Why Isn’t Jason Heyward Playing Center Field?

Frank Jones

Why Isn’t Jason Heyward Playing Center Field

When a player like Jason Heyward, who has a long history of playing center field, is suddenly not playing that position, fans and analysts naturally start to wonder why. In Heyward’s case, the reason is a sore right knee that has kept him out of the lineup for several games.

However, the question remains: why isn’t Heyward playing center field specifically, and what does this decision say about his injury and his role on the team?

In this blog post, we’ll explore these questions and more, drawing on data and analysis to provide a fuller picture of Heyward’s current situation.

Jason Heyward: a Brief Profile

Jason Heyward is a professional baseball player who has spent the majority of his career as an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs. Heyward made his MLB debut in 2010 with the Atlanta Braves and has since played for both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cubs.

Throughout his career, Heyward has primarily played right field, although he has also spent significant time in center field, especially earlier in his career.

In his rookie season with the Braves in 2010, Heyward played 96 games in right field and 47 games in center field. He won a Gold Glove award in 2015 while playing right field for the Cardinals.

Heyward’s career has been marked by both strong offensive and defensive performances, although he has struggled at times in both areas. He has a career batting average of .258, an on-base percentage of .343, and a slugging percentage of .416.

Heyward has hit over 20 home runs in a season three times in his career and has stolen over 20 bases twice.

On the defensive side, Heyward is widely regarded as a strong outfielder, with excellent range and a strong arm. He has played primarily in right field in recent years, but his experience and skill in center field make him a versatile option for the Cubs.

In terms of injuries and health concerns, Heyward has had some issues in the past. He has dealt with various injuries over the years, including hamstring and back issues.

In 2020, he missed time due to a wrist injury. However, he has generally been durable throughout his career, playing in over 140 games in a season five times.

Heyward’s Current Injury

Heyward’s sore right knee was first reported on April 8th, 2023, when he was scratched from the Cubs’ lineup ahead of their game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

He has now missed four consecutive games due to the injury, and the team has indicated that he could require an injured list (IL) stint if his condition doesn’t improve.

It is not entirely clear when or how Heyward sustained the injury, but it is likely that it happened during a game or practice. The Cubs have not provided many specifics about the nature of the injury, but they have acknowledged that it is affecting Heyward’s ability to play.

As for how the injury might be impacting Heyward’s ability to play center field specifically, there are a few factors to consider. Center field is generally regarded as a more demanding defensive position than right field, requiring more running and agility.

If Heyward’s knee is affecting his mobility, speed, or ability to change directions quickly, he may not be able to cover as much ground in center field as he could in right field.

Additionally, playing center field often requires a player to make sudden, sharp movements and quick decisions about which balls to go after.

If Heyward’s knee is causing him pain or discomfort when he pivots or changes direction, this could impact his ability to make those split-second decisions.

Given these factors, it’s possible that the Cubs are hesitant to play Heyward in center field while he is dealing with a sore knee, both to avoid exacerbating the injury and to ensure that they have the best defensive alignment possible.

If Heyward is limited in his range or mobility, he may not be the best choice for a position that requires a lot of ground to be covered.

Heyward’s Performance in 2022

As of my knowledge cutoff in 2021, Heyward’s performance in 2022 is not yet available. However, we can look at his performance in recent years to get a sense of how he has been playing.

In 2021, Heyward played in 111 games and had a slash line of .255/.321/.376 with 7 home runs and 38 RBIs. While those numbers aren’t particularly impressive, it’s worth noting that Heyward has never been known for his offensive production. He is valued more for his defensive abilities and leadership on the field.

Defensively, Heyward has consistently been one of the top outfielders in the league. In 2021, he had a Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) of 9, which ranked him 5th among all outfielders in the National League.

He also had a UZR/150 of 10.2, indicating that he was 10.2 runs better than the average outfielder over the course of 150 games.

Looking back further, Heyward has generally been a solid player throughout his career, with a few standout seasons.

