A windfall for Jason Heyward, a victory for WAR-lovers

The man has a glove. And an arm. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

The man has a glove. And an arm. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

If you go by traditional stats, Jason Heyward is a pretty good ballplayer. Only once in six seasons has he hit above .277. Only once has he driven in more than 72 runs. Only once has he hit more than 18 homers. If we cherry-pick the best of his seasons, we get only .293 with 82 RBI’s and 27 homers. We get the sort of season Miguel Cabrera throws back.

If we go by advanced analytics, we find that Heyward has been — as ESPN Stats & Information notes — the fifth-most valuable position player in baseball over the past two seasons. The four above him: Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt and Adrian Beltre.

Here’s guessing Theo Epstein is bigger on WAR than the old-school Triple Crown numbers. The Cubs president is handing Heyward $184 million over eight seasons. That’s $23 million per year. That’s a price the Braves could never have matched. That’s why they traded him 13 months ago.

Going by Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, Heyward has been nearly a six-win-or-better player in four of his six big-league seasons. A year ago, the aforementioned Cabrera hit .313 with 25 homers and 109 RBI’s. His WAR value was 5.0. Heyward hit — this in his final season as a Brave — .271 with 11 homers and 58 RBI’s. His WAR value was 6.2. That’s because WAR includes defensive and baserunning components; Heyward excels at both.

We went through the whole WAR-what-is-it-good-for debate — read Sam Miller’s story in ESPN The Magazine — in the Trout-Cabrera Most Valuable Player debate of 2012. (Cabrera won the Triple Crown and the MVP. Trout trumped him in WAR 10.8 to 7.2.) Even now, there are those who characterize WAR-lovers as pencil-necked geeks, but that charge sounds thinner with every passing season.

Even the front offices who aren’t big on all of the advanced analytics take a gander at WAR. If you make your living in baseball, you must. That hard-to-explain metric has become not just some funny little acronym but an industry standard. It tells us more about a player than watching every move a player makes over a 162-game season can. It tells us not what he does but what he’s worth.

If you watched Jason Heyward closely — and we around here watched him closely for five years — you might have thought, “Good player but not a great one.” And in many ways you’d be right. But in the grand scheme, you’d be wrong. Most close observers of the St. Louis Cardinals considered him the team MVP this season, and those Redbirds won 100 games.

How do you value Jason Heyward? Epstein’s team just placed an $184 million price tag on him, and the Cubs were good already. Think about it: Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, the really useful Ben Zobrist and now Heyward in the everyday lineup. Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey in the rotation. That should be one heck of a club for a good long while. Good thing the Braves aren’t in that division, huh?

Reader Comments 0

26 comments
flch
flch

You didn't elaborate in your article how you thought the braves "blew it" with heyward.  I'd rather the eventual haul the braves got rather than paying anyone the kind of money he got.

papadeddy
papadeddy

Mr. Bradley everybody says Heyward should have been kept but really Braves didnt win with him.

davidg32
davidg32

He's going from a pitcher's park to Wrigley, Mark.  I expect him to have a few good years with the bat.

DumbandDumber
DumbandDumber

$23 million for any player is too much, but starting pitchers at top of game now get $1 million per start (for 6-7 innings of work), so all relative. But the fan is the real loser, they pay through nose for tickets.

Jonathon Smith
Jonathon Smith

No. they're in the division with the team that has what our Braves had in the 90s. Degrom; Harvey; Syndergard & Matz. We just got the best package of prospects for Heyward than in any of the trades & also got our 2nd best haul for that other guy the analytics love in Simmons. Better focus on trying to come close to matching that mets rotation. Speaking of that does anybody remember that other defensive wiz with the grace of a gazelle we had in the early 90s known as the blaus? No wonder Maddux & company were so effective lol!

Glenu
Glenu

soothsaying aside, his value toward the 186 mil starts......now!

chalkdawg4
chalkdawg4

can we talk about UGA for a while?  Obviously Cubs were stupid to pay this much for Jhay

hamiltonAZ
hamiltonAZ

Good for Jason. Sadly, few in Atlanta will miss him because they will be ignoring baseball here until the local organization fields a pro quality product. Their Marlins masquerade has alienated huge sections of the fan base.

