Yankeemetrics: Stump Merrill’s Revenge [April 29-May 1]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Two is not enough
The series opener in Boston played out like a recurring nightmare for the Yankees this season: get an early (albeit small) lead, miss out on countless scoring chances to build that lead, and lose. The 4-2 loss was the ninth time this season that the Yankees lost despite holding a lead at some point in the game. Through Friday, that was the most “blown losses” of any team in the majors. (And of course they added to that total later in the series.)

David Ortiz continued to torment the Yankees, crushing a mammoth, two-run homer over the Green Monster in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie. It was his 14th career go-ahead homer against the Yankees; over the last 50 seasons, the only players with more home runs that gave their team the lead against the Yankees are Manny Ramirez and Jim Rice, both with 15.

Ortiz’s game-winning blast came off an 83-mph hanging curveball from Dellin Betances, the second straight outing he’s given up a homer with the breaking pitch. In his first nine games this season, batters had one single in 24 at-bats (.042) ending in Betances’ curve, and 20 of the 23 outs he recorded with the pitch were strikeouts.

With A-Rod also going deep earlier in the game — he became the oldest Yankee to homer against the Red Sox since Enos Slaughter (age 42) in 1959 — it marked the first major-league contest since at least 1913 in which a 40-year-old homered for each team.

How low can you go?
“April is the cruelest month” – T.S. Eliot
It is getting harder and harder to describe the depths of the Yankees anemic offensive production this season — lifeless, horrific, dreadful, ghastly, grisly — there aren’t enough words in the thesaurus to properly put it into perspective. It is a lineup that struggling so badly it practically defies explanation.

The Yankees are reaching new lows each night, the latest coming on Saturday after they were blown out by the Red Sox, 8-0. It was their worst shutout loss at Fenway Park since losing 10-0 on August 2, 1973, a.k.a. the immortal days of Horace Clarke, Gene Michael and Felipe Alou anchoring the Yankees lineup.

With the loss, the Yankees dropped to 8-14 on the season, finishing up their worst April since going 6-11 in 1991. Their gross offensive numbers are even more mind-numbing:

  • 3.36 runs per game is their fewest in April since 1984
  • .360 slugging percentage is their worst in April since 1989
  • .304 on-base percentage is their worst in April since 1972

Chase Headley has to wear the hat as the team’s worst performer in April, ending up with an unfathomable line of .150 /.268/.150. He tallied just nine singles the entire month and somehow drove in two runs in 19 games played, and one of them was on a sacrifice fly.

Most notably, his 71 plate appearances without an extra-base hit during the month are the second-most by any Yankee in April, behind only Roy White (84 in 1973). And Headley just barely edged out Mike Ferraro – who slugged .148 in April 1968 – for the worst slugging percentage this month over the last 100 seasons by a Yankee (min. 50 PA).

When it rains, it pours
On a night when the Yankee bats finally woke up from their deep slumber, their pitching failed miserably as the Red Sox completed the three-game sweep with a 8-7 win. This is the seventh time in franchise history they’ve lost at least 15 of their first 23 games; only once in those six previous seasons did they finish with a winning record, going 87-75 in 1984 after a 8-15 start.

A-Rod gave the Yankees a brief 3-1 lead in the third inning with his second homer in this series and his 39th homer in pinstripes against the Red Sox. He passed Yogi Berra for the fifth-most by a Yankee in this storied rivalry, trailing only Babe Ruth (90), Lou Gehrig (70), Mickey Mantle (69) and Joe DiMaggio (46). The homer also gave him 5,764 total bases in his career, moving ahead of Ruth for second place in American League history.

Two innings later A-Rod hit a booming double off the wall to put the Yankees ahead again, 5-4. That was his 544th career two-bagger, tying Derek Jeter for 31st on the MLB all-time list. He finished with four RBIs, becoming the oldest visiting player ever with at least two extra-base hits and four RBIs in a game at Fenway Park.

Dellin Betances came in to get the final out of the seventh inning with the score tied 6-6, and promptly served up a monster homer to the first batter, Christian Vazquez, on a 97 mph first-pitch fastball. It was the third straight outing he had allowed a home run, the first time in his career he’s done that. Vazquez had one homer in 214 career at-bats before he hit the go-ahead shot, and entered the game with a slugging percentage of .190 on pitches 95-plus mph.