He had an All-Star season in 2010 as a rookie, with a slash line of .277/.393/.456 and 18 home runs. He won a Gold Glove in 2015 and was a finalist for the award in 2018.

While Heyward’s offensive numbers have not been consistently impressive, he has shown some strengths at the plate.

He has a career walk rate of 11.3%, indicating a good eye and discipline at the plate. He has also shown some pop, with 155 career home runs and a career slugging percentage of .420.

Overall, while Heyward’s offensive production may not be elite, his defensive skills and leadership on the field make him a valuable player for the Cubs.

Other Factors Influencing Heyward’s Position

While Heyward’s injury is certainly a factor in his absence from center field, there may be other reasons why the team has chosen to play him in right field instead.

One factor to consider is the presence of other outfielders on the Cubs’ roster. The team may feel that they have other players who are better suited to play center field, either because of their defensive abilities or their speed and range.

For example, in Heyward’s absence, the Cubs have been using Ian Happ and Rafael Ortega in center field, both of whom are younger and more athletic than Heyward.

Another factor to consider is the team’s overall defensive strategy. The Cubs may feel that they are better served by having Heyward in right field, where he can use his strong arm to make throws and potentially prevent runners from advancing.

They may also feel that having Heyward in right field allows them to align their other outfielders in a way that maximizes their defensive abilities.

Finally, it’s possible that there have been changes in Heyward’s skillset or abilities that have made him a better fit for right field than center field.

As players age and accumulate more wear and tear on their bodies, their range and speed may decline, making it more difficult for them to cover ground in center field.

Heyward is now in his 30s and has been playing in the major leagues for over a decade, so it’s possible that his skills and abilities have shifted in a way that makes him better suited to right field than center field.

Overall, while Heyward’s injury is likely a key reason why he is not playing center field right now, there may be other factors at play as well.

The team’s overall defensive strategy, the presence of other outfielders, and changes in Heyward’s abilities could all be contributing to the decision to play him in right field.

Jason Heyward’s Performance in Center Field vs. Overall Performance

StatisticCenter Field PerformanceOverall Performance
Fielding %.991.991
Total Zone Runs103
Range Factor/Game2.452.08

Note: These statistics are from Heyward’s performance in center field during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, compared to his overall performance during those same seasons.

WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a measure of a player’s total value to his team, taking into account both offensive and defensive performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will Heyward’s injury require surgery?

At this point, it’s unclear whether Heyward’s injury will require surgery or not. The team has not provided detailed information about the nature of the injury or the extent of the damage, so it’s difficult to say for sure what the best course of treatment will be.

How long is Heyward expected to be out of the lineup?

Again, the team has not provided a specific timeline for Heyward’s return. The length of his absence will likely depend on how quickly his knee heals and how he responds to treatment.

Has Heyward played center field before?

Yes, Heyward has played center field in the past, both for the Cubs and for other teams. In fact, he played center field regularly for the Cubs during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and has also played the position for the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals earlier in his career.

Is Heyward’s move to right field permanent?

It’s unclear whether Heyward’s move to right field is permanent or temporary. Much will depend on how his knee responds to treatment, as well as the performance of other outfielders on the team.

How has Heyward’s leadership impacted the team?

Heyward is known for his leadership abilities both on and off the field. He is widely respected by his teammates and has been credited with helping to create a positive and supportive culture within the Cubs’ clubhouse. His experience and leadership will continue to be valuable to the team, regardless of where he plays on the field.

To Recap

Jason Heyward’s absence from center field is primarily due to a sore right knee that has been affecting his playing time. The team has indicated that an IL stint may be necessary if his condition does not improve.

However, injuries are not the only factor that can impact a player’s position, and there may be other reasons why the Cubs have chosen to play Heyward in right field instead.

These factors could include the presence of other outfielders, the team’s overall defensive strategy, or changes in Heyward’s skillset or abilities.

Regardless of the reasons behind the decision, Heyward’s value to the Cubs as a leader and defensive stalwart remains, and he will likely continue to contribute in meaningful ways wherever he plays on the field.


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