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Heyward and Stanton

So, let’s look at some of the similarities between Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton.

1. They were born three months apart — Heyward was born in August of 1989, Stanton in November that same year.

2. They are football-sized young men — Heyward is 6-foot-5, 245 and Stanton is 6-foot-6, 240. Stanton played football in high school (he was considered a major college prospect) but Heyward was all baseball, all-the time from the time he was 11.

3. They were taken 62 picks apart in the 2007 draft — Heyward was the 14th pick by Atlanta, Stanton was the 76th pick by the Marlins. They were both 17 years old when drafted.

4. Stanton was a minor-league masher right away; he hit 39 home runs in Class A ball as an 18-year-old. Heyward’s skills were vividly clear right away too, though his game was more well-rounded — average, some power, some speed, great defense.

5. They were Baseball America’s top two hitting prospects going into the 2010 season (with Stephen Strasburg squeezing in as a pitching prospect).

BA on Heyward: “He has all the ability to emerge as one of the game’s premier players.”

BA on Stanton: “His performance only brought more comparisons to a young Dave Winfield.”

6. They were called up during that 2010 season. They were 20.

This is where their career begin to diverge somewhat. Heyward made the first big impact on the game, making the All-Star team as a rookie and finishing second to Buster Posey in Rookie of the Year balloting. By Baseball Reference put up a 6.4 WAR season that first year, fourth in the National League, and there seemed little doubt among baseball people that he was going to be a major star.

Stanton flew a little more under the radar, though he hit 22 homers in 100 games, several of those so massive that it was clear that he too was going to become of baseball’s best players.

Now, 2014, Heyward has played 681 games, Stanton has played 634. There’s a general impression that Stanton clearly has been the better of the two players. That may be so — but WAR disagrees.

Career WAR (by Baseball Reference):
Heyward: 24.5
Stanton: 21.2

Career WAR (by Fangraphs):
Heyward: 21.4
Stanton: 19.5

Stanton has led the National League in slugging twice and in homers once — he has 70 more homers and 100 more RBIs than Heyward so far. He hits such majestic homers that the wind around him sounds like Randy Newman music.

Meanwhile, Heyward has scored more runs, stolen twice as many bases, and plays heavenly defense. He has won two Gold Gloves*, and two Fielding Bible Awards. 

*I originally wrote he had won the Platinum Glove as best defender because I thought he did and it’s that way on Heyward’s Baseball Reference page. But I guess the award went to Yadi Molina instead. 

Monday was a banner day for both players. The Marlins seemingly put the final touches on a deal that will pay Giancarlo Stanton $325 million dollars for the next hundred billion years.

And the Atlanta Braves traded hometown hero Heyward to St. Louis for Shelby Miller (with others involved). The Braves do want to stockpile young pitching, so that’s the baseball reason. The overriding reason seems to be that Heyward will become a free agent at the end of the season, and the Braves do not want to pay the price to keep him.

There’s something fascinating to me about all this. One of the constant themes of this blog, I think, is talking about that overused word: “Narrative.” And the narrative seems to be that Stanton is an awesome superstar of the sport and that Heyward is a perfectly good player but, honestly, kind of a disappointment, what with dwindling home run numbers and batting averages.

Is the narrative right? Well, it’s hard to say. Giancarlo Stanton and Jason Heyward help teams win in very different ways. Stanton’s way is much more noticeable. He hits home runs off scoreboards. He crunches line drives that go back in time. He walks a lot because baseballs are afraid to get too close to him. He’s right out of Greek mythology. 

And Heyward, well, he he hits some home runs (fewer the last couple of years) and he steals some bases, and he walks some, and he plays amazing defense, and it all just kind of adds up. 

On the same day: Stanton gets the biggest contract ever given. Heyward gets a ticket out of town.

Maybe it simply comes down to Bill James’ definition of overrated and underrated — “Specialists and people who do two or three things well are overrated; players who do several things well are underrated.” This is not to say Stanton is a one-dimensional player — he runs OK, he’s a pretty good outfielder, he walks etc. But certainly Heyward does more things well.

