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Looking deeper into Chase Headley’s struggles

With constant rumblings of who will replace Headley, let’s look at what has contributed to his plummet.

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Headley has gone from a pleasant April surprise to a gaping black hole in the Yankees’ lineup, all in less than two months. There was actually a time at the end of April where Headley was leading the league in oWAR and on base percentage, but nowadays you will find him on the other end of those lists.

So what happened? Of course, the beginning of baseball season provides plenty of anomalies that fail to last through Memorial Day as the numbers begin to even out. Nobody expected Headley to produce like he did in April for an entire season. Still, you could argue that he was capable of more than his current output, which is near nonexistent.

Headley batted .165 in May with a slugging percentage of .235 after batting over .300 in April. His performance at the plate has gotten so bad that rumors are swirling of the Yankees looking for potential replacements at third base, whether it be from an outside source or calling up their most prized prospect in Gleyber Torres. Needless to say, Headley’s job security has taken a hit in the past month.

What is the culprit behind his offensive demise? A common theory attached to slumping hitters is that opposing pitchers adjusted and found weaknesses in a hitter’s swing. Headley made his own adjustments at the beginning of the year by foiling defensive shifts, so did pitchers adjust accordingly and find some kind of hole in Headley’s swing? Let’s take a look using heat maps. Below shows where Headley was being pitched during the first month of the season:

Now compare that to what he has seen since the end of April:

There’s almost no difference in pitch location. In fact, you could argue that Headley is seeing more pitches in the same area that he was mashing from back in April. Clearly, pitchers haven’t tossed their scouting reports and formulated a new plan of attack on Headley. They just waited for his new season legs to wear off and let Headley beat himself.

The problem is in Headley’s swing, which seems to have taken a turn for the worst as he presses more at the plate with each passing out. Headley’s BABIP in April was an impressive .361, but that mark fell all the way to .250 in May. A statistical drop of that magnitude goes beyond baseball karma and bad luck. Headley can’t hang his hat on any excuse of hitting hard-hit balls right at the defense. He’s just not swinging the bat well anymore.

The million dollar question is if Headley can turn it around, or at least get back to being a .250-.260 hitter with a reliable glove in the infield. Right now, he is absolutely a liability. The optimist could refer to Headley’s dreadful start last season and how he turned it around to be at least a mediocre corner infielder in 2016. At 33 years old, every major slump will only increase questions of what exactly Headley has left in the tank. His 2012 MVP-caliber days are long gone.

The problem for the Yankees is Headley’s contract, and the $13 million he is still owed next season. The Yankees have showed they are willing to eat part of a contract and come to mutual agreements with a guy like Alex Rodriguez, but he had become a one-way player who was seven years older than Headley is right now. I wouldn’t bank on something like that to unfold, but I also wouldn’t bank on Chase right now, as his hitting account looks to be in the red.