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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

Heyward’s stellar defense rewarded with June award

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Jason Heyward was named major league Defensive Player of the Month for June by ESPN.com’s SweetSpot blog, which has a panel that does a great job thoroughly analyzing and voting on this award. Absolutely no one connected with the Braves is surprised by this, and I’d imagine that few who watched more than a handful of Braves games in June would be either.

Heyward has been a beast in right field this season. He was already arguably the best at his position in the league coming into this season, but this year he’s been the best without much debate among those I’ve talked to here and on the road.

Heyward makes consistently strong throws and all the routine plays, and  occasionally some spectacular ones, too.

Heyward makes consistently strong throws and all the routine plays, and occasionally some spectacular ones, too.

At the plate, he’s just 3-for-32 (.094) with one RBI in his past 11 games, but the Braves are 8-3 in those games and Heyward has had plenty to do with it. He’s had nine walks and only one strikeout in that span, and has had a hit, walk or moved a runner over in some big situations. His baserunning has been terrific all season.

Meanwhile, he has continued to play nearly mistake-free defense all season, his performance in the field unaffected by his hitting (and until this recent slump, Heyward had been on a good two-month hitting stretch, batting .296 with a .368 OBP, 18 extra-base hits and 24 RBIs over 55 games from April 20 through June 20).

Not letting his offensive affect his defensive performance is a point of pride with Heyward, who puts major emphasis and importance on his development as an outfielder and believes he’s better today than when he won a Gold Glove in 2012.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m stronger, faster, but definitely smarter. The field feels even smaller now, just as far as knowing you have to be with certain guys, and certain counts, knowing where to proceed to. Again, you can’t cover it all, but you just want to try to be at the right place more times than not. After that, everything is going to be hustle and trying not to let guys take extra bases, and trying to make good throws.

“I don’t know how many assists I have this year, but I feel like a lot of them are just because I’m throwing to the right guy at the right spot, and hitting the cutoff man.”

He has six assists, one behind NL outfield leader Gerardo Parra, but Heyward has none recently because teams have all but stopped running on him if they think the play is going to be close.

Andrelton Simmons won the SweetSpot Defensive Player of the Month award a couple of times last season, and the Braves shortstop ended up winning NL Gold Glove and Platinum Glove awards as the league’s best-fielding shortstop and best overall defensive player after the season.

Simmons led the majors in both Defensive Runs Saved and Defensive WAR in 2013, compiling a 5.4 total in the latter category to tie for the best Defensive WAR in the 40 years that complete defensive play-by-play data has been available, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Carlos Gomez was second last season at 4.6, also one of the top 10 Defensive WAR totals of the past 40 years. (The iconic Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith had a 4.7 in 1989, fifth-best in that period.)

Heyward is the 2014 MLB leader in both categories and has a 2.3 Defensive WAR just past the halfway point of the season.

When I mentioned to him during the last road trip that he was the Defensive Runs Saved leader, he told me: “It’s just good to keep runs off the board, any way you can. Because you can (score) five, but if they put up eight … you need to cut down runs whenever you can, especially at home when you can have last at-bats and you can chip away and get a run. That’s big.

“That’s what helps, I think, in the playoffs and to win a World Series. It’s not going to be who can outscore who, it’s going to be who can keep the other team from scoring. So defense is definitely huge.”

Heyward tied for the MLB lead with eight defensive runs saved in June and has 24 for the season according to SweetSpot, which said Heyward in June “was credited with six ‘Good Fielding Plays’ (think Web-Gem nominees), all for terrific catches, and went the entire month without a Defensive Misplay or error.”

Of his 24 Defensive Runs Saved this season, SweetSpot said, “That has been compiled largely based on his ability to catch balls hit to the deepest part of right field (in fact, that makes up almost the entirety of those 24 Runs Saved). Heyward caught 53 of 55 balls hit to spots at speeds for which the expected play rate was greater than 50 percent, according to data provided by Baseball Info Solutions (in other words, he made just about all the plays he should make).”

Previous winners of the Defensive Player of the Month award this season were Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in April and Oakland outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in May.

After winning a Gold Glove as the NL’s best defensive right fielder in 2012, then not winning one last year when he bounced between right and center and played both at an elite level, I asked Heyward if winning another Gold Glove this season was a goal.

“For me that’s going to take care of itself,” he said. “I didn’t set out to win it in ’12. I didn’t set out to win it any year. I just want to do the best I can and I know I can play it very well.”