The question, in the end, is this: Who will be the better player the next five or six years? This might be crazy talk, but I’m not sure that it will be Stanton. I love the guy, love watching him play, but there seems a hype about him that doesn’t quite match the player. Meanwhile, there’s a sense of disappointment about Heyward from some that I don’t think matches either. Both the Marlins and Braves made major decisions about 25-year-old players on Monday. It’s at least possible that both teams will regret it.

42 Responses to Heyward and Stanton

  1. therealehboy says:

    …. And of course, it bears mentioning that if Heyward is viewed as a disappointment in the market, he might command “only” $15M-$20M a year… so really the question is would you rather have Heyward and another player worth $10M a year or have Stanton.

  2. tarhoosier says:

    i assume you mean the Braves “may regret it” and not Saint Louis

    • doncoffin64 says:

      No, the Braves will regret having traded him. St. Louis might regret trading for him, if he isn’t productive, but that’s a different point from the one Joe’s making.

  3. To me the bigger issue with Heyward, and probably a major reason why the Braves didn’t want to give him a huge contract, has been the ability to stay healthy. Yes the home runs are not what we hoped, but he has missed an awful lot of games as well.

  4. atlrod says:

    As a Braves fan, the nausea has been building ever since they gave the big contract to Freddie Freeman and only two years to Heyward. This has been coming ever since then. Today, I’m just mad at the stupidity of it all. Was he going to walk after this year? Of course. But it never should have gotten this far. I hope that the Braves ALREADY regret the deal that led to this one. Terribly disappointing to lose such a terrific player.

    • He had a Q&A with the AJC where he said he wanted to stay in Atlanta his entire career. Specifically he said he had a (very short) conversation with Frank Wren saying he wanted to be with the Braves long term. There was NO long term offer from the Braves at any time and no conversation from the Braves about keeping him. The current administration NEVER approached him at all. In fact, Heyward was real frustrated about it and concluded that he wasn’t in the Braves plans (now proved to be accurate). He grew up here as a Braves fan and wanted to be here. So all the narratives around Heyward supposedly wanting too much money are false. There were no negotiations to flesh out what Heyward wanted. The Braves completely booted this one. This is Adam Wainwright all over again. Maybe worse.

  5. I was at the game this year where Stanton hit that 550 foot bomb that almost left the stadium in Miami. I was sitting in LF and didn’t see the hit. I heard it. From 400 feet away and it sounded like a stick of dynamite. The entire stadium gasped. (Well the 3,000 fans that were there. That’s a story for another day.) Dude can jack it, that’s for sure.

    Stanton is only 25. Isn’t 1 WAR now worth $7 million? He needs to be worth 3.5 WAR per year to make it worthwhile. It doesn’t sound as outrageous when you look it that way.

    • Scott says:

      3.5 WAR doesn’t sound outrageous and there is a decent chance he could be worth it (especially if he opts out). However…

      Stanton is at 19.5 WAR (FanGraphs) so far in his career. Add in $325M/$7M/WAR and he would end have to end his career at 66 WAR. 66 WAR is a Hall of Fame number. The outfield average is a little higher but, for comparison, Tony Gwynn was worth 69 WAR.

      I would be very worried about any contract that, 25% of the way into a guy’s career, requires him to end up as a Hall of Famer just to break even. There is very little chance he is worth more than the contract’s value and a good chance he ends up worth less. A lot of players have started out on a hall of fame pace and not made it; imagine he gets a major injury at 30 (halfway through the contract) and never really recovers. This seems like a bet with a potential huge downside and very little upside.

      Of course the Marlins could be betting on him opting out (or being traded). In which case they get the best, cheapest years and someone else gets burned.

  6. Jan says:

    Amazing that Stanton gets $325 million for leading the NL on homers once and finishing in the top 10 in MVP voting once. He has driven in 100 runs once and never scored 100 in a season. He led the NL on total bases with 299. The last NL player to have less than 300 total bases in a full season (except 1981 strike year) is was Enos Slaughter in 1942. The money being thrown around is getting out of hand.

    • Not really. There is tons of money to go around in MLB. A lot of fans don’t realize it because of the narrative that the NFL is king. But MLB revenue is over $9 Billion a year now. The TV contracts are insane. The Dodgers have a TV contract worth Billions. So do other teams. These owners didn’t get to be owners by making dumb decisions with money. If Stanton is getting $325 million, it’s because Loria can afford it.

      It also shows how incredibly dumb the NFLPA is. These dudes literally put their lives on the line and get fleeced by the owners in negotiations. The only guys that get big money are the QB’s and a handful of players here and there.

      • roundeye11 says:

        Indeed on the NFLPA. Those nimrods have an astonishingly simple reason to walk out. The vast majority of NFL contracts are not even guaranteed (but the lifelong debilitating injuries are).

    • Ian R. says:

      Yes, it’s amazing that a guy whose teammates aren’t good enough for him to consistently get to 100 RBI or 100 runs scored can still get $325 million for his individual performance…

      Stanton’s contract is huge, but it also starts with his age-25 season. The Marlins are paying for his peak performance and a few early decline years. It’s not going to be a great deal unless he somehow gets even better, but it’s justifiable.

  7. Fin Alyn says:

    The entirety of Heyward’s lead in WAR is from their first season, where he scored 3.6 higher, but has lost.3 of that since. He steals more bases, but in 2 of the years he actually hurt the team with his %, and was around break even in a third.
    In 3 of the years defense accounts for fully half or more of his WAR value, and defensive WAR numbers are sketchy at best, overvalued at worst. .262/.351/.429 and trending downward in slugging by almost 100 points over the last 2 years. As a middle infielder, this guy is great, but as a right fielder he’s not worth anything close to what he’s going to be asking for. Stanton might be overvalued with his new contract, but he’s properly valued more than Heyward.

    • Stanton’s bWAR last 3 years: 5.5, 2.3, 6.5
      Heyward’s bWAR last 3 years: 5.8, 3.4, 6.3

      I understand what you are saying about the sketchiness of defensive stats, but still, that’s pretty darn similar. And even on oWAR Stanton is not leaps and bounds better than Heyward.

    • Of course the Braves weren’t going to offer the money Stanton got. But they didn’t even try to extend him. That’s the issue. He’s 25, and there is still plenty of time for him to break out with a big offensive season. Even without the monster offensive numbers, the team was still reliant on his ability to get on base and score runs. As bad as the Braves were offensively last year, I can’t imagine how bad it will be next year. Chris Johnson and BJ Upton rebounding with productive seasons still wouldn’t cover the loss of Heyward…. And it’s highly unlikely both will be significantly better next year. It’s a huge loss. We’ll have to see what the Braves do now in terms of FA or trades, because there’s nothing in the minor league system, except maybe a second baseman who’s still probably a year away.

  8. Pat says:

    The idea Stanton is a specialist, and the difference between them is HR is vastly overstated. Stanton hits more 2B, more HR, way more power, iow. He hits for better average, and he’s much better at getting on base. No, he doesn’t steal as many bases, but his 75% success rate is just as good. He’s a plus defender, and frankly, as much as I like WAR, I’m still sceptical Heyward was worth three wins in the field last year.

    Stanton is much more than a specialist, and the difference between them is much more than HR. Health will be the key, for both, but if Stanton is healthy, I like him much more going forward as bats tend to hold up better than defense.

    • For me, I’ll accept that Stanton is better. But the Braves just traded Heyward for a “promising” pitcher. OK, he’s a little better than that. But there’s a huge disconnect when we’re discussing Stanton vs Heyward and the Braves trade him for much less than that. I don’t get it.

  9. One thing that’s becoming obvious in the wake of both transactions: a lot of people still haven’t recalibrated their expectations for offensive numbers.

  10. Jaunty Rockefeller says:

    Right, but he has done all that by age 24. And he accumulated 299 total bases in 145 games, which is a 334 per 162 rate. Heyward is overlooked, I agree, in part because much of his value comes from stellar defense. But Stanton is the 3rd youngest player to reach 150 home runs in baseball history. The list of 150+ home runs by age 24 is basically a list of hall of famers.

  11. David in NYC says:

    Joe, your memory was correct: Heyward was named the best overall defensive player in the NL for 2014: (2nd graf, last sentence).

    Don’t know enough about Stanton to comment on his contract. I do know enough about Heyward to say that the Braves made an absolutely horrendous mistake. A pitcher with less than 400 MLB innings with an OPS+ below 100 last year, and a Class A pitcher with a K/BB ratio less than 2 — for a full-time position player who is very, very good AND another player?

    Further proof that John Schuerholz was one-of-a-kind. Assuming normal activity (i.e., no career-ending injuries, etc.), the Braves are going to be very, very sorry they made this trade.

    • One correction. Schuerholz is still there as team President. He hired his buddy John Hart to be GM. So, Schuerholz still has plenty of input on this trade and everything else that goes on. To me, although he probably accurately threw Frank Wren under the bus (Wren made some disasterous decisions), Schuerholz is the one who hired Wren & Wren reported to him. What happened to “the buck stops here”? I don’t give Schuerholz a pass on this trade or anything that’s happened over the last several years.

    • Big D says:

      Those are the Wilson awards. Molina did earn the Rawlings Platinum Glove award as the best defender in the NL for the last 2years. Bothe are great defenders.

  12. I do not know whether it is true, but I feel that the narrative is that Stanton is getting better and better every year and the best is yet to come, while Heyward seems to be stagnating.

  13. I think it’s also worth noting that Heyward is getting away from a succession of bad hitting coaches in Atlanta and into a situation where more players seem to maximize their natural skills. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see a mini-leap from Heyward offensively in 2015.

    Pity poor Shelby Miller, though. If the Braves’ hitting coaches over the past few years have been bad, their pitching coaches have been worse. I have a bad feeling that Miller will be on a first-name basis with Dr. Andrews by this time next year (see: Beachy, Brandon; Hanson, Tommy; Medlen, Kris; etc.).

    • I’ll never forget the narrative a couple of years ago that Heyward took to many walks in RBI situations. When Heyward tried to comply with the desire to swing more, that led to fewer walks and some of the struggles he had. I actually think he got back to taking more pitches and hitting the ball the other way last year. The appendicitis got in the way of a better season. I think the hitting coaches helped him last year. It wasn’t their fault that BJ Upton, Dan Uggla and Chris Johnson forgot how to hit. I think Heyward is poised for a big year next year.

  14. Mark Daniel says:

    Here’s what I don’t get. This is what B-R has for WAR for both Stanton and Heyward.

    Stanton: oWAR 18.4, dWAR -0.3, total WAR 21.2
    Heyward: oWAR 13.5, dWAR 7.8, total WAR 24.5

    I have no idea how these numbers are combined to make the final total WAR value.

    It’s very difficult to validate the defensive numbers, because much of the data appears to be proprietary. So, I went to Fangraphs, and looking at their defensive numbers, Stanton, in his career, had 1003 balls in zone in right field, and he made 917 plays (RZR 0.913). He also made 394 plays out of zone.
    For Heyward, he had 1023 balls in zone, and made 952 plays (RZR 0.931), along with 414 out of zone.

    If you adjust their total balls in zone to be the same at 1023, then Heyward made 18 more plays in zone. Throw in the 20 more plays out of zone and you have a total of 38 more plays.
    That’s over 5 years. Thus, on average, Heyward made about 8 more plays per year than Stanton. Is this enough to give Heyward the massive advantage in dWAR?

    Defensive WAR has some other facets, such as those related to outfield arm. But Stanton has better numbers when it comes to throwing, at least according to B-R. I just don’t see how a handful of plays essentially improve Heyward’s WAR from an oWAR from 13.5 to a total WAR of 24.5.

    • Thank you for crunching the numbers and confirming what I intuitively thought was the case.

    • KHAZAD says:

      You cannot add the offensive and defensive WAR numbers, as a positional penalty is factored into both numbers. If you add them together you are penalizing them twice. You will notice that the added numbers for both players is a similar amount below their total WAR.

      Heyward is a much better outfielder. If you go below the area you were looking at on Fangraphs, you will see an area called inside edge fielding which is much better than what you were looking at. Plays are rated according to their difficulty. Heyward and Stanton are similar in routine plays (plays that a normal player would make 90-100% of the time) with Stanton at 99.3% and Heyward at 99.2%. The similarity ends there. The likely plays (60-90%) Heyward makes 93.1% with Stanton at 78.7%. The “even” plays Heyward is at 90.9% and Stanton is at 53.1%. The unlikely (10-40%) Heyward is at 62.5% and Stanton is at 24.1%, and the Remote (1-10%) Stanton is at 0% and Heyward is at 10%. For an outfielder, most of the plays between even and remote are extra bases if they are not made and outs if they are, and they are usually a tremendous difference in the game and in runs scored. Heyward is more than twice as likely to make one of these plays as Stanton is.

      • Mark Daniel says:

        That’s interesting. I never paid attention to Inside Edge. The data shown there certainly indicate that Heyward is far better defensively.
        But even taking this into consideration, those harder plays are only a small percentage of total plays. If you gave Stanton the same number and distribution of chances as Heyward, then the difference would be 28 plays in favor of Heyward. That’s over their entire careers.
        Based on what you said, these 28 plays would probably be mostly doubles with a few triples. Let’s say it’s 50-50 doubles and triples. Does 14 doubles and 14 triples over 4 seasons result in such a huge adjustment to WAR?

        The bottom line is the defensive adjustments don’t make sense numerically (to me, at least), and I think it’s because difficult plays are assigned more points than routine plays in the scoring system. In reality, the outcome of a missed difficult play and a missed routine play are not that different, so it doesn’t really matter much how hard the play is.

  15. Tim says:

    One thing I’d love to hear is for MLB front office types to dish about how much they factor star-power/fan excitement into their contracts. The sabermetrically inclined folks (and I count myself among them) are primarily interested in how much value a player provides and the extent to which he makes a team better (and more likely to win more games/playoff series/etc.). So you’ve got these two players, and there’s a pretty good case to be made (through WAR) that Heyward is more valuable and should be paid more if both were available on the open market at the same time (he’s certainly the underrated one by that Bill James definition Joe cites).

    But front offices aren’t just concerned about winning games, they’re concerned about selling tickets and building fan interest. Now, winning is generally a decent way to do this, but it’s not easy, even if you’re signing really good players – there’s a lot of luck involved. But fans love players like Stanton, and every at-bat is an event with him since there’s a decent chance that you’re going to see terrible things done to a baseball. Hey may be the overrated one, but there’s no doubt that he’s an electrifying player to watch.

    So again, say they’re both on the open market and you’re in an MLB front office – do the ticket and merchandise sales (and endless sports center highlights – let’s not forget how good they are for your brand) that you’ll potentially get from Stanton worth more to you than the extra couple of wins you (may) get from having Heyward instead?

    I guess I’d really just love to hear a GM speak frankly about that kind of thing (though I guess it would really have to be a retired one since active GMs seem to play everything so close to the vest).

  16. MikeN says:

    How can you say Stanton is out of Greek mythology and not Heyward? Have people forgotten Kevin Youkilis already?

  17. Bob Wilson says:

    What I think is ridiculous is how much he’s getting paid. Seriously, how do I get in on this?

    • Chris M says:

      get very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very good at baseball. And, depending on your age, get younger.

  18. Mark A says:

    First, I think the reason Stanton is thought of more highly isn’t about range of skills, its just offence vs defence. His offence is far better, and offence is what gets paid and what gets noticed, both because it is exciting, and also easy to quantify.

    Second, comparing those two players really got me thinking about defensive WAR and its situational nature. Offensive WAR is basically just additive. If you contribute more, you contribute more.

    But I got to thinking about how much more valuable Heyward would look to a team I was GM for if I had a big outfield, fly ball pitchers, and average range corner outfielders vs what I’d think of him in opposite conditions (since you can only catch what it hit to you and it can only be caught once).

    And then THAT got me thinking about how much his WAR would be higher or lower if he played in those varying circumstances.

    Offensive WAR depends on plate appearances mostly, and that dependence is recorded, and tends to be pretty standard (you could be expected to get somewhere around the same number on just about any team).

    But it seems to me the opportunities to accumulate defensive WAR aren’t similarly recorded or necessarily standard. As I said above, you can only catch a ball once. And the opportunities to do so are hidden. If you put Heyward in optimal conditions (CF at fenway with 2 fast corner outfielders and ground ball pitchers), how much would his defensive WAR come down?

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