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Heyward vs. Justice vs. Jones

May 31, 2010

The most talked about budding star aside from Stephen Strasburg this season has surely been Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward. The 6’5”, 240 pound, left handed 20 year old put on a hitting show throughout Spring Training and left few surprised when he was placed on the Opening Day roster by manager Bobby Cox, who of course is planning on retiring at seasons’ end and will try his hardest to get back into the post season one last time. Heyward came to the plate in his first at-bat on Opening Day against Chicago Cubs starter* Carlos Zambrano and promptly hit a 3-run home run to right field and has continued to impress since.

* A quick aside regarding Zambrano, the Cubs made a mistake moving him to the bullpen, in my opinion. I agree that there was a problem in the back-end of that bullpen and they needed a right hander who could get some outs but his value is in the starting rotation, not being used sparingly at best. I’m not sure what Zambrano’s problem has been pitching-wise because his results so far this year have not been close to what he is capable of. Maybe it’s a motivation thing, perhaps needing either a change in scenery or a change in philosophy from management. But I digress.

Thinking about Heyward’s early success caused me to remember the Braves teams throughout the 1990’s that were perpetually in the playoffs each year. One of the common threads of those years was the existence of a young and upcoming outfielder playing regularly under Cox’s leadership. From 1990, at age 23, through 1996, age 30, David Justice manned right field in Atlanta. Then, from 1996, at age 19, through 2007, age 30, Andruw Jones was firmly entrenched in center field. The Braves won 14 consecutive division titles from 1991 through 2005. They advanced to 5 World Series appearances but only won once, in 1995 against the Cleveland Indians.

Naturally my next thought was wondering how Heyward’s early performance would compare to those of Justice and Jones. So, I took a look at the numbers. Heyward has played in 46 career games, not including today’s Memorial Day game. In the interest of accurate comparisons, I’ve taken each player’s cumulative statistics through their first 46 games.









Debut Yr/Age

Heyward 46 190 156 .301 .421 .596 1.017 2010 / 20
Justice 46 181 164 .244 .309 .446 .669 1989 / 23
Jones 46 151 139 .230 .287 .446 .733 1996 / 19

Taking a look at the basics of these numbers, I have to point out that these are still small sample sizes that I am using for this comparison because Heyward’s career has been so brief thus far. To make a true comparison of the three players it would be better to look at their first full season totals but we’d have to wait until September at the earliest to be able to do that. However, despite the small sample size it looks as though Heyward is off to a strong start when compared to two of his predecessors. He is hitting to a higher batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS and the numbers aren’t even close.











Heyward 29 47 10 3 10 38 3 2 29 35
Justice 19 40 10 0 3 17 5 2 15 33
Jones 16 32 10 1 6 17 6 1 11 34

Remarkably the first thing that stands out to me when looking at these numbers are how similar Justice and Jones were at the start of their respective careers. Through 46 games, for each starting with a September callup and then continuing the following Spring right from the start of the season, the two put up nearly the same number of at-bats, hits, runs, doubles, triples, RBI, walks, and strikeouts. Justice and Jones would both find different career paths after those first 46 games.

Justice would anchor right field for the Braves for the first 8 years of his 14-year career. He would finish it with stops in Cleveland, with the New York Yankees, and finally with a year in Oakland. He was named National League Rookie of the Year in 1990, would play in 3 All Star Games, and won 2 Silver Slugger Awards. His teams would reach the World Series 6 times, winning twice – with Atlanta in 2005 and the Yankees in 2000. His best season came in 1997 with Cleveland when he hit .329/.418/.596, with 33 HR, and 101 RBI for an OPS+ of 158.

Jones’s defensive abilities kept him in center field throughout his Brave tenure which lasted the first 12 years of his now 15-year career. He’d go to
five All Star Games and win 10 consecutive Gold Gloves. His teams would reach the World Series twice, losing each time. His best season came in 2005 when he finished second in MVP voting. He hit .263/.347/.575, with a league-leading 51 HR and 128 RBI for an OPS+ of 136.










Justice 1610 5625 1571 .279 .878 129 305 1017
Jones 1954 7024 1805 .257 .827 111 397 1194

Heyward has shown more offensively to this point in his career. Through his first 46 games he has hit for more power, a higher average, and has shown more plate discipline. He has a good chance to be selected for the All Star Game this summer. And to date, the numbers listed above result in an OPS+ of 171. Overall he’s been better than both Justice and Jones.

Once again, let me recognize the fact that this is a smaller sample size that we’d like to make a true comparison of players such as these. But in the interest of looking ahead, it seems as though the Braves and their fans have some good things to look forward to over the next few years. If Heyward can have a career like that of Justice or Jones (his past injury-prone seasons notwithstanding) I think the Braves will be thrilled. He’s already off to a much better start.

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