Analysis: Yankees re-sign Chase Headley

After losing David Robertson and Brandon McCarthy, the Yankees finally retained one of their useful pieces from 2014: Chase Headley. OK, yes, they brought back Chris Young too — but he wouldn’t have been nearly as great of a loss as the aforementioned three players. Headley, who signed a four-year, $52M contract, will be the everyday third baseman for the Yankees.

Before re-signing Headley, the infield depth was disconcerting. If Martin Prado was penciled in at the hot corner, the Yankees would have relied on rookies Rob Refsnyder and/or Jose Pirela at second. If Prado was to spend the majority of his time at second, the Yankees might have had to roll the dice with Alex Rodriguez at third. Bringing back Headley alleviates those weaknesses by shifting Prado to second, A-Rod to DH, Pirela to a utility role or Triple-A, and Refsnyder to Scranton.

Inking Headley was sensible in the fact that it improved the team, that much is certain. However, is a four-year, $52M deal sensible? Let’s use a comparison to make a judgement on the preceding question. Below, I present you a comparison of two players and their past two seasons:

Capture

Next, I present each player’s 2015 Steamer projection:

CaptureIt’s evident that player X is the better defender, while player Y is the better hitter. The overall difference between the two depends on how much one buys into advanced defensive metrics. If you’re a firm believer in them, then player X is probably your guy. If not, you’d probably lean toward Y seeing that both are above average defensively per the metrics, anyway. Moreover, it’s worth noting that the eye test judges both players favorably with the glove.

Player X is Headley and player Y is another third baseman, Pablo Sandoval. The former received a four-year, $52M deal from the Yankees, while the latter got five years and $95M from Boston. Although the 2015 projection favors Headley slightly, I’m not sure if I buy him being that much better than Sandoval defensively. All else being equal, I’d peg Pablo to be better next season. Markedly better than Headley? I don’t think so, they’ll probably have very similar results in terms of WAR, but I’d grant a slight edge to Sandoval. Regardless, my opinion isn’t too important in this case — what’s more important to understand is that these two guys have a lot in common on the field. Financially, however, it’s a completely different story.

Again, Sandoval and Headley are very similar in ability and play the same position. Yet, Sandoval got one more guaranteed year and $45M more in salary. Headley (30) being two years older than Sandoval (28) can’t alone account for that difference, nor can Pablo’s postseason heroics. Everyone loves a guy who delivers in October, and Pablo has a knack of performing in the spotlight, but free agents don’t get paid mainly on playoff performance. Regular season output is the meat and potatoes, while the postseason results are gravy. Both the Red Sox and Yankees are trying to return to the postseason in 2015, yet both paid very different amounts for players likely to contribute roughly at the same level. With that in mind, from the Yankees standpoint, the pact with Headley must be considered a no-brainer.

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One Response to Analysis: Yankees re-sign Chase Headley

  1. Terry says:

    Full Disclosure: I’m a Padres and Headley fan.

    There is a significant difference between Sandoval and Headley at 3B. As with any position, most of it is rooted in their footwork, but the body types and throwing mechanics are also extreme.

    Headley is longer than Sadoval so he takes more time to transfer when a slow roller is hit to him, even if bare-handed. Sandoval is more proficient at this, though Headley has more range on balls looped behind the 3B position.

    But it’s the footwork that separates Headley and Sandoval the most. Anyone watching both these players on the West coast can tell you that Headley’s range is at least slightly better even if they can’t tell why. The reason is probably they focus too much on the diving plays when the players leave their feet. That’s only natural, I suppose, to focus on highlight reels.

    What they should be focusing on are the routine plays, the balls that are neither hit like bullets, nor slow rollers that are hit into the gaps on either side of 3B. This is where the difference between Sandoval and Headley becomes obvious.

    Sandoval typical loses his footing and requires a longer time to recover. This was even true last season when he lost weight and hired his brother to help him with his diet. His first instinct is always to ‘lean’ rather than to get his feet under him, putting him off balance and forcing his momentum into the ground rather than keeping his feet under him. Often he will throw from a bad position, which necessarily will result in a failed play which does not cost him an error. Again, this tendency might be an artifact from his heavier version. He might improve his footwork, but it would be the most significant development to his defensive value.

    This is most debilitating on potential Double-plays. Sandoval doesn’t get an error, even when no outs are recorded, and gets praise for the ‘effort’. But most coaches understand that this represents a lost opportunity when Sandoval loses those precious fractions of a second losing his balance, collects the ball, has a slow transfer, and makes an impaired throw from a weak base.

    Headley’s footwork is prototypical of a 3B. Again, his lateral range is helped simply because he naturally keeps his feet under him. In cases, where the situation presents itself, he squares and strides to the ball which also puts him in perfect throwing position.

    As an aside, Headley’s throwing mechanics also give him an advantage in range, obivously; it doesn’t matter how you reduce the time from prep-step to put-out. Headley uses his leverage in length in an overhand motion, which leads to a quick release that doesn’t detract much from a strong throw, even when he is bailing. Sandoval is a classic case of weight shift, which obviously takes more time.

    The three big questions defensively though are matters of circumstance and projection:

    1) Sandoval can improve his defense with footwork, and it’s obvious, whereas Headley is already a finished-product. This could conceivably be one of the reasons why the Red Sox thought he was worth the money, in addition to increasing his hitting prowess unto the Green Monster. Defensive improvement may be the biggest potential upside, in fact.

    2) Sandoval’s motivation for staying in shape will be key regardless. Headley has always rigorous in staying in shape, so there are far fewer risks with him; I doubt he even sees it as a matter of ‘rigor’ or ‘discipline’, so much as a ‘normal’ lifestyle. If Sandoval goes back to his giant brownie ice cream sundae’s, though, well…

    3) Headley has the length, sure-handedness and wingspan to be an effective First Baseman in the event that Texeira goes down, but the price for this eventuality will still be an overall downgrade defensively at First base and Third base.

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