Last August, Joe Girardi decided it was time to make a bold move. He pulled the plug on third baseman Chase Headley, benching him in favor of Ronald Torreyes. The veteran was shocked: “I showed up today expecting to play and I wasn’t. I was frustrated… As an everyday player, I think you should be frustrated when you don’t play.” (Daily News’ Dan Martin)
In 2016, Headley hit .251, while managing only 14 home runs and 51 RBI. Coming into 2017, Chase knew changes had to be made if he wanted to stay on the Yankees.
Chase Headley Bounceback Campaign Fueled by New Approach
Through thirteen games this season, Headley is hitting .395 and has a great .509 on base percentage. His 12 runs are tops in the major leagues. Through 13 games last year, he had just six hits and a .333 on base mark. So what adjustments has the Colorado native made to keep his third base job secure in 2017?
One fix was combating the dreaded shift. Last year, according to FanGraphs, Headley saw a shift on a whopping 34% of his plate appearances, 179 trips to the dish in total.
The issue was addressed in his third at-bat of the 2017 season. The 32-year-old came to the plate and laid one down the third-base line, watching it roll into shallow left for a single. It was one of three Opening Day base hits for him. While Headley likes his bunt hits, they lead to a more complex end game. He explained post-game: “(I’m trying to) get guys closer to where they should be.” Ideally, defenses will get tired of surrendering bunt singles and will be forced to play Headley more traditionally, opening up the right side for him to pull balls. This is a philosophy that was missing in Chase’s game last year.
But his improved approach stretches beyond bunting. After not recording his first extra-base hit until May 12 last year, Headley went into the season with a heightened focus on driving the ball. On the second day of the season, Chase launched a two-run home run into the center field seats of Tropicana Field, as the baseball narrowly ducked the infamous Tropicana Field catwalk. Even though the Yankees left Tampa with two losses, Headley recorded seven hits: two shift-beaters, and two extra-base knocks.
When on base, Headley has been more likely to take an extra bag this year. That’s right, Chase Headley steals bases. Recently, Headley challenged the arm of vaunted St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who’s well-regarded as the premier backstop in baseball. Still, Headley used a great jump to beat Molina’s throw. In just twelve games, he’s a perfect three for three in stolen base attempts. In the past two seasons combined, Chase was eight of sixteen in that category.
While off to a hot start, last year taught Headley not to rest on his laurels. He knows that he must keep attacking the shift and taking extra bases, because Girardi has limited patience and multiple outlets to replace his veteran third baseman.