Chase Headley and the Great FB/HR Miracle of 2012

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

I know I'm probably writing too much about this but ... well, this is sorta my page, and my boss generally indulges my passions. So here's something else about Chase Headley, via MLB.com's Corey Brock:

So which is the true Chase Headley -- the 2012 model or this current incarnation?

"It's a tough question. I've been asked that a lot," said Padres manager Bud Black. "He had a spectacular year a year ago. It was a great year. But I think to ask a player to hit 31 home runs and knock in 115 runs is a bit unfair. I think this year is not indicative of the type of career Chase is going to have moving forward.

"Is it somewhere in-between? I don't know. But it's not this."

--snip--

Headley's zone contact rate, according to PITCH/fx has dropped from 85.2 percent in 2012 to 83.3 percent this season. His walk rate is down, his strikeout rate up. And Headley's HR/FB ratio (home run to fly ball) has dipped dramatically, from 21.4 percent a year ago to 9.2 percent.

"I think the home run and RBI explosion got a lot of people's attention. Whether that will show up again, I don't know," said Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said. "… But his durable play, he's turned into a good third baseman, a switch-hitter who can matchup with a lot of pitching, he still gets on base, [so] that still makes him a very valuable player."

I hope you'll forgive me for writing about Chase Headley yet again, but last time I just flat-out missed a key piece of information. Did you see it up there?

And Headley's HR/FB ratio (home run to fly ball) has dipped dramatically, from 21.4 percent a year ago to 9.2 percent.

I think I might have missed it last year, too: 21 percent is HUGE. The major-league average is right around 10 percent. Granted, it's a lot higher for the strongest power-hitting behemoths; for example, Miguel Cabrera's career percentage is 20 percent. But before last season, Headley was right around 10 percent in his career. So jumping from 10 percent to 20 percent probably wasn't sustainable unless he'd become a completely different hitter or gotten significantly stronger. None of which are easy to do when you're 28. These things can happen and sometimes do. But it's a very rare thing.

Good players have great seasons. We even have a time-tested term for those seasons: career year. Chase Headley's OPS+ this season matches almost exactly his OPS+ from his first three full seasons. The true Chase Headley? We've been looking at him all season long. Josh Byrnes is right, except maybe for the very part of the very valuable player. The Padres are fortunate to have Headley locked up in 2014. After which they probably need to let him find a team that will pay him more than he's worth while he plays into his 30s.

For much more about the Padres, please visit SB Nation's Gaslamp Ball.

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