. There is less movement in his bat once the pitcher starts his motion in 2023 compared to 2022.
The biggest adjustment for me though is his hands and how he loads them in the early part of his swing. In 2022 he drops them to his shoulders, then brings them back and then forward. So effectively they enter two planes of motion to his body and then back and forward. This is a big no no, especially in an older hitter because it means more movement in his swing. More movement, especially in your hands means it is more difficult to hit velocity.
In 2023, Heyward brings his hands straight back, pauses and then brings them forward. So, one plane of motion as he goes straight back and then forward. In turn less movement in his hands should help him against increased velocity, especially up in the zone. However, it should also help him against breaking and off-speed pitches as he does not need to start his swing earlier to catch up to fastballs giving him more time to recognize non fastballs.
Additionally, there is a slight change in what Heyward does with his front foot between both swings. In 2022 Heyward lifts his front foot, goes on his toes and then brings his front foot in with a stride all in one motion.
In 2023, there is a slight hesitation. He lifts his front foot, goes on the balls of his toes, pauses for half a second and then strides in. I am not certain as to the exact reasoning for this swing adjustment. Although, if I had to guess I would assume that he is doing it to try and load up a bit more on his back leg before he gets his swing going forward.
There is no guarantee that Heyward’s adjustment will turn him into a league average hitter in 2023. However, if Heyward is able to become a league average to slightly below league average hitter this season, it will go down as one of the more savvy and underrated signings on the offseason.