When Chase Headley re-signed with the Yankees for a four-year, $52 million contract there seemed to be a very wide range of opinions on the deal. What I noticed was a lot of the mainstream media guys didn't get it, while the "stat geeks" loved it and thought Headley was undervalued.
As usual for me, I was on the "stat geeks" side. The narrative in the mainstream media was that Headley had not been a productive player since his MVP caliber season of 2011, which was completely false. He has never been nearly as good as he was in 2011, but he had a .330 wOBA and a 114 wRC+ in 2013 and a 4.2 WAR last season. According to Fangraphs' WAR to dollar based scale, Headley was worth $31.7 million last season.
Through a month and a half of the season Headley has surprisingly stunk. He's hitting .236/.285/.386/.670 with five home runs, a .294 wOBA and a 83 wRC+. His power has been pretty good and his line drive is 26.9 percent, which is above his 21.1 percent career mark. This gives you hope that his .272 BABIP should rise and that he's hit into some hard luck. Although, Fangraphs also has Headley with 21.3 percent of balls put in play with soft speed, which is way above his 14.6 percent career mark.
The biggest difference in looking deeper into Headley's numbers is his results against hard pitches (fastball, cutter and sinker) are significantly down. Headley is hitting .218, slugging .333 and has a .115 ISO against hard pitches this season compared to hitting .284, slugging .447 and a .163 ISO for his career. Headley's heat map shows that unless the ball is thrown right down the middle he hasn't hit much against hard pitches.
Also, Headley has really struggled batting righty this season with a .188/.220/.375/.595 slash line. He has been pretty even from both sides of the plate in his career with a .768 OPS left-handed and a .722 OPS right-handed.
Headley's plate discipline could be part of why he is hitting into a lot of soft contact this season. He is swinging at 29.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone compared to 26.4 percent for his career. It's harder to hit into hard contact on pitches outside of the zone. His walk rate is down to six percent from his 10.1 percent career mark. With most of the Yankees improving their plate discipline this season that's pretty disappointing.
One thing Headley has done well is hit in high leverage situations. Whether or not you believe being clutch is a real skill or not Headley has developed that reputation over his time with the Yankees dating back to last season. He has hit .357/.400/.786/.1.186 in high leverage situations this year and if it was not for his three-run home run in the sixth inning Saturday the Yankees may have been looking at a six-game losing streak today.
While Headley's hitting has been surprisingly poor, his bad defense has been even more surprising. He was a defensive wizard at the hot corner for the Yankees last season and has been bad this season for reasons that cannot really be explained. He has come up with a few highlight diving plays, but overall his defense has been nowhere near the level it was last season. The main reason for Headley's high WAR last year was his elite defense.
I take defensive stats with a grain of salt, but according to FanGraphs Headley was worth 21.6 runs above average at third last year and is 2.3 runs below average this season. His UZR/150 is -11.0 compared to 28.0 last year. Headley has eight errors already this year and had eight all of last season. His career high is 13 errors.
While you don't have much hope for guys like Stephen Drew or Didi Gregorius, Headley is a guy with a recent track record of being significantly better than he has shown. The Yankees really need Headley to play to the back of his baseball card quickly with the team desperately needing lineup depth.