Chase Headley's incredible 2012 campaign resulted in Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards and a top-five finish in the Most Valuable Player voting. At 28 years old, Headley seemed poised to ascend into the upper echelon of third basemen alongside the likes of Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, and David Wright.
Unfortunately, Headley has followed up his elite campaign with three successively worse seasons which culminated in 2015 with a below average year at the plate. With three more seasons remaining on his contract, Headley will need to correct his offensive free fall sooner than later for the Yankees to have success in 2016 and beyond.
The way he can accomplish such a goal is by focusing on batting from the left side, where the bottom has fallen out the past two seasons.
Chase Headley OPS as Left Handed Batter:
2011: .729 (121 wRC+ from both sides)
2012: .918 (145 wRC+ from both sides)
2013: .739 (113 wRC+ from both sides)
2014: .690 (103 wRC+ from both sides)
2015: .670 (91 wRC+ from both sides)
Headley's offensive production since his fairytale 2012 has slipped steadily, though he provided enough value in the field in 2013 and 2014 to make up for the slippage. Last season's error festival did nothing to bolster his overall value and he consequently finished the season worth less than two Wins Above Replacement for the first time since 2009. Headley is only 31 years old, so his defense should rebound just fine, but the dip in his production from the left side is concerning in its consistency.
His performance from the right side has typically been acceptable, aside from a curiously turbocharged 2011 campaign during which he raked for an .891 OPS, and it has especially leveled off in recent years. He has finished between .729 and .777 from the right side in each of the past four seasons despite recording relatively small sample sizes compared with the left. Headley could certainly improve from that side, as evidenced by his excellent 2011 outlier, but with a career OPS of .730 from the right he seems to have found a comfort zone over his last 2,000 or so plate appearances.
On the other hand, with a career OPS of .755 from the left side, Headley has been disappointing even by his own standards. Improving toward his career norms as a lefty would entail an OPS jump of about 80 points from last season, which is no small feat.
The good news for Headley is that improving his OPS can be done by raising his power profile, and he plays 81 games a year in perhaps the best stadium for a lefty to do so. His 2015 home run percentage of 1.7% was a full point lower than his 224 plate appearances as a Yankee in 2014. Even when he played 81 home games in cavernous Petco Park in 2013 Headley managed a home run rate of 2.2%, all of which bodes well for a modest power increase in 2016.
Dan Szymborski's ZiPS indeed projects a home run increase from last year's 14 to 16 in the upcoming campaign. That home run increase would contribute to a jump in OPS to .727 overall, an improvement of nearly 60 points from last season. Combine that jump with a better season in the field and Headley should be on his way back to contribution.
Projecting offense is extremely difficult and improving at the plate is particularly difficult after 30, but Headley's career baselines are within his reach this season, particularly if he focuses on improving from the left side.