Headley must start hitting the ball in the air more often to get out of his slump

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Last night the Yankees played their 19th game of the season, moving their record to 8-11. They’re now 11.7% of the way through their schedule, so while it’s still early, it’s not that early anymore. Outlier performances are being corrected and stats are starting to look a little more normal. No one is hitting .400+ with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title anymore. That sort of thing.

Through those 19 team games, Chase Headley has been one of the worst hitters in baseball and the worst hitter in the Yankees’ everyday lineup. He is hitting .157/.290/.157 (36 wRC+) in 62 plate appearances, which places him 191st out of the 196 qualified hitters in wRC+. Those 62 plate appearances are the most by any player with zero extra-base hits. (Kolton Wong is the only other player over 50 plate appearances with zero extra-base hits.)

“I haven’t had a problem with his at-bats … He’s taking his walks. He’s been patient. I don’t think he’s really left the zone a whole lot. He’s just not getting a lot of hits, and that will change. If you’re putting up good at-bats, things are going to change. So for him, they’ll start to turnaround,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty last week, and he’s right in the sense that Headley has been patient. His 16.1% walk rate is 16th highest among those 196 qualified hitters.

The walks are the only thing saving Headley at the plate right now. When he has actually swung the bat, very little has happened. His 25.6% hard contact rate is well below the 30.1% league average, and five of his eight hits have been ground balls through the infield. That’s bad. Headley’s plate discipline has been fine. He’s swinging at the right pitches and all that. But when he makes contact, nothing is happening.

“For me, just trying to find something that allows me to get into the air a little bit,” said Headley to Kuty. “I’ve hit a lot of balls hard this year that, if you hit balls on the ground, there’s a lot more of a chance they’re going to catch them. So for me to be who I think I can be, I need to get the ball in the air. (I’m) just working on some things to try to do that mechanically, put myself in a good position to stay behind the ball a little bit and hopefully that will happen.”

Headley is right in that he needs to get the ball in the air to be productive, that is true of everyone, but his overall 43.6% ground ball rate is right in line with his career average (44.6%). That said, Headley is a switch-hitter and that complicates things. He has two different swings and that means twice as much stuff can go wrong. Here are some real quick ball-in-play splits:

GB% as RHB Hard% as RHB GB% as LHB Hard% as LHB
2013 41.0% 41.0% 48.1% 32.1%
2014 37.1% 41.6% 42.2% 33.0%
2015 47.3% 26.7% 40.7% 28.4%
2016 21.1% 26.3% 65.0% (!) 25.0%

It goes without saying the sample size for 2016 is still very small. Headley has had 32 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers and 30 against lefties, so yeah. In that very limited sample Headley has hit a ton of fly balls against lefties and a ton of ground balls against righties. That’s … interesting. His hard contact rate is similar, but the ball has come off his bat in different directions from each side of the plate.

Headley’s numbers are better as a lefty (84 wRC+) than as a righty (-15 wRC+) so far, but I’m not going to put too much stock into that at this point. More importantly, if Headley keeps hitting 65.0% grounders as a left-handed batter, he’s not going to do much better than an 84 wRC+. He’s got to get the ball in the air at some point, especially in Yankee Stadium. And at the same time, if he keeps lifting the ball as a righty, that -15 wRC+ will come up eventually.

Through 19 games it appears Headley has corrected whatever issues he had defensively last season. His throws has been fine — he made one error but that’s no big deal, most players have made an error at this point — and he’s shown off good range too. Defense was always a huge part of Headley’s value and now he has that back. Even though he’s not hitting, he can contribute in the field and save runs.

Now Headley has to figure out how to get his bat back on track, and he has to do it soon, because the Yankees have zero alternatives at third base. Ronald Torreyes is the type of player who will get exposed quickly with regular playing time, Rob Refsnyder isn’t hitting in Triple-A (46 wRC+), and none of the other minor league infielders (Pete Kozma, Donovan Solano, etc.) are appealing. It’s too early to start thinking trade too.

Like it or not, the Yankees are stuck with Headley for the time being. I’ve been saying I think his offense will be fine, mostly because I can’t imagine his .205 BABIP will last all year, but at some point Headley has to, you know, hit. April is coming to an end soon. It’s time to get it going. Headley has to start getting the ball in the air more often as a left-handed hitter. That’s priority No. 1 right now. Do that and things will start to fall into place.