Pistol
Pistol

Paying that kind of $ for a corner OF who drives in all of 60 runs in 154 games last year (batting mostly in the 2-6 slots) is insane. The Braves now have those 3 highly rated players (plus Miller for that 1 year), so they came out way ahead by letting him go. Frank Wren made some dumb moves, but signing JH to only 2 years was certainly not one of them.

TOJacket
TOJacket

FREE CHAUNCEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Already_Older
Already_Older

If Heyward is worth $23m - 8 yrs, what is Trout worth? $40m - 15 years for $600m ?  Whether you go by old school or new school stats, Trout trumps Heyward by 175%.   Insane.


Good thing the Cubs have lots of prospects so they can give them away to some team to take on Heyward's contract in a few years.

Already_Older
Already_Older

I saw on MLB network that the Cubs project him batting lead off.  Funny, when the Braves tried that, everyone said they were crazy.  Now the Cubbies are paying him $184 million to lead off.  Meanwhile, the Braves have the #1 pick in the draft, a good center fielder, and a promising pitcher instead.  For once, I think the Braves did right.

Chop_Chop
Chop_Chop

I wouldn't pay Heyward that much, but the guy is a damn good player and will really help the Cubs' defense.

ATLSports
ATLSports

Heyward may hit a bunch of home runs in Chicago.  He's had warning track power in his career.  Those balls will go out in Chicago.

Razu Gordon
Razu Gordon

Jason Hayward reminds me of Scooby Doo

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

If, after watching every play and every at-bat of a player's career, your highest praise is "meh," then maybe WAR is kinda a BS criteria. 

Checking things out over at baseballreference.com, Heyward has a higher career WAR than Marquis Grissom, Terry Pendleton, Benito Santiago, Alfonso Soriano, Billy Wagner, Buster Posey, Brian McCann, Tino Martinez, David Price, Lee Smith, Bobby Bonilla, and Yadier Molina to name a few standouts. There's not a single player I just listed (or many that I didn't) that Jason Heyward is objectively better than. Not. One.

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

@Nick Baumgart 

"Most close observers" sounds like Mark Bradley's drinking buddy and a sock puppet.


That the Cardinals WERE going to pay Heyward $200 but didn't. Smart organization.


I'm not sour. I just marvel at the Atlanta sports media's inability to adequately access sports in general. From their insistence that UGA "deserves a championship," to the way local athletes, who were never anything greater than a successful marketing ploy, are propped up into being GOAT level stars.


But whatever, Cubs over pay for middling outfielder. Dog bites man, news at 11.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

WAR is a cumulative stat, so he has played more years than Posey and Price. He is better than the other players. He's been a top player for 6 years and that eclipses many on your list. He is also an all around player. Many of those you favor are one trick ponies.

After watching how he played while here, it was clear he was worth the money. He's a true 5 tool player with a good head on his shoulders. He just doesn't hit 20 home runs but more doubles. This isn't the steroid era anymore, so he's more than acceptable in terms of power. Steroids ruined baseball for a generation and the way you assess players proves it more than ever. I wish it had never happened.

Nick Baumgart
Nick Baumgart

"Most close observers of the St. Louis Cardinals considered him the team MVP this season, and those Redbirds won 100 games."

Doesn't sound like "meh".

The Cardinals were going to pay him $200 million. Smart organization.

Doesn't sound like "meh".

Sounds like sour grapes.

he_of_stinky_wind
he_of_stinky_wind

Just reminds me why I haven't purchased a ticket to a professional sporting event in about 10 years.


$184 million for an above average player.  Watch the ticket prices rise, but the wins will not.

Kenny Powers
Kenny Powers

Good for Heyward I hope he can win it all next year

Jerry916
Jerry916

Go get those titles Heyward-son!  I'll be rooting for you.  Especially since the Braves will not be in contention for the next 2 - 3 years.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

Let me be first to say WAR!!!!! Good God, What is it Good For, Absolutely Nothing!