The Boringly Adequate Chase Headley [2016 Season Review]

Now that the 2016 season is complete and the dust has settled, it’s time to begin our annual season review series. This year was a complicated one. That’s for sure.


Three years ago the Yankees came to a realization: Alex Rodriguez was no longer a capable third baseman. He had hip surgery during the 2012-13 offseason and was suspended for all of 2014, plus he was closing in on his 40th birthday, and guys who go through all of that don’t stay at a demanding infield position. It was time to find a new full-time third baseman.

In 2013 the Yankees turned to Kevin Youkilis, which was a disaster. In 2014 they went originally with Kelly Johnson, but Yangervis Solarte forced the issue in Spring Training. At midseason, the Yankees went for the more proven commodity and sent Solarte to the Padres for Chase Headley. Headley played well enough in the second half of the 2014 season to earn a new four-year, $52M contract as a free agent. The 2016 season was year two of four.

The Inexcusably Awful April

Last season was the worst full season of Headley’s career. He hit .259/.324/.369 (92 wRC+) with eleven homers in 156 games, plus he stopped played top notch defense. Headley went from being a big time asset in the field to being a big liability. Getting his defense back on track was priority No. 1 this year, perhaps so much so that it hurt his offense. Headley spent a lot of time working on his throwing in Spring Training.

In the first month of this season, Headley hit an unfathomable .150/.268/.150 (22 wRC+) in 71 plate appearances. Yeah, he drew plenty of walks (14.1%), but holy cow was he bad. No extra-base hits? No extra-base hits! In terms of OPS+, Headley had the second worst April by a regular player in franchise history. He had a 21 OPS+. Roger Peckinpaugh had 16 OPS+ in April 1918. Yeah.

Headley had two-hit games on April 12th and 19th. He had five hits the rest of the month. You can blame poor luck on balls in play (.191 BABIP) if you want, but a 17.0% soft contact rate and a 21.3% hard contact rate doesn’t exactly scream “this guy isn’t being rewarded.” Headley was awful in April. Inexcusably so, really. Ronald Torreyes took some at-bats away from him, though ultimately the Yankees needed to get Headley on track, so he remained in the lineup.

The Return to Normalcy

May 12th. That was the date of Headley’s first extra-base hit this season. It was team game No. 33 and his 103rd plate appearance. Headley’s first non-single was an opposite field home run, because of course it was. Ex-Yankee Ian Kennedy served it up. To the action footage:

“It’s been pretty crummy all year, to be honest,” said Headley following the game. “There was never a question in my mind that I was going to come out of it … I’m very confident in who I am as a player. But you have to produce. When you’re playing here and the team’s not playing well, you know you have to get it going. The confidence in the short term wasn’t as high as it usually is, so it was frustrating. But never have I thought, ‘I’m not going to hit anymore.'”

Naturally, Headley’s second extra-base hit came the next day. That was also a home run. Against Chris Sale of all people. Two days later Headley hit his first double of the season. The floodgates were open! By Headley standards, anyway. He got the monkey off his back — I can’t imagine the lack of extra base hits wasn’t weighing on his mind — and his performance started to improve into the warm summer months. It almost couldn’t get worse, really.

Early in the season Headley said he was rolling over on too many pitches and pulling too many grounders, which killed his production. He was doing it from both sides of the plate too. Once Headley was able to hit the ball in the air a little more often — and impact the baseball harder in general — his production began to tick up. Check out his rolling ground ball and hard contact rates:

Chase Headley GB rateThe hard contact rate climbed steadily and peaked north of 50% in July. That’s really good! Headley’s ground ball rate was up close to 60% at the start of the season before coming down to 40% or so at midseason. That’s much better. It makes sense for some hitters to hit the ball on the ground. Not Headley. He’s no speedster. He needs to elevate the ball to be productive and he wasn’t doing that in April.

From the start of May through the end of the season, Headley hit .265/.338/.418 (103 wRC+) with 18 doubles and 14 homers in 458 plate appearances and 121 games. That’s after putting up a 102 wRC+ from 2013-15. April 2016 was the outlier for Headley. Not May through early-October. He had a bad month — a terrible, awful, horrible, abysmal month — and went right back to being the guy he’s been the last few seasons.

