Chase Headley: Can He Repeat?

Chase Headley emerged as an elite third baseman last season. A big reason for Headley’s breakout was a increase in power. Headley hit 31 home runs last season, beating his previous career-high by 19. The fact that he accomplished that feat while playing half of his games in Petco makes it even more impressive. Because of his performance, Headley is likely to shoot up fantasy drafts next season. But in order to repeat, he’ll have to display the same amount of power again. Otherwise, he’ll be nothing more than a one year wonder.

Trying to figure out why Headley experienced a power surge is somewhat puzzling. His batted ball data shows that Headley actually hit more ground balls last season, at the expense of line drives and fly balls. His 32.1% fly ball percentage was actually the worst rate of his career. But in spite of that, he actually managed a career-high 21.4% HR/FB rate. Headley’s previous high in that category was just 10.7%.

The batted ball data seems to indicate that Headley’s power may have been a fluke. He had never shown the ability to hit that many of his fly balls out of the park before, and very little in his approach seems to have changed.

Looking at his raw home run numbers, there’s more cause for concern. Headley had 11 “just enough” home runs last year. Just enough home runs are classified as balls that barely cleared the fence. That figure tied Headley for third highest in the National League. Being on that list is a reason for concern, but it isn’t necessarily a harbinger of doom. Ryan Braun and David Wright finished in the top spots, and neither of those players are expected to experience a huge drop off in power. Headley was also aided by three “lucky” home runs last season. Lucky home runs are classified as balls that left the park due to weather conditions or random chance. Nearly half of Headley’s home runs barely cleared the fence, or were aided by external factors.

While appearing on both lists doesn’t guarantee a decline, it’s particularly worrisome when combined with Headley’s unexplainable power surge. If something in his batted ball data had changed, it would be easier to accept Headley as a strong power hitter now. But based on those numbers, Headley looks like the same player who somehow managed to slug 31 home runs last season.

It’s probably going to be tough for Headley to retain his power numbers last season. He had a lot of luck with the home run last season, and he’s still slated to play in one of baseball’s stingiest parks. The Padres do plan on moving in the fences next season, so that may offset some of Headley’s expected loss. Still, it seems highly unlikely that Headley is going to hit 31 home runs again. The only way that is going to happen would involve Headley being traded to a better ballpark, which actually could happen during the offseason. Tread with caution next season. Headley’s power surge doesn’t look repeatable.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


22 Responses to “Chase Headley: Can He Repeat?”

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  1. SheffieldINC says:

    Sorry, not even much of a grammar freak, but in the second sentence you want “an” instead of “a” in front of the word “increase”….feel free to delete this once you’ve changed it.

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  2. Ed Nelson says:

    The Pardes are doing more than “planning” on moving the fences in at Petco they’ve already started construction and certified the changes.

    http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/oct/22/padres-change-dimensions-petco-park/

    The changes look to have a significant effect on hitters especially to LF. Anyone have Headley’s LF FB distances at home?

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    • Atari says:

      I actually think the change that will have the biggest effect will be the change to the RF power alley. PetCo kills left-handed power more than anything, and even though Headley is a switch-hitter he should still face more RH pitching and have more LH at-bats in PetCo.

      The change in the RF power alley from to 390 ft from last year’s 402 ft should be significant, along with the lowering of the fences from 10 to 8 feet. (I can’t believe it was 411 ft when the park opened!) Look at the following hit chart, and tell me that RF power alley doesn’t look ridiculous:

      http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/player/chase-headley/hitchart/464667?q=chase-headley

      No wonder Anthony Rizzo struggled, and the Padres felt like they had to trade him.All these outfield dimension changes actually make me optimistic about Headley.

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  3. Ed Nelson says:

    Looking at a number of Headley’s home “just enough” HRs in 2012, it appears a few would have been no doubt HRs in the new park. Keep in mind fence height is being lowered in addition to bringing in the fence distance.

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  4. Sid says:

    I seem to remember an Indians shortstop who blew people away with power numbers who had similar ‘lucky homeruns’. He hit 25 that year, and then hit 16 the next with similar BA and OBP with a 40 point dip in slugging.

    Not buying into it.

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    • Atari says:

      Sid you are right about Asdrubal Cabrera not coming close to replicating his HR numbers in 2012.

      Yet, even with the expected drop-off he was still a valuable player for his position.

      2011- .187 ISO, .273/.332/.460, .344wOBA, 118 wRC+, 3.8 WAR

      2012- .153 ISO, .270/.338/.423, .332wOBA, 112 wRC+, 2.9 WAR

      Disappointed Indians fan or fantasy owners may gripe but then that is because expectations for Cabrera’s performance are out of whack. Expecting him to be a superstar, and to further progress his 2011 numbers into superstar numbers is setting the bar too high. Cabrera would be an asset to most teams, in fantasy or real life. The Indians have many other problems (SP, 1B, 3B, LF,CF) to be disappointed in a shortstop averaging about 3 WAR the last 2 seasons.

      I think the same can be said for Headley. Trouble repeating this year’s HR total? Maybe. Fantasy relevant 3B in 2013? A good bet.

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  5. Owen G says:

    I was lucky enough to have Headley on all three of my fantasy teams this year. He is a sure-fire keeper in my auction league ($9) and dynasty league but I’m not sure about the last one where we only keep 6. I don’t expect him to be a top-25 player like he was in 2012 but what about top 72 (standard 5×5 roto)?

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    • Atari says:

      Who are your other keeper candidates Owen? What is your cap?

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      • Owen G says:

        It’s a snake draft with 6 keepers (6 best players – prior year round not a factor). My problem is that because of trades my lineup was pretty well rounded with Heyward, McCutchen and Strasburg being the only surefire keepers. Headley is pretty clearly in my top 6, even with regression, but I guess I’m wondering if I should trade him now.