Chasing the Pull

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

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.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

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.

Some calm and collected thoughts about the struggling Yankees’ offense

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees lost for the sixth time in seven games last night, and in all six losses, the team scored no more than two runs. They again blew scoring opportunities and went 1-for-whatever with runners in scoring position Wednesday night. The Yankees are struggling in a bad way right now. It would be easy to go on a bumbling tirade against the offense — I’ve done my fair share of that over the years — but let’s not do that. Let’s talk about this offensive malaise in a calm and rational way, because we’re adults. (Well, most of you are.)

1. Joe Girardi is the type of manager who stands up for his players through thick and thin, but even he had to call out Didi Gregorius for his base-running blunder in the seventh inning last night. It was that egregious. “It’s bad base-running. You’ve got to understand what your run means … That’s a blunder we have to take care of,” said Girardi after the game. Gregorius had the entire play in front of him and he still didn’t stop to make sure he wasn’t tagged out. That’s Baseball 101. Every team is going to go into an offensive funk at some point(s) throughout the season, that’s just the way the games goes. But when you start adding bad mental mistakes on top of it, things get ugly. That was a bad, bad play by Gregorius. It’s the kind of play that earns someone a spot on the bench for a day or two.

2. Given the way the Yankees are built — and the way every team is built, really — their offense starts at the top of the lineup, and right now Jacoby Ellsbury is hurting the club. He did have the double and yet another catcher’s interference last night, but through 51 plate appearances this season, Ellsbury is hitting .220/.264/.320 (63 wRC+) with three walks. He’s currently in a 1-for-15 slump. The Yankees are going to give Ellsbury an awfully long leash thanks to his contract, so I don’t expect him to be moved down in the lineup anytime soon. Maybe Ellsbury and Brett Gardner will flip flop and in the one-two spots or something, but hitting Ellsbury seventh or eighth? Not happening. Ellsbury has a history of getting hurt and staying hurt in a way that impacts his performance for weeks or months — that’s exactly what happened with last year’s knee injury — so I can’t help but think back to that pitch he took to the wrist in Spring Training. Either way, Ellsbury is part of the problem right now. A big part of it.

3. This to me is the is the single biggest reason the offense has sputtered so much recently. Here are numbers since the start of the homestand:

Mark Teixeira: 1-for-15 (.067)
Brian McCann: 1-for-16 (.063)

Teixeira’s slump actually dates back to the Detroit series (3-for-30), though, to be fair, he is still drawing a ton of walks and providing value that way. Teixeira and McCann are not high average hitters, but they do hit the ball out of the park, and right now they’re not doing that. They’re not hitting much of anything. Gardner and Carlos Beltran are the Yankees’ two hottest hitters — they have a combined .463 OBP on the homestand — so they’re putting the team in position to score. The two guys hitting behind them are slumping bad and those opportunities created by Gardner and Beltran are being wasted. That’s why those two have scored six total runs on the homestand despite that .463 OBP, and three of those six runs have come on their own home runs. Getting Teixeira and McCann going is Priority No. 1 in my opinion. They are the keys to turning this mess around.

4. The Aaron Hicks Hate Train seems to be up and running already. The guy has 21 plate appearances in 13 games and eight of them have come the last two nights. The Yankees took a player who is used to playing every day and made him into a bench player, and that can be a tough adjustment. It looks to me like Hicks is pressing and trying to do anything he can to impress during his limited playing time. He saw four pitches in three at-bats last night. This is a guy with a 10.0% walk rate in the big leagues and a 14.4% career walk rate in the minors. Hicks is making more of an effort to be aggressive and swing at pitches in the strike zone, but I doubt he wants to be this aggressive. He’s jumping at everything. That’s not his game. The Yankees are going to see a lot of left-handed starters over the next week — my guess is either Gardner sits against Rich Hill tonight if his neck is still stiff, or Alex Rodriguez sits and Beltran slots in at DH — and hopefully that allows Hicks to settle in and feel more comfortable. He has a new role with a new team in a new city. No wonder why he’s started slow.