All told, Headley hit .251/.329/.383 (92 wRC+) with 14 home runs in 2016. He also stole eight bases and always seemed to do so in big moments. Headley was a sneaky good base-stealer. The miserable April dragged his overall numbers down, but that miserable April happened, so we can’t ignore it. Headley was basically a league average hitter after April and there’s nothing exciting about that. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is.

The Defensive Rebound

For all the questions about Headley’s bat, there were never any concerns about his defense, at least not until last season. Last year Headley became alarmingly error prone, especially on throws. He was very tentative. There was no conviction behind any of his throws. It looked like he had the yips. No doubt about it. I mean:

Chase Headley error

That is not a man who is confident in his throwing ability. We saw an awful lot of that last season. Headley worked and worked and worked on it all season, and when Spring Training opened up, he worked and worked and worked on it some more. He and infield coach Joe Espada went out to the back fields every day to work on footwork and things like that.

To the surprise of many (I’m guessing), Headley did rebound defensively this past season. His throwing issues were gone and he appeared more confident in the field as the season progressed. Look at the last four seasons:

2013: +5 DRS and +7.0 UZR
2014: +13 DRS and +20.9 UZR
2015: -6 DRS and -3 UZR
2016: +7 DRS and +6.6 UZR

One of those things is not like the other. Headley’s been a really good defensive third baseman his entire career except for last season, when he lost his way for whatever reason. Players have bad years defensively. It’s just like offense. You can go into a defensive slump, and Headley did last season. He worked hard to get himself out of it and this year we saw a comfortably above-average gloveman at the hot corner, which is what we all expected when Headley first arrived in 2014.

The total package, meaning a bit below-average bat with an above-average glove, works out to an average-ish player. Headley ranked 15th among third basemen with +2.6 fWAR and 15th with +2.6 bWAR. Freaky. That’s pretty much exactly where he belongs. Middle of the pack. Headley’s a league average third baseman, someone who mans the position adequately and without any flash. Unexciting. Reliable. Safe. Boring. Those are good words to describe Headley. He leaves you wanting more but won’t sink your season either.

Outlook for 2017


The Yankees put Headley on the market at the trade deadline — it seems they did that with all their veterans — but obviously no team bit. Or at least no one made an acceptable offer. The Yankees don’t have  a replacement everyday third baseman in house, so it would have been interesting to see what happened had Headley been dealt. Torreyes? Rob Refsnyder? Donovan Solano? Who knows.

Whenever a team puts a player on the trade market at the deadline, chances are they’ll do the same in the offseason. The free agent third base market is weak, especially after Martin Prado‘s extension with the Marlins, meaning teams that don’t want to pony up for Justin Turner will turn to the trade market. Of course, the Yankees themselves would have to figure out how to replace Headley should they trade him. They need competency at the hot corner too.

My guess right now is Headley remains with the Yankees next season. There’s two years and $26M left on his contract and that’s pretty much exactly what he’s worth. These days $13M a season doesn’t buy you much in free agency. The Yankees will listen to offers for Headley this winter, I’m sure of it, but his value to the team in the field is probably greater than whatever he’d fetch in a trade.

Game 151: Tanaka’s Cy Young Push

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

The Yankees are involved in three races right now. The wildcard race is the main one, though their odds are long. Another is the Rookie of the Year race. Gary Sanchez keeps swatting dingers, so he’s forced his way into the Rookie of the Year conversation despite not being called up until after the trade deadline. I don’t know if Sanchez will win, but he’s in the mix. Unignorable.

The third race is the Cy Young race. Masahiro Tanaka is firmly in the discussion at this point. He’s not the favorite — is anyone the favorite right now? I don’t think so — but when you lead the league in ERA and are top two in FIP and both versions of WAR, yeah, you’re a Cy Young contender. Including tonight, Tanaka has three starts left this season, and those three starts could very well decide whether he gets the Cy Young. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  8. RF Mason Williams
  9. 2B Donovan Solano
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It’s hot and humid outside in St. Petersburg but cool and comfortable inside Tropicana Field. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Chase Headley (back) is feeling better and took batting practice today. He could be available to pinch-hit. Headley had an MRI during the off-day Monday that showing nothing worrisome … Ellsbury (knee) is back in the lineup, obviously.

