Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Chase Headley brings plate discipline, excellent defense to Yankees

The New York Yankees were falling out of the 2014 playoff picture, but they made a trade for Chase Headley, a third baseman long coveted by the club. Headley was not necessarily seen as a savior – he was hitting just .229/.296/.355 at the time – but the Yankees felt he could turn things around in New York and might have viewed the deal as a long-term tryout of sorts.

With no one in the system ready to make the step to the big leagues and uncertainty with Alex Rodriguez’s hobbled hips, the Yankees may have felt Headley could make a difference in the coming years. Being unsure of how he would handle the Big Apple atmosphere, or how he would like playing in the Bronx, a midseason trade made some sense.

Headley fit right in with his new teammates (and the fans) and instantly provided a defensive upgrade at third base. He also showed some of the potential upside his presence at the plate could provide. When Headley is right he is an on-base machine with some pop. His lefty swing – he is a switch-hitter – profiles nicely with the short porch in Yankee Stadium’s right field. In 224 plate appearances with the Yankees, Headley put up a slash of .262/.371/.398 with eight doubles and six home runs.

These are not spectacular numbers, but they are steady and they become somewhat amplified by Headley’s stellar defense which is among the best in the game. There is reason to believe that Headley, at 30 years old, still has some good years ahead of him and hitting in the American League will only assist his production. Additionally, there is no reason to believe that his fielding will suffer, so the four-year, $52 million deal is seen as a fair investment for the Yankees.

On the projections front Headley is seen to be primed for a good season, much better than he was experiencing at the end of his time in San Diego and resembling what he showed in the few months with the Yanks. The chart below provides estimates generated by Steamer and ZiPS (both coming via FanGraphs).

These metrics are also in line with Headley’s career numbers at the plate – .265/.347/.408, .334 wOBA, .144 ISO, 114 wRC+ and 113 OPS+ – albeit inflated a bit by his outlier 2012 season. They suggest a bump in homers (he’s averaged 13 the last two seasons) which makes sense having already noted the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium. Some upside exists for Headley in the OBP department where something in the neighborhood of .350 is not out of the question and it’s not difficult to believe he can eclipse 50 extra-base hits.

In the field, the Yankees will certainly take Headley saving 9 or 7 runs as opposed to what they would receive from Rodriguez (likely a negative number).

In all, if Headley is coming through with this type of production it will surely give the Yankees a better chance of winning. Further, if Headley can stay close to these projections in the coming years with minimal decreases due to age-regression, he will easily outperform the value of his contract. However, and this is a concern, anything that mimics his waning days in San Diego will be seen as a bust.

Headley does not need to carry this team, much like he was expected to do (or he felt he needed to do) in San Diego. By being as selective as possible at the plate Headley should be able to maximize his ability to see quality pitches which he can drive into the gap and over the right field wall in Yankee Stadium. Headley's proficiency to display patience at the plate and likelihood to provide better than average defense should allow the Yankees to concentrate their roster efforts elsewhere for the next few seasons.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.