5. The bottom of the lineup has been pretty abysmal of late. Chase Headley has had a rotten start to the season with the bat — he’s one of only five players with at least 40 plate appearances and zero extra base hits — and his only saving grace right now is his batting eye. He’s drawn eight walks and has a .333 OBP — he didn’t draw his eighth walk until Game 32 last year — which is fourth highest on the team, believe it or not. But still, walking only gets you so far. Eventually Headley is going to have to do something more than push a ground ball single through the infield. Gregorius had two hits including a homer last night to snap a 3-for-25 (.150) slide and Starlin Castro has quietly gone 7-for-38 (.184) since the end of the Astros series. That’s not a lot of production from the bottom of the lineup. No one expects those guys to carry the team offensively, but they do have to provide support, and it’s hasn’t happened of late. When your fourth and fifth hitters slump like Teixeira and McCann have, you look for others to pick up the slack, and the bottom third of the lineup ain’t doing it.

6. I don’t see any potential quick fix for the offense. I suppose Girardi could shake up the lineup, but even if he does that, what lineup should he use? Bat Gardner and Beltran first and second, then make them go up to the plate in the three through nine spots wearing everyone else’s jersey? The Yankees are not a true talent .189 hitting team with runners in scoring position because I don’t think any lineup in baseball history is a true talent .189 hitting team in any situation. At some point Ellsbury will go on one of his insane hot streaks, and at some point Teixeira and McCann will hit a baseball out of the park. It’s going to happen. How soon? Soon, hopefully. Right now the best (only?) thing the Yankees can do is stay the course, clean up the sloppy mistakes like Didi’s base-running blunder last night, and wait for their good at baseball players to start being good at baseball again.

Rainout Notes: Gardner, Headley, Lineup, Tanaka, Miller

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Thanks to the yucky weather in New York, Opening Day was postponed earlier today. The game will be made up tomorrow at 1pm ET. Everything gets pushed back a day. That’s why they have the off-day after Opening Day each year. Here are some notes from the rained out game, via Erik Boland, Bryan Hoch, Brendan Kuty, and Chad Jennings.

  • Brett Gardner will sit in deference to Aaron Hicks against Dallas Keuchel. Joe Girardi told everyone involved that would be the case over the weekend. Gardner said he’s disappointed but understands why he’s sitting (so benching Jacoby Ellsbury won’t be another big thing, basically).
  • Chase Headley, who has been dealing with food poisoning the last few days, was good to go today. He was scheduled to play. Headley did not play in the final few exhibition games late last week because he was sick.
  • This was the scheduled lineup for today: Ellsbury, Hicks, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Headley, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius. I assume it’ll be the same lineup tomorrow. At least Hicks is batting second and not Castro.
  • Masahiro Tanaka will make his second start of the season on normal rest this Sunday. The postponement means he won’t get the extra day of rest as originally scheduled. “He’s going to have to do it. It’s part of our schedule and part of what we’re going to have to deal with. He’s going to have to do it,” said Girardi.
  • Andrew Miller (wrist) will not wear any sort of brace during games. It digs into his skin and doesn’t allow him to move his hand comfortably during his delivery. He would need MLB approval for any brace anyway.

Yankees officially set 2016 Opening Day roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon — weather permitting — the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season against the same team and in the same place their 2015 season ended: at Yankee Stadium against the Astros. Opening Day is just another game in the grand scheme of things, but it absolutely has symbolic value, and besides, everyone wants to start the new year with a win.

Earlier today the Yankees officially announced their Opening Day roster. The deadline to file the roster with MLB was 12pm ET this afternoon. The Opening Day roster offers no surprises. There were no last minute trades or waiver claims. Nothing like that. The roster is exactly as expected following all the roster moves over the last week or two. Here is the club’s Opening Day roster:

CATCHERS (2)
C Brian McCann
C Austin Romine (No. 27)

INFIELDERS (6)
UTIL Dustin Ackley
2B Starlin Castro
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
1B Mark Teixeira
IF Ronald Torreyes (No. 17)

OUTFIELDERS (4)
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Brett Gardner
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
OF Aaron Hicks (No. 31)

DESIGNATED HITTERS (1)
DH Alex Rodriguez

STARTERS (5)
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
RHP Michael Pineda
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEVERS (7)
RHP Johnny Barbato (No. 26)
RHP Dellin Betances
RHP Luis Cessa (No. 85)
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP Chasen Shreve
RHP Kirby Yates (No. 39)

MISCELLANY (4)
1B Greg Bird (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)
LHP Aroldis Chapman (restricted list, 30-game suspension)
RHP Bryan Mitchell (15-day DL retroactive to March 31st, broken toe)
OF Mason Williams (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)

Romine beat out Gary Sanchez and I guess Carlos Corporan for the backup catcher’s job. Torreyes beat out Pete Kozma and Rob Refsnyder for the backup infielder’s job, and Sabathia beat out Nova for the fifth starter’s spot. Barbato, Cessa, and Yates beat out a small army of relievers for spots on the Opening Day roster. They’re on the shuttle though; they could be send down for a fresh arm in short order.

