Chase Headley emerged as an elite third baseman last season. A big reason for Headley’s breakout was a increase in power. Headley hit 31 home runs last season, beating his previous career-high by 19. The fact that he accomplished that feat while playing half of his games in Petco makes it even more impressive. Because of his performance, Headley is likely to shoot up fantasy drafts next season. But in order to repeat, he’ll have to display the same amount of power again. Otherwise, he’ll be nothing more than a one year wonder.
Trying to figure out why Headley experienced a power surge is somewhat puzzling. His batted ball data shows that Headley actually hit more ground balls last season, at the expense of line drives and fly balls. His 32.1% fly ball percentage was actually the worst rate of his career. But in spite of that, he actually managed a career-high 21.4% HR/FB rate. Headley’s previous high in that category was just 10.7%.
The batted ball data seems to indicate that Headley’s power may have been a fluke. He had never shown the ability to hit that many of his fly balls out of the park before, and very little in his approach seems to have changed.
Looking at his raw home run numbers, there’s more cause for concern. Headley had 11 “just enough” home runs last year. Just enough home runs are classified as balls that barely cleared the fence. That figure tied Headley for third highest in the National League. Being on that list is a reason for concern, but it isn’t necessarily a harbinger of doom. Ryan Braun and David Wright finished in the top spots, and neither of those players are expected to experience a huge drop off in power. Headley was also aided by three “lucky” home runs last season. Lucky home runs are classified as balls that left the park due to weather conditions or random chance. Nearly half of Headley’s home runs barely cleared the fence, or were aided by external factors.
While appearing on both lists doesn’t guarantee a decline, it’s particularly worrisome when combined with Headley’s unexplainable power surge. If something in his batted ball data had changed, it would be easier to accept Headley as a strong power hitter now. But based on those numbers, Headley looks like the same player who somehow managed to slug 31 home runs last season.
It’s probably going to be tough for Headley to retain his power numbers last season. He had a lot of luck with the home run last season, and he’s still slated to play in one of baseball’s stingiest parks. The Padres do plan on moving in the fences next season, so that may offset some of Headley’s expected loss. Still, it seems highly unlikely that Headley is going to hit 31 home runs again. The only way that is going to happen would involve Headley being traded to a better ballpark, which actually could happen during the offseason. Tread with caution next season. Headley’s power surge doesn’t look repeatable.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.