Taking a Chance on Chase Headley

Chase Headley was an exciting and very promising player in the minor leagues after being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2005 amateur draft. Over four minor league seasons, Headley hit .301/.399/.500. In 2008 at AAA Portland, Headley hit .305/.383/.556 with 13 HR in just 65 games, earning a permanent call to the majors.

Since then, the power hasn’t really developed as the Padres probably envisioned. He has a career line of .269/.343/.392 with just 36 home runs over more than 2000 plate appearances. In real-life baseball, Headley is valuable because of his low cost and decent glove but in fantasy baseball circles, you’re typically looking for more out of your corner infielders. But there may be some reason for optimism with Headley going forward.

First of all, there’s the obvious Petco issue. In 2011, Headley hit .330/.399/.465 on the road and .243/.348/.326 at home. His career splits are .303/.364/.805 on the road and .229/.319/.336 at home – and as Bradley Woodrum pointed out earlier in the season, Headley has the worst differential home/road split in wRC+ in 2011. As long as he plays half of his games at Petco park, it would seem that his value is going to be somewhat limited.

However, if you’re going to gamble on Headley, you’re kind of wagering on what kind of player you believe he is in terms of true-talent. He never possessed Ruthian power, but most saw him as more than just a slap hitting singles hitter. Looking at his overall trend in ISO and his fly ball rate paints a rather grim picture:

So his isolated power is down in the Maicer Izturis and Jerry Hairston range at .110 and has been in steady decline since his introduction in 2008. His ISO in roughly 200 games between AA and AAA sat right around .250. Yeah, I know that’s the minors, but this is a decline that I just flatly don’t buy. I’m not a San Diego fan nor am I related to Chase Headley, but 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.

Looking at his fly ball rates and HR/FB, you also have to ask yourself what the real Chase Headley looks like:

Now Petco might suppress home runs, but there’s being a pitchers park and then there’s having a 4.3% HR/FB rate. Again, I don’t think that Headley is a guy about to slip into the high-20-percentile in fly balls and should his FB% come back to anything resembling his career rate over 36% coupled with a dose of regression on the HR/FB rate, say – 8%? – there ought to be a serious uptick in his power figures.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that after a particularly hideous start to his season, between the middle of May right up to the point where he injured his finger in August, Headley was hitting .311/.382/.434 – and while the home runs weren’t there, he was finding more gaps with 19 doubles.

And if I’m going to be spit-balling on what his 2012 might look like (and I guess I am), it’s probably worthwhile to point out that Headley is due a pretty big raise through arbitration this winter and the team is pretty chock-full of other players that can fill third base both now and in the future – most notably Jedd Gyorko and Logan Forsythe, the latter already getting his cup of joe filling in for an injured Headley in 2011. There have been rumors linking Headley to the Chicago Cubs, and while a move out of Petco would certainly help his value — a move to the Cubs would make Headley’s agents (Hendricks Sports) do back-flips. The Padres, for their part, say that they’re not interested in moving Headley, and that of course is a surprise to no one, but the Padres probably aren’t going to be ready to compete in 2012, they have a pretty good looking farm system right now, and if they could get some rotation and bullpen help, it might make sense, both competitively and financially.

Third base proved to be a pretty frustrating, and awfully thin, position in 2011. Even with a modicum of regression, Headley should provide a cheap option without major holes in his counting stats (we didn’t even get to the bonus of his double-digit steals). But I think Headley is an interesting guy to gamble on going into 2012, even if he stays in Petco, as there’s some evidence that suggests a pretty decent rebound is in order. But keep an eye on the hot stove — because if he moves to another park, it will change his value pretty substantially.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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I am guessing that there is either a typo here or a mixing of statistics…

In 2011, Headley hit .330/.399/.465 on the road and .243/.348/.674 at home.