How bad have things become with Chase Headley? Men have a rather impolite saying when going to the men's room. Perhaps you have heard of, "Going to the Head." Lately, I have been saying that I am going to the Headley. And there is much about his first month of the season that sings the Ty-D-Bol theme song. His stats are clean, man, clean as a whistle. Looking for doubles? Nope. Triples? Nope. Homers? Nope. Hits with two outs with runners in scoring position? Hits with men on first and second? Hits with men on first and third? Hits with men on second and third? Nope, nope, nope and nope.
Chase Headley has gotten off to bad starts in his career. But never this bad. And, it would not be too much of a concern if it did not bookend how he finished 2015. September of last season was nearly as bad. That month, Headley played in 31 games and had twenty hits with only three extra base hits. Mind you, that is three more than this April. But even so, his triple slash line last September was, .179/.252/..223. That only looks good against this April's .148/.277/.148.
I was really bullish on the Yankees getting this guy. I bought into that outlier of a season he had in 2012. To my embarrassment, in our IIATMS previews in 2015, I selected Headley as my biggest surprise to be in 2015. It did not exactly happen that way. I always loved his glove. And then last year happened and I cringed every time he threw the ball (as did Mark Teixeira). I was so wrong. According to Fangraphs.com, Headley was the seventeenth best third baseman in baseball last year. Even Yangervis Solarte was better. At least his fielding has been solid to great this season.
So what has happened to Chase Headley? His line drive percentage is comparable to seasons past. His strikeout rate has been stable with his history. There are two major differences. First--and I know everyone is sick of hearing about this stat--the velocity of balls off his bat are down. Second, he is taking many more pitches and swinging less often.
Let's start with the second one because it sounds counter intuitive. It is good to be patient, right? Maybe. His overall swing percentage this season is at a career low of 35.5%. Compare that to his lifetime rate of 43.8%. There is a dramatic difference in the amount of pitches he swings at out of the strike zone. This year, that percentage is 18.2% compared to a career norm of 25.6%. That all sounds good, right? So far, yes. But then we come to the percentage of strikes.
In that latter category, Headley is swinging at 58.3% of pitches in the strike zone compared to a career average of 67.7%. In his monster year of 2012, Headley swung at 70% of strikes. My theory on this is that he is not as aggressive as he used to be and I believe I have observed this watching every game thus far. He should be mashing balls in the middle zone of the plate and too many pass by unchallenged. Then he is forced to swing at a pitcher's pitch. He seems far too passive at the plate. This is my theory. Debunk at will. I fully admit that I am not as good a stat guy as my colleagues.
I also believe the above information bleeds into his amount of hard hit balls. Starting with his season in 2012 and covering the two following seasons, the percentage of balls he hit hard were near 35% or higher. Then last season, it went down to 28% and this year is at 23.8%. His home run to fly ball percentage took a big dip last season and, of course, is nonexistent so far this season.
Can Chase Headley recover? Sure, anything is possible. He won't be THIS bad all season. That said, I am not sure he will become a productive hitter again for the Yankees. His offense had a negative value last year and we are now talking a season and a month of not being productive. His last two full months of play have been alarming. How patient the Yankees are will be interesting to see. The organization will probably be a lot more patient than I.