Things have not gone well for Chase Headley in 2016. This isn’t an argument; it’s plot summary for the season so far. As I write this, Headley’s line sits at .159/.296/.159 through 14 games and 54 plate appearances. He and Cardinals’ infielder Kolton Wong are the only two hitters in the Majors who are qualified for the batting title yet to find an extra-base hit this year. Unsurprisingly, Headley’s wOBA/wRC+ are in the tank at .229 and 40 respectively. While it’s still early and there’s plenty of time for Headley to rebound, there’s a continuing trend in his hitting that could be behind his lack of production.
Pulling the ball has gotten a bad rap in baseball of late, probably thanks to the emergence of the shift against hitters who tend to pull. Regardless o that, think of all the times you’ve heard an announcer call something “a good piece of hitting.” Chances are that ball has been shot back up the middle or taken to the opposite field, right? Both of those things are great, but rare is the time when someone will deign to call a pulled ball “a good piece of hitting.” For Headley, pulling the ball–or not doing so–has been at the heart of his production and the drop therein.
Chase’s production as a pull hitter has been dropping steadily since 2012. In that season, he had a .488/220 wOBA/wRC+ split on pulled pitches. As the years went on, those numbers declined to .433/185; .374/143; .359/127; .221/34. All of those–excepting 2016–have been productive. Those drops, though, are also reflected in his overall production; Headley’s season wOBA/wRC+ numbers have dropped each year since 2012 as well. There has also been a decline in power to his pull field from a high mark of .360 in 2012, followed by .277; .237; .206; .000.
Since Headley is a switch hitter, let’s break this down by left and right. As a left handed batter, hitting to right field, Headley has a career wOBA/wRC+ of .397/156. However, that split shows the same downward power/production trend that his overall pull numbers do as well. Scrolling down that page on FanGraphs, we can find his soft/medium/hard contact rates against lefties while pulling the ball. For his career, he hits 12.3/54.6/33.1. So far in 2016, those splits are 12.5/75/12.5. Finally, a glimmer of hope! His soft contact rate is right in line with his career number, but the other two are completely out of whack. Given the small sample of this season, there’s some hope that the hard contact rate climbs back up to where it should be, with production in tow.
If we look at Headley pulling the ball as a righty hitter, there are similar trends. Per FG, he actually has not hit the ball softly to left this season: 0.0/75.0/25.0 (soft/medium/hard). His career soft% to left as a righty is 12.3, just like his lefty number. Medium% and hard% come in at 55.9 and 31.7 respectively.
My original intent with looking into Headley’s numbers was to find something, anything, that we could hang onto as hope for a rebound. These numbers–along with the fact that his walk rate (16.7%) is above his career rate (10.0) and his strikeout rate (20.4) is below his career rate (22.4)–suggest that maybe something good is around the corner. As those percentages balance out and his hard contact rate moves towards his career averages, more hits–hopefully one or two of the extra-base variety–should come along for the ride.