Hello everybody! I'm Nick Stellini, and I'm the newest member of the Pinstripe Alley crew. I also write over at Beyond the Box Score, SB Nation's sabermetrics division. I'll try my hardest not to get my calculator in your garlic fries. Mmm, garlic fries. Seriously, next time you're at Yankee Stadium do yourself a favor and buy some. They're heavenly. Especially if you get them with cheese.
Entering Sunday’s action, the Yankees were tied with the Orioles for seventh place in the majors in runs scored with 116. That’s not bad at all, and their .242/.321/.421 line comes with a 104 wRC+. They’ll certainly take that after finishing with a 92 wRC+ last year. Add in a starting rotation that’s keeping its collective head afloat and a bullpen that opposing batters have nightmares about, and the Yankees have been winning lots of ballgames.
The offense is particularly intriguing. The Bombers aren’t resigned to a life of one-run games and being on the nasty end of blowouts anymore. Mark Teixeira is hitting. Alex Rodriguez is hitting. Brian McCann is hitting. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have declared war on pitchers atop the lineup, even though Gardner’s sudden burst of power from last year has been mostly absent thus far. This, however, is not what a Yankees offense firing on all cylinders looks like.
Chase Headley, he of the wonderful four-year, $52 million contract, has had a slow start to the year. Entering Sunday, Headley had only hit .231/.278/.396. The low OBP is especially troubling. Headley already didn’t walk very much (9.6% walk rate last year), and that’s down even further to 6.2%. He’s striking out at relatively the same rate as well. He’s fixed the defensive miscues that hounded him in the early cold games, but the bat hasn’t caught up yet. So what gives?
The first hint of the problem can be found in Headley’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Headley had a .301 BABIP last year, and that includes his time with the Padres when he was dealing with nagging injuries. Entering Sunday, Headley has a .277 BABIP. That’s a pretty low mark, and likely unsustainable. Right?
Batted ball data paints even more of a picture. Right off the bat, we can see that 10% (!) of Headley’s balls in play have been infield fly balls, which is a nice way of saying "pop-ups." Pop-ups are a lovely way of getting an out, as you can imagine. His line drive rate is also down from 27.4% to 25%, and his ground balls are up from 40.6% to 45.6%. Fly balls are also down from 32% to 29.4%, but 15% of his fly balls are leaving the park. Headley has destroyed every ball he’s hit out of the park.
I’m not a professional hitting coach. I only play one on TV. But Headley still having power tells me that he’s still fine as a potential offensive contributor and his timing at the plate is just a bit off at the moment. Being late or early to the ball is how you end up with pop-ups and grounders instead of the liners Headley was shooting all over last year.
It should also be noted that Headley only has 97 plate appearances’ worth of data here, which is textbook small sample size. Headley is quite simply a better hitter than this, and this too shall pass. FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projection system, which compounds the ZiPS and Steamer system, says that he should hit .253/.336/.417 for the rest of the season and that sounds much more Headley-esue. Putting his fully-functioning bat in the middle of the Yankees lineup will make it even more dangerous, which is absolutely something to look forward to. As we all know, you can bank on Chase. One might even say that Headley is deadly.
I’m sorry. I had to. Don’t kill me.
All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com.