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Andrew Heaney: Bust or Bargain?

Andrew Heaney recently signed a one-year, $8.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. For a pitcher with a career 4.72 ERA who was designated for assignment by the New York Yankees just last season, that is quite a bit of money.

The Dodgers see something in him, and are looking to utilize their strength in pitcher development to turn Heaney from a draft bust into a reliable starter. Let’s take a look at why that might be.

From Humble Beginnings

Heaney was first drafted out of high school in the 24th round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009. However, the southpaw declined and decided to attend Oklahoma State University. This proved to be an excellent move, as in 2012 he pitched to a 1.60 ERA over 118 innings of work. He also accumulated 140 strikeouts in that period and just 22 walks.

Heaney entered the draft once again in 2012, but this time he got the result he was looking for. The Marlins drafted Heaney with the ninth overall pick, and things looked promising for the young lefty.

Heaney showed promising results through his first few years in the minors. He put up a 0.88 ERA through 61.2 innings of work in A+ ball, earning him a promotion to AA. Heaney continued his good work in AA, putting up a 2.94 and 2.35 ERA during 2013 and 2014.

After being dealt to the Los Angeles Angels prior to the 2015 season, Heaney got the call up. Over 18 starts, he pitched to a 3.49 ERA, with a respectable 2.79 strikeout to walk ratio (K/BB).

While things seemed to be going well, Heaney underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016. Since then, Heaney has struggled with setbacks and has largely underperformed. While still putting up decent numbers, his results likely did not earn him his contract with the Dodgers. However, his potential to produce is more intriguing.

The Right Stuff

While Heaney may not throw very hard, averaging 92.0 mph on his fastball in 2021, he has great stuff. His fastball ranked in the 90th percentile for spin rate in 2021. What it lacks in vertical rise, it makes up for with good horizontal movement.

By tweaking his delivery to be a bit more over-the-top rather than side-arm, it is possible that Heaney could better utilize his spin rate to generate more swings and misses on fastballs up in the zone. 

A change to his arm-slot would also help his curveball, which already drops 46.8 inches on average and generated a swing and miss 35.1% of the time in 2021. His changeup also registers as a pitch that could gain some serious vertical drop.

Ideally, Heaney would gain rise on his fastball and keep it up in the strike zone. Mixing in his curveball and changeup, Heaney could lock up hitters sitting on high fastballs. This pitching approach falls in line with the likes of pitchers like Max Fried, Clayton Kershaw, and Tyler Glasnow. All three have high spin-rate fastballs that they couple with devastating breaking pitches to throw off hitters.

Command Issues

Heaney does not struggle much with control, as he has consistently posted a K/BB ratio of 3.50+ from 2017 onwards. However, he does struggle quite a bit with command.

The important distinction between command and control is that control is the ability to throw strikes, while command is the ability to locate pitches and control movement. In 2021, Heaney averaged 2.5 walks per nine innings, his lowest mark since 2018. However, he also allowed 3.3 home runs per nine innings, his highest mark since his post-Tommy John season in 2017.

andrew-heaney-pitching


Image courtesy of Getty Images

While Heaney is not allowing walks quite as frequently, he is leaving the ball over the heart of the plate, and being punished heavily for it. His fastball in particular generated a hard hit ball 45% of the time in 2021, good for 18th worst in the MLB (minimum 250 plate appearances). 

If Heaney could locate his fastball better and throw more competitive breaking pitches, he would have the potential to generate far more swings and misses. 

With already respectable K/9 and BB/9 ratios, Heaney is in prime position to bounce back to form. By beginning to miss barrels Heaney could capitalize on his high spin rates and become extremely deceptive.

Conclusion

The Dodgers are taking a chance on Heaney for sure, but they have no shortage of pitching development success. The Dodgers developed homegrown studs like Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and Dustin May over the course of just over a decade, so the potential is there.

With a few tweaks here and there and some mechanical consistency, Heaney could become a force to be reckoned with in the league. He may also have an excellent mentor in Clayton Kershaw should he decide to re-sign with the Dodgers following the MLB lockout.

A lefty with similarly excellent fastball spin-rate, low velocity, and otherworldly command and control, Kershaw could be critical in helping Heaney to unlock the potential in his pitching repertoire. 

It is yet to be seen how Heaney will fare in 2022, but it is certainly too early to count him out. Look for him to make his Dodgers debut sometime in April when the season finally gets underway.

Featured image courtesy of Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times

All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Savant

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