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    • Atari says:

      I think the guy has great value and I think you should expect a good return, even if people are skeptical of him reproducing his 2011 season. Why? Look at the 3B position. Everyone outside Miguel Cabrera has warts. At least Headley doesn’t have the injury red-tag of Longoria, Beltre, and Zimmerman.

      If you want to trade him, then go ahead. I think he will still retain his value until draft time. You just have to think about who will be available to draft at 3B and what the price will be. Personally, I would explore to see what is out there but be happy if I ended up holding. Top 72 sounds plenty reasonable to me.

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  6. DJ says:

    Is a .275/.350/470 with 20hr/15steals/85 runs and RBI reasonable?

    If yes, where does he place on 3rd base lists?

    Do you take him over guy Zimmerman?

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    • Atari says:

      Is a .275/.350/470 with 20hr/15steals/85 runs and RBI reasonable?

      That seems like a reasonable floor for a target projection for 2013. If that was what I thought would most like happen, doesn’t that still make him a good target in standard leagues. Still looks like Top 6 production from 3B to me.

      If yes, where does he place on 3rd base lists?

      I usually like to think of players as on tiers. It makes it easier to see the separation. Sometimes you would be happy with players 2 through 6 at a position, but then there is a huge drop-off at 7.

      Tier 1- At 3B Miguel Cabrera is in a tier by himself at the top.

      Tier 2-Then there is a jumble of 3B in the following tier due to injury/age issues or production inconsistencies. This would include Beltre, Longoria, Wright, Headley and Zimmerman. Aramis Ramirez performed in this tier in 2012 but I am just not as confident he will be there in 2013. I realize this may seem inconsistent considering both Ramirez and Beltre will enter 2013 at 34 years of age, and Beltre is the one who has had more injury issues the past couple of years. I just have more confidence in Beltre. He has the better home park, league and he just looks in better shape relative to Ramirez. Longoria is also frustrating to own the last couple of years because of his injuries but at least he performs when he is in the lineup. If anyone on this list has the ceiling to join Cabrera in the top tier it is him. Wright is frustrating to own because you also don’t know what to expect from season to season. Sometimes you get more power, sometimes you get more speed. All I know is by the end of the year Wright is usually still one of the top 3B in the league. Headley’s big issue is – do you buy the power? I do, and I think the park dimension changes help out big time. At least relative to the other players in this tier he is healthy. Zimmerman I love but he is hurt every year and sometimes he plays hurt like this year, and his performance suffers.

      Tier 3-There are other big names people may consider but to me their issues place them in a tier below. Aramis Ramirez I already mentioned. David Freese could be here but I just feel his ceiling is where everyone else’s floor is in Tier 2. Brett Lawrie’s production wasn’t up to snuff in 2012, so even though I like him you have to scale back expectations for 2013 and ding him to a lower tier. A-Rod is too old, misses too much time. Pablo Sandoval was not that great in 2012, until the post-season. Panda can perform at a higher tier but he also has injury and weight issues. Hanley Ramirez is a top tier SS, probably 3rd level tier 3B. Middlebrooks/Pedro Alvarez have plate discipline issues, but mega-power.

      Do you take him over guy Zimmerman?

      I do, but if healthy I expect they can perform similarly. The SBs Headley can give me are a boost.

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  7. Matt says:

    What is an acceptable or average about of “Lucky” and “JE” homeruns? Can a player be expected to have, say, 3 of each – so it’s only the amount above and beyond that which would be cause for concern? In that instance it would only be 8 as opposed to the proposed 14 HRs in question.

    Does anyone know? Surely we can’t expect every single HR to be a “plenty” or “no doublt”…

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      • Matt says:

        Awesome – thanks for the link. So if 27% (at least in 2006) was the average amount of JE homeruns and Headley had 35% of his HR that were JE, his regression would be more along the lines of 8%, which out of 31 HR only amounts to 2 – 3 less HR in 2013. Add in the fact they’re moving in the fences and seems that maybe it’s being overblown a bit?

        I’m asking as a guy that wouldn’t touch Headley next year with a 39 and a half foot pole, this is just for my edification.

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  9. Ed Nelson says:

    I think it’s entirely likely that any regression might be balanced by the change in dimensions in his home park. If his 2012 performance was in the new Petco his JE % would most likely fall closer in line with league average and we wouldn’t be talking about regression after a breakout. Keep in mind that if the park is more favorable then the hitters around him will also improve, making it harder to pitch around him and boosting his RBI and Runs counting stats, which could/should offset any loss from HR his HR totals.

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  10. Paddy says:

    I definitely see every reason why he won’t repeat 2012, but something tells me he will.

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  11. Ron says:

    I know lineup protection is often overlooked but is there any credence here to the fact that Headley was pretty much a completely different player once Carlos Quentin was inserted into the lineup on May 29? From June on, Headley was pretty much the best 3B in the league.

    Roughly .255/.370/.440 with 7 HR, 25 RBI in Mar-May
    Roughly .300/.390/.590 with 24 HR, 90 RBI in Jun-Oct

    I realize it was probably a confluence of events– I am sure we’ll hear stories this offseason of how Headley made a swing adjustment, etc. But honestly it couldn’t have hurt to have Quentin batting behind him instead of Juan Guzman around the same time Headley is hitting his power peak age of 27-28, right?

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    • Ron says:

      “From June on, Headley was pretty much the best 3B in the league.” As a primarily NL-only follower, I have to remember to consider both leagues, and I ask for forgiveness for all Miguel Cabrera fans out there.

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