Yankees third baseman Chase Headley might be the most maligned player on the club's roster who truly doesn't deserve it. There is nothing flashy about Headley's game, but he's been consistent with the Yankees. Maybe, the type of "consistency," is the problem for fans.
Headley has perpetually stunk in one or two months of a season - whether that be at the plate or in the field - and has produced extended stretches of excellent play which elevate his season metrics into "average player" territory. Can Headley, who turns 33 in May, put together a season - one filled with above-average play in all facets - from April through October?
How Headley fared in 2016
Simply put, Headley has a difficult time getting off to good starts to the season and 2016 was among the worst ever. Through the season's first 21 games (79 plate appearances), Headley hit .147 with a .253 on-base percentage and a .147 slugging percentage. He had zero extra-base hits and two RBIs during the span.
Beginning May 3 through the remainder of the season, Headley slashed .268/.342/.424 for across 450 plate appearances. Headley finished with 18 doubles, 14 home runs and 49 RBIs. Headley also showed some skills on the bases last season, stealing eight bases in 10 attempts. He actually tied for the team lead in steals over the second half of the season with four.
In the field, Headley reverted back to a solid defender after a completely miserable 2015 season at the hot corner. Headley committed 10 errors, compared with 23 in 2015, and advanced metrics placed him at seven defensive runs saved (-6 in 2015). From the start of the 2016 season, the throwing yips he encountered a year earlier were no longer evident.
How will Headley fare in 2017?
First and foremost, Headley has to get off to a better start across the board. Neither he nor the Yankees can afford another atrociously slow beginning at the plate. In fact, Headley could be needed at the top of the batting order should the club follow through on splitting up Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner at Nos. 1 and 2 in the lineup.
One item of importance for the switch-hitting Headley centers on the number of pitches he sees during his plate appearances (he averages just over four pitches per plate appearance while the league average is 3.82). He has the benefit of being focused at the plate from both sides which would allow manager Joe Girard to keep Headley plugged in the second hole if the results permit.
However, having a watchful eye and taking walks will not be enough. Besides having productive at-bats, Headley would also need to drop in more hits than he has in previous first halves of the season. Seeing more pitches should help Headley turn in quality at-bats, which begins with swinging at pitches inside the strike zone and laying off those outside the zone. Headley fares well against the league averages in both aspects which should provide him with a better chance to find holes.
One of the reasons Headley has so many critics among fans is that he is not a wire to wire performer. Headley has produced a +19 point difference in career OPS+ figures (111 to 92) for the second half over the first. Whether Headley is set to hit as the No. 2 or the No. 7/8 hitter in the lineup this season, he represents an important piece and steady production regardless of his slot will benefit the team. Again it's about leveling off the highs and lows for Headley.
As I mentioned earlier, Headley is not flashy and that's unlikely to change in 2017, but he can reach respectable marks of .260/.340/.400 with about 40 extra-base hits and 60 RBIs across the season in 600-plus plate appearances. Add those offensive measures to above-average defense and Headley becomes a solid complementary piece for the club.
Headley is not expected to carry the Yankees and quite honestly that is not a necessity. However, Headley has to be productive and if it can happen with solid performance from Game 1 to Game 162, he might win over some of his detractors.