Chase Headley has always had a fan at BaseballGuys.com. If you purchased a copy of the 2011 BBGuys’ Draft Guide, and if you didn’t shame on you, you will recall my words of encouragement about Headley (this years Draft Guide will likely drop at the end of January or early February for those of you itching to get it in your hands). Headley didn’t live up to expectations in terms of his fantasy output in 2011, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t show some growth. Read on for my explanation of what I’m talking about an if there is enough here to make him someone to target in 2012 (I broke down his new teammate, Carlos Quentin, in this Player Profile).
Headley will have corner infield value in mixed leagues because he isn’t afraid to steal a bag. Each of the past three years he has stolen at least 10 bags, and his three year average is a cool 13 thefts a season, the same total he posted last year. Amongst third base eligible players only Eduardo Nunez (22), Ryan Roberts (18) and Mike Aviles (14) had more last season. Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying – I’m not saying Headley is some base stealing marvel, but he does steal a fair amount of bags relative to others at the third base position.
Headley hit a career best .289 last season, better than the marks posted by Placido Polanco (.277), Chipper Jones (.275), Martin Prado (.260), Kevin Youkilis (.258) and Roberts (.249). That certainly helped to boost Headley’s value in the fantasy game. While OBP isn’t counted in the majority of leagues, Headley was also a strong performer there. Headley’s .374 OBP was the highest mark of any third baseman in the National League (minimum 400 plate appearances). He can thank the fact that he pushed his walk rate to a career best level (11.8 percent), two percentage points above his career rate. He still struck out 21 percent of the time, but the result was a 0.57 BB/K mark, the best of his career. As you can see, Headley produced a strong average and got on base at a great clip in 2011 compared to other third sackers – and there is value in that.
There’s a pink elephant in the room though, and the number on that tutu is four, as in the homer total of Headley in 2011. As a third baseman, Headley would have to be performing at an Ichiro-like level to overcome a mere four homers, and clearly Headley didn’t so his fantasy value was sunk last season. We can partly blame the fact that injury limited him to just 113 games, but that’s like using a band aid for a broken leg. The fact is that Headley has never learned how to lift the ball. He raps out extra base hits, he’s averaged 29 doubles the last three years, an as we’ve see he produces hits, but he doesn’t hit the ball in the air. Chase’s fly ball rate has regressed the past two years, down from 38.3 percent to 36.0 and 32.3 percent, which is well below the big league average of about 37 percent. So he doesn’t hit enough fly balls to be a big time home run hitter. Second, his HR/F ratio is just 7.0 percent for his career, and the last two years he’s failed to reach 6.5 percent. You can certainly blame him for that, but his home ball yard in San Diego also isn’t doing him any favors. Petco was 12th out of 16 NL stadiums last year according to the HR Park Idicies, and the past three years Petco is 15th in the NL. If Headley were to move out of San Diego a run to 15 homers seems reasonable, though that’s still nothing to get overly excited about when we’re talking about a third baseman hitting 15 homers.
The best thing that could happen to Chase would be for him to be dealt to another club. He seemingly profiles very well as a #2 hitter, but he might be best suited as a 6th or 7th place hitter on a strong team. If he was allowed to spend his home games in an offensive leaning park a 15 homer, 15 steal season could be possible. Toss in a .280-ish batting average and then we’d be talking. However, if he isn’t dealt out of San Diego, Headley would likely be best served as a solid third base option in NL-only leagues. Headley might still produce enough to be a solid corner infield option in deep mixed leagues, after all his career bests would lead to a .289-12-65-77-17 fantasy line, but he’s more of a speculative play in that format.
By Ray Flowers