Tanaka will start his second straight Opening Day tomorrow — Sabathia started six straight Opening Days prior to last year — and be followed in the rotation by Pineda, Eovaldi, Severino, and Sabathia in that order. Miller is going to pitch through the chip fracture in his right wrist, which is both admirable and awesome. After spending all winter talking about the team’s super-bullpen, the Yankees were dangerously close to starting the season with only one of their three elite relievers.

Chapman will return on May 9th, in the 31st game of the season. Bird is done for the season, Mitchell will miss a minimum of three months, and I’m not quite sure how long Williams will be sidelined. He’s been hitting and throwing at Tampa, so I assume his return is weeks away, not months. Chapman’s suspension means the Yankees have an open 40-man roster spot. Bird and Mitchell are 60-day DL candidates whenever more spots are needed.

Okay, that was entirely too many words about an Opening Day roster with zero surprises. Hooray for baseball being back. Go team.

Chase Headley’s Chances For A Rebound, Offensively & Defensively [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Here’s a weird, random fact: the Yankees have had four different Opening Day third basemen in the last four years. It was Alex Rodriguez in 2012, Jayson Nix in 2013, Kelly Johnson in 2014, and Chase Headley in 2015. This year Headley will become the first player to start consecutive Opening Days at the hot corner for New York since A-Rod started three straight from 2010-12.

The Yankees re-signed Headley last offseason because Rodriguez can’t play third base anymore. The Yankees didn’t even wait to find out if he could in Spring Trianing. He was coming off his suspension last winter and had another hip surgery in his recent past, plus he was pushing 40, so the Yankees needed someone else at third. They brought back Headley because he had been one of the better third baseman in the game over the previous few years. From 2012-14:

  1. Miguel Cabrera — 19.0 fWAR
  2. Adrian Beltre — 17.2
  3. Josh Donaldson — 15.6
  4. David Wright — 15.3
  5. Chase Headley — 15.3

If you prefer bWAR, it’s the same five names, only with Miggy and Beltre flipped. If you want to limit it to 2013-14 only to remove Headley’s career 2012 season, he’s still top ten among all third basemen. Headley played rather well after coming over at the 2014 trade deadline and he seemed to fit exactly what the Yankees needed, namely a switch-hitting bat and good defense.

Last season Headley fell short on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively. He hit .259/.324/.369 (91 wRC+) with eleven homers overall, making it his worst offensive season as a full-time player. Headley also committed a career-high 23 errors — his previous career high was 13 — and seemed to develop the yips, which turned routine throws into adventures. Needless to say, the Yankees are hoping for a big bounce back from their third baseman in 2016.

Can He Throw?

Headley’s ten fielding errors were a career high last season, but the throws were far more worrisome. It wasn’t just the errors, it was the number of poor throws overall, many of which Mark Teixeira saved at first base with his scooping ability. The throws weren’t just off-line either. Headley looked very tentative:

Chase Headley error

That is a third baseman lacking confidence. This all came out of nowhere too. Headley has been one of the best defensive third basemen in the game throughout his career and he was fantastic in the field with the Yankees after the trade two years. You’re lying if you say you saw this coming.

“More than anything, it’s just footwork. Footwork related stuff,” said Headley to Jack Curry (video link) recently when asked about his defensive work with third base/infield coach Joe Espada this spring. “Trying to keep my feet going … Just trying to clean that up a little bit and that’ll help some of the throwing issues I have last year.”

Headley hasn’t had any defensive miscues this spring, though we are talking about only 21 total chances in 55 innings, which is not enough to say whether he’s back on track in the field. Especially since not all of those 55 innings have been broadcast somewhere for us to see. I guess no errors in 21 chances is better than a few errors, but it doesn’t help us much going forward.

