Friday, April 20, 2012

Chase Headley - for real?

There is not a more remote location in the continental United States from this Maine location than San Diego. From the top of Maine to the bottom of California is about as long a diagonal line as you can draw. And suffice it to say that most of the games that are played by the San Diego Padres occur beyond this East Coaster's bedtime. So you can imagine the surprise when the Fangraphs' leaderboard was perused and there sitting third from the top was Chase Headley. Chase Headley!? Didn't he start his season by going without a hit in eleven at bats with six strikeouts? That Chase Headley?

But there he sits, third from the top. Ahead of him are Kemp, naturally and Young, who unfortunately ruined his shoulder recently. Behind Headley is the Rangers' Hamilton, who is tearing the cover off the baseball on a nightly basis. And Chase Headley is third in all of baseball with his 21 percent walk rate. Where did that come from? The biggest surprise is that Headley has already hit four homers, which matches the output of his entire season last year. Naturally, the first question that came to mind upon this discovery is whether this is just a small sample size blip or if there is any reason to believe in what is currently going on.

Some of the conclusions are mixed. It is hard to fake patience at the plate. Headley has always had some modicum of that gift. His career walk rate is only 9.8 but last season saw his highest rate of his career at 11.8 percent. That seems more like a maturation of an ability he displayed in the minors than a fluke. For his career, Headley has swung at 25.5 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. That's pretty good discipline. This year shows 21 percent. That is great discipline. But it is not so much better than his career norm that it seems fluky. While it may not be feasible to continue the season with such a walk rate, something between where it is now and last year's 11.8 percent seems very possible.

The new found power is another story. His fly ball percentage this year of 38.9 percent is just slightly higher than his career average of 36.2 percent. But his percentage of fly balls going over the fence has risen astronomically. For his career, 7.6 percent of his fly balls have gone for homers. This year's rate of 28.6 percent nearly quadruples his career rate. Perhaps more patience at the plate allows him to select better pitches to drive. But it seems safe to say that he will not sustain this power rate. Even so, he could very easily beat his career high of 12 homers and hit 18 to 24 of them.

Headley's .292 batting average seems sustainable. His current BABIP of .313 is actually lower than his career average. He has been better than average at managing to stay ahead of such things. So what do we have here? We have a player, at the age of 28 who seems to be finding himself a bit this season. He seems sure to beat his career numbers in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Looking at his production thus far and how he is doing it, reason seems to dictate that he can put together a season with an OPS of between .850 to .870.

Headley has a had a good start in the field as well. And his ability to steal a base here and there helps too. Headley has stolen 30 bases in 39 attempts over the past three seasons and is already two for two in that category this year. Put this all together and, if he stays healthy, you have a solid All Star candidate at third base for the Padres and he could be one of the best all around third basemen in the National League this season.

No comments: