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« Ryan Vogelsong's command | Main | Powerful Upton in MVP Discussion »

Jason Heyward's Pop Up Problem

The Braves lead the NL Wild Card race, but they're pushing for a playoff spot while getting far less than expected from outfield prodigy Jason Heyward. Rated as the top prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to last season, Heyward hit .277/.393/.456 during his age-20 campaign. But in 2011, Heyward has been slowed by a lingering right shoulder injury and has a .219/.313/.395 triple-slash. He has even recently lost some playing time to Jose Costanza (Costanzaaa!), a 27-year-old rookie with a career .356 slugging percentage in the minors.

To channel Seinfeld for a moment, what's with all the pop ups, Heyward? His 23.3 percent infield/fly ball rate is nearly three times higher than his 2010 mark, and only Corey Patterson has hit the ball up the elevator shaft more often among batters with 300+ plate appearances. Whether a product of his bum shoulder or not, Heyward is getting jammed most often on middle and inside pitches:

Location of Heyward's pop-ups, 2011

Fastballs have been particularly troublesome, as about two-thirds of Heyward's pop-ups have come against the heat.

To be sure, Heyward's line has been dragged down in part due to poor luck on balls put in play: his BABIP sits at .242. But all of those pop-ups amount to gimme outs for the opposition. Heyward surely shouldn't be sitting in favor of Jose Costanza, but maybe George can give him a few pointers.

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