Game 150: The Final Stretch

(Brian Blanco/European Press)
(Brian Blanco/European Press)

Thirteen games in 13 days. That’s all the Yankees have left this season barring a damn near historic run to the postseason. For them to have any shot at the playoffs, this series against the last place Rays is a must-sweep. One game a time though. Get a win tonight and snap the five-game losing streak. Let’s start there. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Billy Butler
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  8. 3B Donovan Solano
  9. CF Mason Williams
    RHP Michael Pineda

The internet tells me it’s cloudy and grossly humid in St. Petersburg, but it’ll be a cool 70-something degrees inside Tropicana Field. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Move: As you can see from the lineup, Hicks (hamstring) was activated off the disabled list. He’d been out close to three weeks. No other move was required because rosters are expanded.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) is still sore but he said he’s hopeful he will play tomorrow. He’s available to pinch-hit tonight … Chase Headley (back) is not available at all. His back locked up on him in Boston. The Yankees play their next seven games on turf, so if Headley does return to the lineup this week, it might only be as the DH. We’ll see.

News: The Yankees announced they will honor Teixeira with a pregame ceremony prior to the final game of the season, on Sunday, October 2nd.

Game 149: Don’t get swept, please

(Darren McCollester/Getty)
(Darren McCollester/Getty)

The last week has been a disaster for the Yankees. I don’t think that’s an overstatement. They won seven straight to climb to within one (one!) game of a wildcard spot last week, but since then the Yankees have lost six of seven, including each of their last four games. More than a few of those games were winnable too. Brutal.

The math says the Yankees are still alive in the postseason race and that’s cool. We still have reason to watch. The fact of the matter is their rotation isn’t good enough, the lineup isn’t deep enough, and the middle relief isn’t reliable enough. We’ve known that since April. Last week sure was fun though, right? Here’s the Red Sox’s lineup and here’s the Triple-A Scranton I mean Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  3. DH Gary Sanchez
  4. 1B Billy Butler
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 2B Donovan Solano
  8. CF Mason Williams
  9. RF Rob Refsnyder
    LHP CC Sabathia

Now, the bad news: the forecast stinks tonight. The internet tells me it’s supposed to start raining around 9pm ET in Boston and keep raining until tomorrow afternoon. Hopefully that’s wrong and they can get the game in tonight. Having to squeeze in a makeup game at some point would stink. Anyway, tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 8pm ET and you can watch on ESPN. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Starlin Castro (hamstring) as a Grade I strain and Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) has a bone bruise, the Yankees announced. They’ll remain in New York for treatment and join the Yankees in Tampa on Tuesday. The team says Ellsbury is day-to-day. They didn’t give a timetable for Castro. There’s only two weeks left in the season, so there’s a decent chance he’s done for the year. Sucks … Chase Headley has some back tightness, which is why he’s on the bench.

Roster Moves: Solano has been called from Triple-A Scranton, obviously. He’s in the lineup. He had a fantastic season for the International League champion RailRiders. Chad Green was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Solano … Anthony Swarzak (shoulder) was activated off the 15-day DL. Try to contain your excitement.

Game 121: Out West


I don’t know about you, but West Coast night games don’t even feel real to me. It’s almost like they don’t count. Baseball’s great. I love it dearly. But staying up this late to watch games? Not something I’d like to do regularly. The Yankees will be out west for the next week, so we’re stuck. So it goes. Here is the Angels’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. SS Didi Gregorius
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. LF Aaron Hicks
  8. 1B Tyler Austin
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Great weather in Anaheim. Sunny and generally excellent for baseball. I didn’t even bother to check the forecast. That’s the everyday forecast for Orange County. Tonight’s game is going to start at 10:05pm ET and you can watch on FOX Sports 1. No YES, no regular FOX. FOX Sports 1 only. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Brett Gardner (ankle) remains day-to-day and could return tomorrow … Chase Headley (Achilles) is also day-to-day and he figures to be out a little longer than Gardner … Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) went under the knife today. He had his second career Tommy John surgery and also had his flexor tendon repaired. The Yankees say everything went “as expected.”

