Last July the Yankees swung a near-deadline deal with the Padres for third baseman Chase Headley in the hopes that he could rediscover his power stroke playing half his games at Yankee Stadium as opposed to the cavernous Petco Park. Headley had a successful two month audition in New York that resulted in a four-year contract worth $13 million per season to stick around as the Yankees' everyday third baseman. More of the same was expected in 2015, but by all accounts this season was a dud for Chase. Does that mean that Yankees made a poor investment or can Headley get back on track next season?
At the plate, the most alarming thing about Headley is his drop in walk rate this year. It dipped below 8% for the first time in his career, which coincided with another career low of a .324 OBP. A look at his plate discipline metrics reveals that, while he was swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone at a rate just below his career average, he actually made contact on those pitches at a rate that was two percent higher than his career rate. Combine that with the fact that his swing rate at pitches inside the strike zone was well below his career standard and it's clear that he needs to be more selective when he does swing. A minor adjustment in plate approach could result in a walk rate closer to the 11% he put up from 2011 through 2014.
Headley's batting average and BABIP in 2015 were right in line with his career numbers, but there's another more obvious way that he can improve with the bat going forward. Yankee Stadium was supposed to be the place where he could fully realize the 30-home run potential he flashed with the Padres back in 2012. However, in his first full season in pinstripes he hit just 11 home runs, which contributed to his career low slugging percentage. The strange thing is, Headley made great contact all year as evidenced by his 26.6% line drive rate, good for tenth best in the major leagues. Yet, in one of MLB's most homer friendly parks, somehow just 8% of the fly balls he hit went for home runs. That's the lowest mark he's put up since 2011 and more than three percent below league average. Therefore, bad luck was probably the biggest contributing factor to his lack of power. Going forward, his home run rate is due for a positive correction.
Normally a steady fielder, Headley had a rough go at third base this season. He committed 23 errors in total, more than any other major league third baseman and 10 more than his previous career high. According to advanced defensive metrics he cost his team at least a handful of runs in the field. Headley's poor play at the hot corner wasn't due to a lack of range, as happens with many players climbing into their 30's. In fact, more than half of his errors were on wild throws. Luckily, this appeared to be an early season struggle that he bounced back from. After racking up 16 errors prior to the All-Star break, he settled in and committed just seven more over the rest of the season. Seemingly, he's been cured of the Steve Sax/Chuck Knoblauch disease that plagued him early on, so it would be no surprise to see him return to gold glove-caliber form next year for the Yankees.
Chase Headley may have underwhelmed as a key contributor to the Yankees in 2015, but that doesn't mean his contract will be an albatross for the Yankees over the next three years. With some minor tweaks and a little bit of luck back on his side, he should again be the solid, veteran presence the Yankees thought they signed a winter ago.
All data used in this article courtesy of Fangraphs.