Heyward will miss four to six weeks with a broken jaw that he suffered when he was hit by a Jonathon Niese pitch in Wednesday’s win.
Heyward has been a different hitter since becoming the Braves’ regular leadoff hitter on July 27, hitting .341 in that role, 101 points better than the Braves other leadoff hitters this season.
Most Wins Above Replacement
Through Age-23 Season
Outfielders To Debut Since 1970
The leadoff spot was most agreeable to Heyward, whose .990 OPS in the No. 1 spot this season was 290 points better than his OPS in all other positions in the lineup in 2013.
Since he was moved to the leadoff spot in front of Justin Upton, Heyward was seeing fastballs or sinkers 66 percent of the time. Before that, he was seeing 57 percent fastballs and sinkers. He was hitting .401 (23 for 57) in at-bats ending with fastballs or sinkers since his move to the top of the order.
The Braves will be forced to find a fill-in for potentially a month-and-a-half. The others used by the Braves this season had a .296 on-base percentage, Heyward had a .418 on-base percentage in his last 23 games.
Heyward had been hitting the ball hard more often of late. He had five home runs on the last 35 balls he hit in the air. On the first 123 balls he hit in the air, only eight left the ballpark.
Heyward has been among the most impressive defensive players in baseball since entering the league in 2010. He entered the day with 64 Defensive Runs Saved since the start of his career. That’s the second-most of anyone in the major leagues in that span, trailing only shortstop Brendan Ryan, who has 70.
Most Defensive Runs Saved
Heyward’s forte is catching up to the balls that are hit to the deepest parts of the ballpark and turning them into outs (which helped him during a brief stint in center field earlier in the season).
The component of the Defensive Runs Saved stat that accounts for range credits him with 17 Runs Saved on catches this season, two shy of Carlos Gomez for the major-league lead.
Heyward's replacement will have a lot of weight on his shoulders. The Braves other primary starting outfielders this season—Justin and B.J. Upton, have combined for -10 Defensive Runs Saved.
One potential solution would be to move Justin Upton from left field to right field, which was his primary position from 2007 to 2012. Upton had 16 Defensive Runs Saved in right field from 2008 to 2012. That total pales in comparison to Heyward’s, but Upton was at major-league average or better in each of the previous five seasons.