Yes, you can, Jason. Yes, you can.

BRAVES LINEUP Wednesday

  1. B.J. Upton cf
  2. Simmons ss
  3. Freeman 1b
  4. J. Upton lf
  5. Heyward rf
  6. Johnson 3b
  7. La Stella 2b
  8. Bethancourt c
  9. Teheran p

•Tonight’s matchup: The Braves will try to complete a sweep of the Mets and extend their season-best winning streak to seven games, and they have the right guy on the mound to do it: Julio Teheran (7-5, 2.34 ERA) faces Mets rookie Jacob deGrom (1-4, 3.62).

Teheran leads MLB starters with a 1.22 ERA in eight home starts, and ranks sixth overall among starters (fourth in the NL) with a 2.34 ERA.

Among NL starters, the Braves ace is second in innings (119) behind Johnny Cueto (124), third in opponents’ OBP (.254), fourth in opponents’ batting average (.210), fourth in fewest hits per  nine innings (6.81), eighth in strikeouts/walks ratio (4.48), tied with Jeff Samardzija for ninth in strikeouts (103).

Oh, and Teheran has the fifth-lowest run support among NL starters at 3.1 runs per nine innings pitched. If he doesn’t make the NL All-Star team, lack of run support will be the main culprit, and it’d be a shame at a time when just about everyone is in agreement that wins and losses are a poor way to judge pitching performance within a single season.

Teheran is 5-2 with a 2.50 ERA in his past eight starts, with 57 strikeouts and seven walks in 57 2/3 innings. Seven of his 16 earned runs allowed in that period came in 6 1/3 innings at Coors Field on June 11. In the other seven starts in that period he’s 5-1 with a 1.58 ERA and only 37 hits and seven walks allowed in 51 1/3 innings.

Teheran has a .178 opponents’ average at home to go with that 1.22 ERA. He’s allowed one or no earned runs in six of his eight home starts. He has but two wins at Turner Field, where the team is 6-2 in his starts. The Braves scored two or fewer runs while he was in five of those eight games, including no runs while he was in two of them.

Against the Mets he’s 1-0 with a 3.05 ERA in four starts, including no decisions and a 1.42 ERA in two last season. Teheran hasn’t faced them this season. Lucas Duda is 3-for-7 with a homer against Teheran, and Ruben Tejada is 0-for-7.

His counterpart deGrom has a 3.62 ERA and .255 opponents’ average in nine major league starts, all this season, and no Brave has faced him in a regular-season game. The right-hander is 1-0 with a 1.32 ERA and .213 OA in his past two starts, at Miami and Pittsburgh. He pitched seven scoreless innings of five-hit ball in a June 21 win at Miami.

For those who care about such matters: deGrom is 0-4 with a 4.93 ERA in six night games, and 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA  in three day games.

 Etc.

 • After getting knocked out in the fifth inning Tueday by the Mets, Mike Minor’s average allowed by left-handed batters has climbed to .375, tied for the highest among major league qualifiers with the Pirates’ Jeanmar Gomez and the Rangers’ Colby Lews. Minor’s 10 homers allowed at home are third-most in the NL….

 • Craig Kimbrel’s .156 OA by lefties (9-for-60) is fourth-best among NL pitchers….

• Rookie Tommy La Stella’s .279 average with two strikes is fourth-highest among NL qualifiers. He’s only been in the majors a month and is already 17-for-61 in those situations. The rookie is 6-for-14 (.429) in full counts, also fourth-best in the NL….

• Luis Avilan has the third-most appearances (43) in the majors, one behind leaders Will Smith of Milwaukee and Brad Ziegler of Arizona. The AL leaders have 42. The Braves don’t have any relievers among the NL’s top 10 in innings pitched.

Here’s a classic from New Order, which you can hear by clicking here.

“AGE OF CONSENT” by New Order

New Order

New Order

Won’t you please let me go
These words lie inside they hurt me so
And I’m not the kind that likes to tell you
Just what I want to do
I’m not the kind that needs to tell you
Just what you want me to

I saw you this morning
I thought that you might like to know
I received your message in full a few days ago
I understood every word that it said
And now that I’ve actually heard it
You’re going to regret

And I’m not the kind that likes to tell you
Just what you want me to
You’re not the kind that needs to tell me
About the birds and the bees

Do you find this happens all the time
Crucial point one day becomes a crime
And I’m not the kind that likes to tell you
Just what I want to do
I’m not the kind that needs to tell you

I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you….

 

 

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