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March 30, 2010

Future Shock Blog

Jason Heyward: How Optimistic Can We Be?

by Kevin Goldstein

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One of the biggest names this spring has been Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, and with good reason. Still, expectations have to be tempered, as we're talking about a 20-year-old with a grand total of 50 games above A-ball. So what can one reasonably project Heyward to do? Let's check out what PECOTA has to say.

The first line is his weighted mean PECOTA projection, and the 80 and 20 lines represent his 80th and 20th percentile projections. In other words, realistic high- and low-end forecasts. Even considering Heyward's youth and inexperience, the system says he’s too darn talented to just simply collapse and not get the job done. Even if things don’t work out at all, he's still going to do something worthwhile, and he’ll likely never fall to a level where getting him up to the big leagues is a mistake.

Now PECOTA is a historical-based simulation in the sense that it tries to map the future based on the career paths of similar players. But just how unique is Heyward? To find out, I had our staff run a quick search of every player who, as a corner outfielder, had 300 or more plate appearances in the big leagues as a 20-year-old. I didn't expect a long list—but I surprised to it was this short: Just 17 players in major-league history fit such criteria. And using that list, I generated three projections of my own.

Projection A is simply an average of the 17 seasons from the above referenced search. Even the average would have him competitive for the Rookie of the Year award. But that shouldn't be a big surprise. The lesson here is that, to even get to the big leagues at the age of 20, one has to be loaded with talent. But we'll get to just how talented in a second.

Projection B is averages of the 12 players who at least loosely matched Heyward's scouting profile as a middle-of-the-order run producer. It may be the most optimistic, but also arguably the most accurate for comparison because it cuts out players like Rickey Henderson, who was a leadoff hitter, dead-ball era stars Ty Cobb and Sherry Magee, and also more recent players Claudell Washington and Lloyd Moseby, who were valued for more for their speed and/or defense than their power.

The lowest projection C, is one focused on currency, and while the smallest in sample size (seven players), it represents the seven 20-year-olds who had such seasons in the modern playoff era (1969-forward).

These projections might not be eye-popping, even on the most optimistic level, but for a 20-year-old to even be in the realm of possibilities for producing well at the big league level makes him a once-in-a-generation type of talent. The numbers might not be crazy, but the list of players is, as it includes the likes of Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Al Kaline, and Frank Robinson.

Of those players on the list, nearly half (eight) of them are now in the Hall of Fame and two active players, Justin Upton and Miguel Cabera, at least have a chance to get there. The 17 players, including those still active, combined for 123 All-Star Game appearances and eight MVP awards.

So while projections for Heyward's 2010 season might not be off the charts, the projections for his career just might be.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Projections

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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How many PA is Heyward projected for now that he's "for sure" the guy in RF? Have the projections been updated to reflect that he almost definitely will have a full slate?

Mar 30, 2010 10:30 AM
rating: 0

This seems weird to me. So, your sample set is the set of corner outfielders who had 300+ plate appearances at age 20. Wouldn't those players have to be pretty good just to stay up for 300+ PAs? How do we know Heyward will stay up for 300+ PAs? You're projecting his production using only the people who were successful in his circumstance.

A better set might be the age 20 corner outfielders who began the season in the starting lineup. That would include the failures and give a better set of numbers.

Mar 30, 2010 11:48 AM
rating: 4

That would create a sample size problem, since they wouldn't have enough ABs to contribute significantly. Keep in mind that PECOTA choses those players based on comparability scores that include MLE data, so while their is no doubt some selection bias here it seems likely that the similarity scoring system takes some steps to mitigate the problem. Just my $.02.

Mar 30, 2010 11:54 AM
rating: 2

I accidentally deleted a sentence, I meant to say that the problem shouldn't arise in PECOTA. Thus explaining my goofy non-sequitor.

Mar 30, 2010 11:57 AM
rating: 0

Loved this kind of article. Keep em coming.

Mar 30, 2010 13:02 PM
rating: 0

Queue up the Chuck Norris jokes... or Matt Wieters jokes of 2009 and replace them with Jason Heyward.

Mar 30, 2010 13:41 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

Jason Heyward saw a pitch and it blinked.

Mar 30, 2010 14:31 PM
rating: -2
Richard Bergstrom

All things being said, even his 20th percentile PECOTA is pretty decent. Some teams employ much worse than that.

Mar 30, 2010 14:26 PM
rating: 0

This is one of the best articles on BP in months. Great job!

Mar 30, 2010 17:17 PM
rating: 0
Brian Cartwright

I agree with Kevin., I think this year Heyward will likely put up roughyl league average numbers, such as Upton and Griffey did in their first years, but look out after that.

Thing is, which is more valuable for Atlanta, Heyward's age 20 or 26 season? If he adds enough to the lineup this year to put the Braves in a run for the division, then it might be worth it.

Mar 30, 2010 17:36 PM
rating: 0

You also have to factor in the value of the Braves not having to use Diaz or Melky against same side pitching?

Mar 31, 2010 11:16 AM
rating: 0

So on the one hand, we have long term PECOTA projections that place him in the company of Frank Robinson and Ted Williams, but when I look at the comparables from this year and those previous, I see a heck of a lot of Derrick Mays and James Loneys. Why does PECOTA come up with so many pedestrian comps for such an allegedly historic talent?

Mar 30, 2010 18:35 PM
rating: 2
Richard Bergstrom

Don't forget that comparison is to James Loney at age 20... For example, there's a big differenc between getting an age-25 Ken Griffey Jr comparison and an age-35 Ken Griffey Jr comparison. Just to break into the majors at age 20 also reduces your comparables.

Mar 31, 2010 08:06 AM
rating: 1

Kevin, out of curiosity, how does this compare to the projections made when Albert Pujols was destroying pitchers during his first spring training (2001)? That was before my time as a BP subscriber. Any similarities? And how well did those projections track what he turned into?

Mar 30, 2010 20:21 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

PECOTA wasn't born in 2001, but Wilton, its predecessor (single-year only, I believe), had Pujols down for a .302/.344/.488/.274 EqA line with 10 HR in 281 AB.

Mar 31, 2010 11:09 AM
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