Looking at Headley’s career, last season was the outlier. He’s been a very good defender throughout his career and he suddenly forgot how to throw in 2015. The goal this season isn’t to take a bad defender and make him good. The goal is to take a previously good defender and get him back on track after a down season. Defense is like everything else in baseball. Players have slumps and bad years.

There is definitely a mental side to this — Headley admitted to losing confidence in the field last year — and that can be tough to overcome. And if Headley can’t get over his throwing issues, that’s a big problem because the Yankees don’t have a true third base alternative. (Sorry, I don’t think 36 spring innings mean Rob Refsnyder‘s ready to play the position regularly at the MLB level.) Like it or not, the Yankees need Headley.

If the throwing issues persistent, it won’t be the result of a lack of effort. Headley has been putting in extra work since last summer to sort this out, and Curry said Headley and Espada are out on a back field working on his defense pretty much every day this spring. I have no idea if he can get his throwing in order. There’s no way to put a number on this. All you can do is hope 2015 was truly an aberration and Headley will go back to being the player he was prior to 2015.

Is He Going to Hit?

Twenty third basemen qualified for the batting title last season, and among those 20, Headley ranked 15th in AVG (.259), 12th in OBP (.324), 19th in SLG (.369), 18th in ISO (.110), and 19th in wRC+ (91). He was among the worst offensive regulars at the position a year ago. The lack of power was a big part of it too. Here is his ISO over the years (Headley became a regular in 2009):


Source: FanGraphsChase Headley

No one in their right mind expected Headley to repeat his career 2012 season after re-signing with the Yankees. But something close to his 2013-14 performance (108 wRC+) was reasonable. Earlier in his career Headley’s lack of power could be blamed on Petco Park, at least in theory. From 2009-11, those pre-peak years, he had a .101 ISO at home and a .133 ISO on the road, so the split wasn’t huge.

Headley now calls Yankee Stadium his home park, and Yankee Stadium is a great place to hit for power, especially if you’re left-handed. Headley hit six of his eleven homers in the Bronx last season, and five of the six came as a left-handed hitter. Overall though, he was actually a better hitter on the road (98 wRC+) than at home (84 wRC+), which is pretty weird. Maybe that’s a reason to expect a rebound offensively. It’s tough for a hitter to be average-ish on the road and bad at home in Yankee Stadium two years in a row.

The power is what it is, especially since Headley has never been a great power hitter and he’s now over 30. More interesting to me are his strikeout and walk rates. Last season he had his lowest walk rate (7.9%) since becoming a regular, but also his second lowest strikeout rate (21.0%). (His previous low was 20.6% in 2010.) The PitchFX data shows Headley is not chasing more pitches or anything like that. He’s just making more contact nowadays.

Chase Headley plate discipline

Headley’s swing rate on pitches out of the zone (O-Swing%) was actually a career low last season, so no, the career-low walk rate was not the result of chasing more pitches. His contact rate, both overall (Contact%) and on pitches in the zone (Z-Contact%) were the highest they’ve been in years, so he was putting the ball in play more often. When you put the ball in play, you don’t walk or strike out as much.

The problem was the quality of Headley’s contact wasn’t great last summer. His 27.8% hard contact rate exactly matched the league average in 2015, but it was down from the 35.6% hard contact rate he posted from 2012-14. The real problem: Headley’s soft contact rate was 17.4%, which is still better than the league average (18.6%), but was way up from is 12.6% soft contact rate from 2012-14. (He had a 35.3% hard contact rate and a 12.2% soft contact rate from 2013-14, if you want to remove his career year.)

As with his throwing and defense, 2015 was an outlier for Headley offensively compared to his recent seasons. Maybe it was an adjustment year? A year ago at this time we were all talking about Brian McCann possibly rebounding after his adjustment period. Yeah, Headley spent some time with the Yankees in 2014, but not that much time. Who knows. You can’t rule anything out when trying to figure out how a player will perform going forward.

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My guess is Headley rebounds with the glove but not so much with the bat this year. Perhaps he can get back to being a league average-ish hitter. I’m not sure will happen without the power though. I can’t say I’m supremely confident, but I do feel pretty good about Headley bouncing back on defense. He’s worked hard at it, he looks okay in camp, and his track record is pretty long. Like I said, this is a good defender who had a bad year, not a true talent bad defender. I think the glovework will be there, and the Yankees are going to need it to be there, because they don’t have any great alternatives.