Sherman: Yankees made Ellsbury and Headley available at the trade deadline

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees made both Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley available prior to the trade deadline, reports Joel Sherman. Obviously no teams bit; Ellsbury and Headley are still Yankees. It isn’t much of a surprise the Yankees put those two on the market considering they sold at the deadline. I’m sure they made all their veterans available.

Ellsbury, 33 next month, is hitting .274/.335/.374 (92 wRC+) in the third year of his seven-year, $153M contract. The 32-year-old Headley owns a .251/.325/.379 (90 wRC+) batting line following a miserable April. He’s in the second year of his four-year, $52M contract. Will either be a key contributor to the next great Yankees team? That’s up for debate but I lean no. Here are some more thoughts on this.

1. Expect the Yankees to continue to try to move both. The Yankees did sell at the trade deadline and it wouldn’t make sense to stop with those trades. Ellsbury and Headley don’t have nearly as much value as Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, and Aroldis Chapman, so they’re not going to bring a big return. Getting rid of them is as much about clearing payroll and a roster spot — especially in Ellsbury’s case given the team’s outfield depth — as it is adding pieces via trade.

The upcoming free agent market is pretty weak and I expect that to lead to a ton of trades over the winter. The pitching market especially, but also position players. The Yankees are making a concerted effort to get younger and dealing Ellsbury and/or Headley helps that cause. Replacing Ellsbury internally would be a piece of cake given all those outfielders with Triple-A Scranton. I expect the Yankees to continue pushing both guys in trades this month and in the offseason.

2. Ellsbury isn’t untradeable. There is no such thing as an untradeable contract these days. Vernon Wells was traded twice. Matt Kemp and Hector Olivera were just traded for each other. Josh Hamilton was traded last year. Ellsbury is not a terrible player. He’s just really overpaid relative to what he provides on the field. If guys like Wells and Kemp and Hamilton can be traded, so can Ellsbury.

Now, will the Yankees like the terms of an Ellsbury trade? Probably not. Chances are they’ll have to eat a bunch of money to facilitate a trade, or at least take another bad contract in return, a la Kemp and Olivera. It could work! A bad contract for bad contract trade that nets the Yankees a pitcher (Scott Kazmir?) while opening an outfield spot for one of the kids is worth pursuing. Ellsbury’s not untradeable. He’s just going to be really hard to trade.


3. There figures to be a market for Headley over the winter. For all the talk about the golden age of young shortstops, there are a lot of really good third basemen in MLB these days. A few years back that wasn’t the case. There was a definite shortage at the hot corner. All those quality third basemen will make dealing Headley tough, but like Ellsbury, it’s not impossible.

Looking ahead to the offseason, the Dodgers (Justin Turner) and Marlins (Martin Prado) are set to lose their third basemen to free agency. The Giants just traded Matt Duffy and need to figure out what they’re doing at third base after this season. (Eduardo Nunez? Really?) The Angels could deal Yunel Escobar for prospects. Rebuilding clubs like the Braves and Brewers could have interest at the right price too. There will be a market for third base help in the offseason, which bodes well for the Yankees’ efforts to deal Headley.

4. The Yankees don’t have to trade Headley. Here’s the thing about Headley: the Yankees themselves need competency at third base going forward — you know as well as I that they’re going to try to win next season — and they don’t have an in-house third base replacement the way they do in the outfield. It’s clear the team doesn’t want to play Rob Refsnyder over there, leaving Ronald Torreyes as Plan B.

Now, this should not stand in the way of a Headley trade if one presents itself. The Yankees could always sign or trade for a replacement third baseman. This just gives them a little more leverage in trade talks, similar to Miller. Like it or not, they don’t have to trade this guy. Keeping him is perfectly fine given their internal options. Headley’s not someone who should be dumped for the sake of dumping a player, know what I mean?

Yankeemetrics: Raise or lower the white flag? [July 25-27]

Be Like Mike. (Photo: Getty)
Be Like Mike. (Photo: Getty)

No Chapman, no problem
Despite making their first significant “sell” trade-deadline move in more than two and a half decades, the Yankees continued to remain on the fringes of the playoff race with a 2-1 win over the Astros on Monday.

With the win, the Yankees moved to three games above .500 for the first time this season. This is the deepest into the season they’ve gone without reaching that mark since 1991, when they never got more than a game above .500 the entire season. They finished that forgettable campaign with a 71-91 record, their fifth-worth winning percentage in franchise history.

