Robbie Ray 2.0? Why Dodgers believe Andrew Heaney is primed for bounce-back season
Andrew Heaney does not think it’s that much of a stretch to compare his signing of a one-year, $8.5-million deal with the Dodgers this week to that of Robbie Ray’s one-year, $8-million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays last winter.
Ray bounced back from a shaky 2020 season, when he went 2-5 with a 6.62 ERA in 12 games, to go 13-7 with an American League-best 2.84 ERA and a major league-high 248 strikeouts in 2021, the 30-year-old left-hander establishing himself as the AL Cy Young front-runner.
Heaney, also a 30-year-old left-hander, went 8-9 with a 5.83 ERA in 30 games for the Angels and New York Yankees in 2021, striking out 150, walking 41 and giving up a career-high 29 homers in 129 2/3 innings.
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But the Dodgers jumped the free-agent market to sign Heaney because “we feel like there’s some real upside we can tap into,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, and Heaney chose the Dodgers because he thinks they offered the best path toward maximizing his potential.
“I’m not sitting here predicting I’m going to win the Cy Young or anything next year, but I do think teams look at not only pitchers’ stuff, but underlying metrics, especially with a guy like me, where it’s a bounce-back season,” Heaney said on a video call Friday.
“I don’t know Robbie Ray, but I’m sure if you asked him, he didn’t come into this past season necessarily expecting to win a Cy Young. But I think he was trying to go out there and implement a better process and game plan, and as it grows, you gain confidence, and you start pitching better, and things start falling into place.”
Heaney has a 32-38 career record and 4.72 ERA in eight big-league seasons. He missed most of 2016 and 2017 because of Tommy John surgery and had his best season in 2018 for the Angels, going 9-10 with a 4.15 ERA in 30 starts, striking out 180 and walking 45 in 180 innings.
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Heaney went 16-18 with a 5.21 ERA in 60 games from 2019-2021 but has always had an ability to miss bats with a high-spin-rate four-seam fastball that seems to rise as it approaches the plate. He averaged 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings over the past five seasons.
Heaney was designated for assignment by the Yankees on Oct. 5 and elected free agency, giving him a full month before most players hit the market to meet and negotiate with teams, a process that proved more uplifting than nerve-wracking.
“I know that I’m much better than my numbers say I was last year,” Heaney said, “and I think it was really exciting and eye-opening to see how many other teams felt the same way.”
Heaney had lengthy in-person meetings in Los Angeles and follow-up video calls with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, pitching coach Mark Prior, athletic trainers, game planners, analytics department staffers and front-office executives.
“We really dug deep into some things that I like to do, that I don’t like to do, that I do well, that I could do better,” Heaney said. “Some of the things are extremely achievable, and some are things I never thought of — little minor tweaks that had never crossed my mind or been brought to my attention.
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“I’m excited because I think there is some really low-hanging fruit. But I also understand some of the things they want me to do are a bit more difficult, stuff I’m gonna have to really buckle down, work hard this offseason to not just do one or two times but do be able to do consistently every time I take the mound.”
Heaney, who will provide rotation depth for the Dodgers behind Walker Buehler, Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin, throws a four-seam fastball that averages 92 mph and touches 96 mph, a 79.5-mph curve and an 84-mph changeup.
He threw a 92-mph two-seam sinking fastball from 2014-2019 but has not thrown the pitch in the past two seasons, according to Baseball Savant.
Asked how the Dodgers think he can improve, Heaney was reluctant to go into specifics, but he did say there are some mechanical adjustments as well as pitch usage and sequencing changes that will be incorporated.
“I have to figure out how much of this is proprietary information — I don’t know if I can just be putting all their stuff on the streets,” Heaney joked. “Just a couple things mechanically, getting on their offseason strength and conditioning program, and then some minor tweaks with a few of my pitches, how to best deploy pitches with pitch selection, pitch usage, locations. I don’t think it’s one major thing. I think it’s a culmination of a lot of little things.”
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