Friday, August 3, 2012

The Hubbub over Headley

It's been a while since I've seen Oriole fans clamoring for a player that is not an impending free agent and the player they are clamoring for is not exactly a household name. He is San Diego third baseman Chase Headley.

Admittedly, I didn't know tons about the guy and while the Orioles need help at third base, didn't understand the hype. So with some assertions from other fans in my Twitter feed, I set out to find out a little more about him.

Here are three assertions made about Headley and why he is worthy of trading Oriole prospects for:

1. Chase Headley will hit better once he leaves Petco.

This is likely true. But the degree to which it is true is a different matter.

Lefthanded hitters do not really hit that much better once they leave the Padres. Adrian Gonzalez is the perfect example. While his offensive prodcution improved a tick between 2010 and 2011 (152 OPS+ up to 154 OPS+) there was not the dramatic explosion of offensive prodcution that was predicted. You still have to factor in the switch from the NL to the AL, especially the AL East. The AL still has more talent than the NL and is the clearly the tougher league. If you doubt that, look at what David Hernandez and Brad Bergesen have done in Arizona compared to their Oriole careers.

So if Headley came to Camden Yards, his offensive numbers may indeed improve but with the change of leagues they are probably going to be very much like the numbers he puts up now. So he's a lefthanded bat with good plate discipline and modest power. We're talking about 12-18 homers and .425 slugger whether he's in Petco or not.

He is likely to hit very much like he has over the past three season with some slight improvement with his power:

              AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS+ 
2010-2012    .272 .353 .395  111

2. He's a superior defensive third baseman

I admit that I have not seen a lot of Headley in the field. So I looked to Fangraphs and got UZR/150's for the last three years at third base.

A. Beltre      13.9
K. Kouzmanoff  12.3
P. Polanco     12.2
E. Longoria    10.1
C. Headley      9.5
A. Callaspo     9.0

Of the qualified players, he's right on the cusp of the top third of third baseman in defense. It was pointed out to me that his total defensive numbers include his time in left field which brings the number down.

So my assertion that Headley is an average defender is pretty off base. He is not a elite defender but few are and he is among the best in MLB.

(BTW, Kevin Kouzmanoff's bat didn't improve after he got out of Petco. He's in Omaha now.)

3. He's an All-Star

No. No, he's not.

Headley probably deserved to be an All-Star in 2012 but he wasn't and never has been. His All-Star status was touted by more than one person on Twitter but he is not actually an All-Star player. Not that this fact means much.

Now, here's the commodity quantified; Chase Headley is a 29-year old (in 2013), slick-fielding third baseman with good plate discipline and slightly above-average offensive skills (I am predicting an OPS+ of about 110 in the AL over the next three years, just for reference).

That is a valuable commodity.

But how valuable is it for the Orioles? According to Dan Connolly, the Padres were looking for Jake Arrieta, plus two other prospects including a high-ceiling guy.

Is Headley worth all that?

Whatever your feeling are on Jake Arrieta, it's not as if the Orioles are flush with pitching and Arrieta is not without value. In fact, even with his struggles, Arrieta is still second on the team in terms of xFIP and his peripheral stats are quite similar to Wei-Yin Chen's. Arrieta can still be a useful starter for this team.

So it's questionable, but arguable, that Arrieta alone is too much to give up for Headley. What's scarcer? A decent young starting pitcher or a third baseman with a slightly above average bat approaching 30? It's a close call but I would probably side with the pitcher on that count.

But to give up two more prospects in addition to Arrieta? Boy, that seems like too much to give up for a guy like Headley.

And what does Headley do for this team? He'll help with run prevention surely. He'll likely be an offensive upgrade over Wilson Betemit (although not as much as you might expect). But he is not a game changer at the plate or in the field. Not enough to improve the prospects of this team for this season or the next two, not by himself.

The Orioles have scored 4.2 runs per game, tied for 10th in the AL in scoring. They are ties for 11th in runs allowed. They have been outscored by a whopping 60 runs this season and are still 5 games over .500. It is crazy that they are where they are in the standings, with even a hint of a chance at a playoff spot. It's been magical and fantastic and I've enjoyed every bit of it.

But this team is not a serious playoff contender this season nor will they likely be next season, not without some improvements to the starting rotation and some better bats in the lineup. One player will have far less impact on the offensive and the pitching than improvements from players already here or young players coming up through the system.

The Oriole farm system is too shallow to be making deals for a guy like Headley right now. Sure, if you can spin off a couple minor league relievers for a guy like J.J. Hardy and extend him, you do it every time. But you can't trade away legitimate prospects or pitchers who can help you in the majors in the near future for a short term improvement to the team.

Not to mention, there are other solutions out there if you get creative. The Orioles could make a run at David Wright (unlikely but he'll be out there). Or they could platoon a better fielder with Wilson Betemit. Brandon Inge could be a nice left/right platoon and improve the defense at third. Or slide Robert Andino over to third base against lefty pitchers. Or hell, pick up Kevin Kouzmanoff on a minor league deal and platoon him with Betemit. (Chase Headley may be an All-Star away from Petco as many fans have told me but Wilson Betemit is an All-Star if you don't let him hit against left handed pitching.)

All I'm saying is, the price to get Headley is way too high right now. Maybe that price drops in the offseason and I'll feel differently. But while he's a logical target for the team, I don't get the hype.

1 comment:

Tuck said...

I don't care too much that the O's didn't get Headley. I was upset with the team's failure to do anything. The Yankees filled a hole at third base by trading an unwanted reliever. The Jays improved a bad bullpen by trading a busted prospect. While it is hard to tell what is happening behind closed doors, the Orioles seemed unable to move beyond the traditional buyer/seller prospects-for-veterans dichotomy. As you noted, a little creativity would have been good to see.

Nice to see you writing some again.