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Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Is Heyward too patient at the plate?

By Ryan McCrystal, ESPN Stats and Info

Prior to the start of the season the buzz around Jason Heyward was as much about his plate discipline as his power potential. Every few years we come across a rookie who makes an immediate impact with his power, but it typically takes a few years to develop discipline in the batter’s box.

Yet Heyward looked mature beyond his years in spring training, walking 11 times in 22 games and posting a .423 on-base percentage. The stage was set for what is shaping up to be one of the most impressive rookie seasons we’ve seen in quite some time.

Heyward has followed up his spring performance by showing off his discipline in the majors. He enters Tuesday with a .410 on-base percentage and has walked 29 times in 195 plate appearances.

But could Heyward’s discipline actually be hurting him? Let’s investigate.

On April 28, when Heyward was 1-20 in his previous seven games, the Atlanta Journal Constitution quoted Bobby Cox as saying “He’s taking way too many pitches for strikes. [As a result] he’s getting one pitch to swing at right now.”

What Cox was essentially getting at was that Heyward is backing himself into a corner. While his plate discipline is drawing walks, it’s also forcing him to swing at two-strike pitches that he may otherwise wish to let pass.

Just take a look at his numbers in two-strike counts as evidence.

At the time of Cox’s comments, Heyward had gotten into a two-strike count in 51 of his 81 plate appearances (63.0 percent). In those two-strike counts, Heyward was batting just .111 with a .216 on-base percentage. Those percentages were well below the league average of .181 and .254, and not even close to his impressive numbers in non-two-strike counts.

But since Cox made those comments, Heyward has noticeably changed his approach at the plate. He has worked his way into a two-strike count just 51.7 percent of time.

While his numbers in non-two-strike counts have fallen considerably, his overall stats are up and, perhaps most importantly, more consistent. Since April 28 he’s batting .340 with a .447 on-base percentage.

Numbers aside, perhaps the most impressive take away from this is Heyward’s ability to take advice from his manager and implement it immediately. If he’s making adjustments like this at the age of 20, what will he be capable of in 5-10 years?

To check out Heyward’s new approach for yourself, tune in to ESPN at 7 ET tonight as the Braves host the Phillies.