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I have an unabashed affinity for post-hype sleepers. The concept of the post-hype sleeper ranks somewhere between posterizations (shoutout to my basketball readers) and Post Malone on my power rankings for concepts that begin with "post", and I've always found it a great deal of fun trying to pick out once-hyped players who others have given up on. That affinity is why I own shares of Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy and Garrett Richards this season, as well as the guy we're going to talk about in this piece, L.A. Angels starter Andrew Heaney.

Heaney was a top-10 pick in 2012 by the Miami Marlins (9th overall), and peaked as a top-30 prospect and number one in the Angels system in 2015 with the following profile: Fastball: 55/55, Slider: 55/55, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 45/50+, FV: 55

His prospect grades showed a safe floor, three above average pitches  with projectable average to above command and an almost guaranteed future of at least a third or fourth starter. He was just that in his rookie season, making 18 starts that year with a 4.31 SIERA and a very middling batted ball profile. Unfortunately, he was hit with Tommy John surgery the year after, and after recovering and making it back at the end of 2017 for 21.2 innings with an unsightly 7.06 ERA, the world forgot about him. Fast forward to Tuesday where Heaney, already having a solid season thus far, twirled a one-hit gem against the Kansas City Royals, and in a "what have you done for me lately" league, people are beginning to notice and ask who really is Andrew Heaney?

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What's Real?

In Heaney's disastrous, small sample size post-TJ stint, there's one number that stood out: 11.22. Yes, he got obliterated for a 40.0% HR/FB rate and yes, that number is as silly as it looks, but that increase in K-rate for a guy who couldn't top 7.0 K/9 in his previous stint in the majors was a shred of hope in an otherwise miserable month, and while that number was abnormally high, it was somewhat backed up by a 13.5% whiff rate, vs a measly 8.6% in his first go-around.

He's carried that over to this season with an 11.8% mark so far this season, and that has been the fuel behind his greatly improved strikeout mark. This is backed up by a tiny 1.3% gap between his predicted and actual K%, meaning the mid eights K/9 is a fairly solid range for his true strikeout talent level. Heaney didn't change his pitch mix much, as he's still the same three pitch pitcher with a Sinker, Changeup and Slider (more like a Slurve), and his frequencies didn't shift a lot between his 2015 and 2018, but one thing that did change very slightly was the overall movement of his pitches:

He simply figured out how to keep his pitches a couple inches further down, and it has decreased opposing O- and Z-contact % from 65.8/90.8 to 60.0/84.8, and that has made the difference thus far. This has also led to an improvement in contact quality, as Heaney has induced a sterling 22.4% soft contact thus far, further backed up by an 85.5 exit velocity against that ranks 11th in the majors.

 

What's Not?

Remember that silly HR/FB rate we saw earlier? That has normalized and then some to a fairly low 7.1% rate this season that's a bit worse than expected, which is driving the .057 gap between his SLG against and xSLG (.341 vs .398). Heaney's hard contact rate has remained flat when comparing to his 2015 numbers, and in both that season and this one, Heaney has outperformed both xFIP and SIERA off the back of that suppressed HR rate.

He owns a relatively high Hard Hit% when compared to his average exit velocity, meaning batters either square up on his pitches, or they get a piece and create soft contact. This is a really strange statistical oddity and something that needs to be monitored as the sample size gets bigger, but unless Heaney can lower hard contact closer to elite levels, there's no way he can maintain the current HR/FB% he possesses and some regression is due in that area.

 

So who, exactly, is Andrew Heaney?

Heaney is not the guy who was posting a 10+ K/9 earlier this season, nor is he the middling six or seven K/9 guy in the past. The strikeout improvements are real for the most part, and this version of Heaney with a mid-eight K/9 and solid ratios seems like he's here to stay. Those ratios will take a bit of a hit closer to his 3.89 SIERA if he isn't able to lower his hard contact at all, as he will start to give up a bit more home runs, but if you were able to snag him off the waiver wire or get him as a throw-in, you should be pretty happy with your pick-up and hold tight.

 

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