June 11, 2012
Jason Heyward and Making Adjustments
A few days ago, writing about Mike Trout, I wrote this:
Since 1950, five players have led their teams in WARP at age 20. They are Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Alex Rodriguez.
I should apologize, because that was just a classic fudge. That factoid purports to be about WARP, but if I wanted to list the top five WARPs by 20-year-olds, I would have listed the top five WARPs by 20-year-olds. Instead, I measured each player against his teammates, even though knowing the player’s teammates’ WARP doesn’t tell us anything about the player himself. It just lets us include Griffey but exclude Jason Heyward, which is what this long buildup is building up toward.
Heyward, in 2010, did not lead his team in WARP when he was 20. Brian McCann clipped him by about a half a win. If our defensive metrics had liked him a bit more (as the other win-above-replacement models did), or if they had liked Brian McCann a bit less, he could have made that list. And if I had instead simply ranked the top WARP totals for 20-year-olds until I got to include Griffey, Heyward would have been on the list:
It’s still a very, very fine list. No cheating necessary in this case: quite a list! Ten guys, nine of them retired, seven of those in the Hall of Fame, the other two famous enough that you’ve heard of them. But if you want to make a point about Mike Trout’s assured greatness, and Jason Heyward shows up as a comp, you’re not sure what to do with it. What is Jason Heyward? Is he a success or is he a warning?
Heyward, of course, followed that age-20 season with an unremarkable age-21 season, beyond the fact that any player who plays full-time at 21 is worth, at the very least, a remark. His OPS at 20 was the highest by any 20-year-old (minimum 200 PA) since 2000; but his OPS at 21 was the 22nd highest, in a pool of just 30. He fought through a shoulder injury, then missed time for the shoulder injury, then had his toughness questioned by Chipper Jones and his spot in the lineup briefly revoked by Fredi Gonzalez.
Jason Heyward’s story is about adjusting. He was a top prospect, and we kept adjusting upward. “Heyward is closer to Alex Rodriguez and Griffey than anyone: the can’t-miss of all can’t-miss players, ones whose plaques in Cooperstown practically precede their first at-bats,” Jeff Passan wrote in 2010. Then after 2011, we tried to adjust again. “He's 22 and immensely talented. I'm anything but out, but he does need to make adjustments,” Kevin Goldstein wrote, after that season. And now he is having the season he is having. “The rest of this article,” I wrote, two months into this season.