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Was Headley’s Season Predictable?

First off, I’d say no. Very loudly, no. No, no, no. It’s a fools errand if you think you can predict a .399 slugging percentage into .498; a .110 ISO into .212; a HR per-at bat rate of 95 (!) to just 19. Nuts.

However, were there some lingering details about Chase Headley‘s batting profile that should have made fantasy owners perhaps a little more bullish on his 2012 prospects? Probably.

Back in December, I suggested you might take a chance on Headley. An excerpt:

“I simply do not accept that Headley’s true talent, even considering the Petco effect, is something in the low 100′s in ISO. He’s turning 28 in May, he’s demonstrated much more power in the past, and if I were a betting type, I’d say we could see something more in the .140′s — which doesn’t turn him into a masher, but it would certainly portend more home runs in the future.”

So yeah, I was pretty off even in suggesting that I thought he’d hit more home runs. The fact is, he was a masher.  In the original post, I included a graph demonstrating just how ugly his ISO situation had gotten. Add 2012, and it looks like a ride you’d pay good money on for a thrill:

So his ISO was just continuing on a downward slide, and then blammo. I don’t know that it’s reasonable to expect that he’ll reproduce a .212 ISO in 2013, but at least we’ve established what a ceiling looks like, eh?

Looking at his profile, I additionally opined that while Petco might be a place that suppresses home runs, it was particularly rude to Mr. Headley with a ghastly 4.3% HR/FB rate (in any park), hitting exactly one home run at home in all of 2011. He was just too good of a hitter to see that continue. And continue, it did not:

Many of you weren’t buying the early success, either. As late as July 18th, Headley’s ownership sat in the 50 to 60 percentile range in ESPN and Yahoo! leagues. I was even fortunate to select him off waivers around the same time, rather shocked that he was let go.

What to take away from this? Well, frankly, you either believe Headley can continue at this clip next season or you don’t. For my money, I’m using those trendlines in the charts to spitball a potential landing point where we might expect Headley to settle in at next season, which would be about a 14% HR/FB rate and a .160 ISO, both which seem pretty reasonable. If he can do just that and continue to steal bases in the 15-17 range, you’ve got yourself an awfully valuable third baseman. Granted, his price is going to be sky high after his career year, but there will no doubt still be skeptics.

The other thing to think about is whether there are players that fit the same kind of bill in terms of minor league promise coupled with some miserable fly ball luck, and to a degree – pedigree. And the one that jumps out to me is Headley’s teammate Yonder Alonso. I don’t expect Alonso to go out and produce a Headley-like season circa 2012, but Alonso produced good power numbers in the minors, he’s got awfully good contact rates, his ISO was just .120 this season, and his HR/FB rate was just 6.4%.

Alonso turns just 26 in April of 2013, so he should be ascending that curve of predicted production still, and then there’s the distinct possibility that San Diego goes the way of Citi Field and Safeco Field and finally decides to move the fences in (he hit just three HR’s in Petco in 2012). If Alonso can achieve the league average HR/FB rate of roughly 11% and his ISO starts to resemble something more in the .150 range, which he ought to be capable of, he should be more in the 20 home run range – and an interesting kind of post-hype sleeper pick for 2013.