If you visit Baseball-Reference.com, they have a section of their website dedicated to comparing a player’s stats with historically similar stats (whole career, current MLB years of service, and by ages). Jason Heyward is currently, at the age of 22, compared with Ruben Sierra, Andruw Jones, Jose Conseco, Juan Gonzalez, and Jack Clark. Not bad company.
Who is the only active player to make this comparison list? Justin Upton.
After the 2011 season, when Heyward struggled mightily (sophomore slump) and Upton had his best statistical season to date (fourth in NL MVP voting), if you had told me these two would be at or near the same level, this soon, I would’ve called you a crazy person and Gangnam styled off stage left. In ’11, Heyward had as much chance at being a top 50 fantasy player as Joe Paterno had at living to see his name removed from every nook and cranny of Penn State. It just wasn’t going to happen.
But then something transpired. Something that is so beautiful and wondrous about sports: another season came and went. No, Heyward, unless he had died between October 2011 and April 2012, wouldn’t be remembered or valued solely on his 2011 performance. In 2012, Heyward regained his 2010 form. He proved he wasn’t a flash in the pan. He was no Iron Butterfly. His Best of Album was going to consist of more than “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”
The flip side of that coin, however, had Upton falling from grace. What was supposed to be a year that solidified him as an elite fantasy player, 2012 was one he would rather forget. He had his lowest RBI (67) and OPS (. 785) since his rookie ’08 season.
That brings us to 2013, and making a decision that could dramatically impact your fantasy season. Heyward seems to be on the rise; Upton on shaky ground. By age 22 (Heyward’s current age), both had around 60 HR, 200 RBI, and 40 SB. It’s pretty remarkable how similar these two are.
If you ask Bill James, he’ll tell you that both are going to have near identical seasons (25-26 HR, 82-86 RBI, 19-20 SB).
When I release my 2013 rankings, I’ll likely have Heyward slightly higher than Upton, but a lot of that will rely on where Upton gets traded (I don’t have any expectations of him wearing a D-Backs uniform again). But one thing I want to caution about Heyward is his lack of plate discipline. He struck out 152 times last year, and his O-Swing% rose again to 33.4%. If he continues to swing at balls outside of the strike zone, you can count on high strikeout numbers and a low batting average. Upton, on the other hand, has lowered his strikeout numbers two years in a row (mostly from an increase in Contact%).
At this point in their careers, it’s a coin flip. Their lines are even.
I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from Harrison Ford: “Really, what are the options? Levi’s or Wranglers. And you just pick one. It’s one of those life choices.”
You heard the man.