Heyward and Stanton

So, let’s look at some of the similarities between Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton.

1. They were born three months apart — Heyward was born in August of 1989, Stanton in November that same year.

2. They are football-sized young men — Heyward is 6-foot-5, 245 and Stanton is 6-foot-6, 240. Stanton played football in high school (he was considered a major college prospect) but Heyward was all baseball, all-the time from the time he was 11.

3. They were taken 62 picks apart in the 2007 draft — Heyward was the 14th pick by Atlanta, Stanton was the 76th pick by the Marlins. They were both 17 years old when drafted.

4. Stanton was a minor-league masher right away; he hit 39 home runs in Class A ball as an 18-year-old. Heyward’s skills were vividly clear right away too, though his game was more well-rounded — average, some power, some speed, great defense.

5. They were Baseball America’s top two hitting prospects going into the 2010 season (with Stephen Strasburg squeezing in as a pitching prospect).

BA on Heyward: “He has all the ability to emerge as one of the game’s premier players."

BA on Stanton: “His performance only brought more comparisons to a young Dave Winfield."

6. They were called up during that 2010 season. They were 20.

This is where their career begin to diverge somewhat. Heyward made the first big impact on the game, making the All-Star team as a rookie and finishing second to Buster Posey in Rookie of the Year balloting. By Baseball Reference put up a 6.4 WAR season that first year, fourth in the National League, and there seemed little doubt among baseball people that he was going to be a major star.

Stanton flew a little more under the radar, though he hit 22 homers in 100 games, several of those so massive that it was clear that he too was going to become of baseball’s best players.

Now, 2014, Heyward has played 681 games, Stanton has played 634. There’s a general impression that Stanton clearly has been the better of the two players. That may be so — but WAR disagrees.

Career WAR (by Baseball Reference):
Heyward: 24.5
Stanton: 21.2

Career WAR (by Fangraphs):
Heyward: 21.4
Stanton: 19.5

Stanton has led the National League in slugging twice and in homers once — he has 70 more homers and 100 more RBIs than Heyward so far. He hits such majestic homers that the wind around him sounds like Randy Newman music.

Meanwhile, Heyward has scored more runs, stolen twice as many bases, and plays heavenly defense. He has won two Gold Gloves*, and two Fielding Bible Awards.

*I originally wrote he had won the Platinum Glove as best defender because I thought he did and it’s that way on Heyward’s Baseball Reference page. But I guess the award went to Yadi Molina instead.

Monday was a banner day for both players. The Marlins seemingly put the final touches on a deal that will pay Giancarlo Stanton $325 million dollars for the next hundred billion years.

And the Atlanta Braves traded hometown hero Heyward to St. Louis for Shelby Miller (with others involved). The Braves do want to stockpile young pitching, so that’s the baseball reason. The overriding reason seems to be that Heyward will become a free agent at the end of the season, and the Braves do not want to pay the price to keep him.

There’s something fascinating to me about all this. One of the constant themes of this blog, I think, is talking about that overused word: “Narrative.” And the narrative seems to be that Stanton is an awesome superstar of the sport and that Heyward is a perfectly good player but, honestly, kind of a disappointment, what with dwindling home run numbers and batting averages.

Is the narrative right? Well, it’s hard to say. Giancarlo Stanton and Jason Heyward help teams win in very different ways. Stanton’s way is much more noticeable. He hits home runs off scoreboards. He crunches line drives that go back in time. He walks a lot because baseballs are afraid to get too close to him. He’s right out of Greek mythology.

And Heyward, well, he he hits some home runs (fewer the last couple of years) and he steals some bases, and he walks some, and he plays amazing defense, and it all just kind of adds up.

On the same day: Stanton gets the biggest contract ever given. Heyward gets a ticket out of town.

Maybe it simply comes down to Bill James’ definition of overrated and underrated — “Specialists and people who do two or three things well are overrated; players who do several things well are underrated.” This is not to say Stanton is a one-dimensional player — he runs OK, he’s a pretty good outfielder, he walks etc. But certainly Heyward does more things well.

The question, in the end, is this: Who will be the better player the next five or six years? This might be crazy talk, but I’m not sure that it will be Stanton. I love the guy, love watching him play, but there seems a hype about him that doesn’t quite match the player. Meanwhile, there’s a sense of disappointment about Heyward from some that I don’t think matches either. Both the Marlins and Braves made major decisions about 25-year-old players on Monday. It’s at least possible that both teams will regret it.