A victory did not look promising less than a minute after Michael Pineda took the mound in the bottom of the first inning; George Springer deposited the first pitch into the right-field seats for a quick 1-0 Astros lead.

It was the first time a Yankee allowed a first-pitch homer to the first batter of the game since the Jose Reyes took Hiroki Kuroda deep in Toronto on June 25, 2014, and just the 11th occurrence since pitch data became available in 1988. Of the 10 other instances, the only other Yankee pitcher who allowed no other runs besides that leadoff homer — like Pineda — was Jack McDowell on July 13, 1995 versus the Twins.

Austin Romine played the unlikely role of hero with a tie-breaking RBI double in the eighth inning. That was the first career go-ahead hit in the eighth inning or later for the backup catcher, who is hitting a robust .375 (12-for-32) with runners in scoring position this season, the best mark on the team through Monday.

Milestone alerts! Carlos Beltran’s double leading off the seventh inning was the 524th of his career, passing one Hall-of-Famer (Willie Mays) and moving into a tie for 44th place with another Hall-of-Famer (Ken Griffey Jr.). Up next is Ted Williams with 525 doubles.

Chase Headley’s game-tying single in the fifth inning was his 1,147th career hit, breaking the major-league record for most hits by a Colorado-born player. He surpassed Roy Hartzell, a Golden, CO native who played 11 seasons with the St. Louis Browns (1906-10) and the Yankees (1911-16). According to a 1914 New York Times article, Hartzell was the “handiest utility man the Yankees ever had…he has played every position on the club except battery positions.”

That was easy. (Photo: AP)
That was easy. (Photo: AP)

All aboard the win train
The Yankees sure are making it tough for Prince Hal to push the SELL! button. For a team that’s defined inconsistency, they’ve somehow caught an incredible wave of positive momentum at the most critical juncture of the season, beating the Astros again on Tuesday night. It was another comeback win fueled by dominant starting pitching, some timely hitting and a shutdown back-of-the-bullpen performance.

CC Sabathia posted his best start in more than a month, giving up two runs on four hits while pitching into the seventh inning. He snapped a six-game winless streak during which he allowed at least four runs in each outing. That matched the longest such streak of his career, which he also did in 2002.

Although Sabathia had posted an ugly 7.46 ERA in his previous six turns, it wasn’t like he was getting crushed every night. He still entered Tuesday’s game with the lowest average exit velocity allowed (85.8 mph) among pitchers with at least 200 batted balls in play, and then nearly matched that number against the Astros (86.8).

Dellin Betances pulled off another crazy Houdini act, getting out of a two-out bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning to help seal the win. Hitters are just 2-for-27 (.074) with ducks on the pond against Betances in his career, the second-lowest batting average allowed in that situation among active pitchers (min. 25 at-bats), behind only Pirates lefty Tony Watson (.069).

Aces down
The Yankees desperate playoff push hit a speed bump on Wednesday night as the Yankees squandered a golden opportunity to move within three games of the second Wild Card spot after losing to the Astros, 4-1.

Still, even with the disappointing defeat, the Yankees are 11-5 (.688) all-time at Minute Maid Park, their third-highest winning percentage at any ballpark, behind only Atlanta’s Turner Field (.857, 12-2) and Minnesota’s Target Field (.760, 19-6).

Rotation ace Masahiro Tanaka — who entered the game with a league-leading 1.50 ERA in nine road starts — allowed four runs in five innings and lost for just the third time in 21 starts this season.

The loss also snapped a streak of seven straight Yankee wins in games started by Tanaka, the team’s longest such streak since winning 12 games in a row with Ivan Nova (!) on the mound in 2011. Tanaka has now been tagged for 10 runs and 14 hits in 10 career innings at Minute Maid Park.

Prior to Tanaka’s sub-par performance, Yankee pitchers had allowed just 17 runs in their previous 10 games, their best 10-game stretch of run prevention since July 1998.

Brian McCann drove in the lone Yankee run in the fourth inning with his 15th home run. This is the 11th time in his career he’s hit than many homers in a season, a feat matched by only seven other catchers in MLB history: Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Lance Parrish, Yogi Berra, Jorge Posada and Gary Carter.