The Dustification of Chris Heisey

USA TODAY Sports

Is it possible that Dusty Baker stunted Heisey's development?

In 2010, a 25 year-old Chris Heisey made his MLB debut with the Reds. In his rookie campaign Heisey made significant contributions at the plate, helping the Reds to their first division title in 15 years. That year Heisey showed decent power, posting a higher SLG than several higher-profile teammates including Brandon Phillips, Jonny Gomes and Micah Owings (!). He even managed to draw walks at a respectable rate. Unfortunately, Heisey had a little bit of Drew Stubbs in his game, whiffing in more than 25% of his plate appearances as a rookie.

His sophomore campaign was even better. In 2011, Heisey trailed only Joey Votto in SLG among Reds players with at least 100 PA. As he did in 2010, he continued to draw walks occasionally, albeit less often than the MLB average. All things considered, Heisey put together two solid seasons at the plate. But the strikeouts... For the second season in a row, his K-rate exceeded 25%. Heisey's manager had a philosophy on hitting. Despite Heisey's production, the strikeouts had to be alarming for Dusty Baker.

As I've noted here at RR (along with others), Dusty Baker is not a fan of patience at the plate. He coached his players to be more "aggressive" at the plate, to "attack pitches early," to put the ball in play.

Heisey, it seems, followed those instructions from Dusty...

Year Pit/PA AS/Pit
2010 3.81 49.2%
2011 3.71 51.2%
2012 3.66 51.3%
2013 3.44 54.1%
4 Yrs 3.65 51.4%
MLB Averages 3.82 45.6%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/5/2014.

*Pit/PA = Pitches per plate appearance
*AS/Pit = Percentage of all pitches swung at

As a rookie, Heisey was hardly Joey Votto with his patience. He saw fewer pitches and swung more often than the MLB average. But you can never be too aggressive for Mr. Baker. In every season of his career, Chris Heisey has been more aggressive at the plate than the prior season. He swings more often and sees fewer pitches.

If the goal was to reduce strikeouts and put the ball in play more often, Heisey's "improving" aggressive approach has been a smashing success.

Year PA SO% BB% XBH% SO/BB AB/SO GB/FB IP%
2010 226 25.2% 7.1% 8.4% 3.56 3.5 0.53 61%
2011 308 25.3% 6.2% 9.1% 4.11 3.6 0.48 61%
2012 375 21.6% 4.8% 7.5% 4.50 4.3 0.60 69%
2013 244 20.9% 3.7% 8.6% 5.67 4.4 0.68 68%
4 Yrs 1153 23.2% 5.4% 8.3% 4.31 3.9 0.57 65%
MLB Averages 19.2% 8.1% 7.5% 2.36 4.7 0.82 68%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/5/2014.
*IP% = Percentage of all plate appearances with the ball put into play.

He has improved his K-rate from over 25% to 21%. In his first two seasons, he put the ball in play "just" 61% of the time, now up to nearly 70% of the time in the two most recent seasons. Unfortunately, that's where the good news ends. His walk rate was nearly cut in half. His OBP dropped below .300 last year. His power is not what it used to be.

Surely, other factors have contributed to Heisey's decline at the plate. Perhaps opposing pitchers have better scouting reports on Heisey than they did earlier in his career. Perhaps the early sample of his career was simply an outlier, and he never really had the ability to be that good for an extended period of time. Nonetheless, a very clear pattern exists; under Baker's tutelage Chris Heisey became increasingly aggressive at the plate and simultaneously became a less productive hitter. Causation or correlation? Who knows... All we can hope is that Heisey's new manager will let him be the hitter he was 3 years ago.
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