Chase Headley vs. The Park


Chase Headley received mixed signals and probably poor advise while coming up as a prospect through the Padres ranks.  When drafted in 2005, many scouts were concerned with his ability to hit for power but impressed with his plate discipline.  He overcame those concerns and worked to increase his power outputs at the minor league level.  But that may have hindered his ability to make an instant impact at the big league level with the Padres.  Luckily, he’s found a way to adjust.

Back in March of 2008, Headley was profiled as one of the game’s most underrated prospects by Baseball Intellect.  He was coming off a year in which he had finally proven critics wrong and hit for power.  In 2007, at Double-A San Antonio, Headley hit 20 home runs while driving in 78.  He also hit for average and got on base.  His triple-slash was .330/.437/.580.  It was clear that Headley had focused on speeding up his swing and driving the ball.  These changes paid dividends in San Antonio, but would prove to be counter-effective once he reached San Diego.

In his first full season with San Diego, Headley felt the culture (or power) shock of playing 81 games in a pitcher’s park.  He hit 9 home runs in 368 plate appearances in 2008.  He followed that up with 12 home runs in 612 plate appearances in 2009. Then, he had just 11 home runs in 674 plate appearances in 2010.

In 2011, things changed.  Headley reduced his strikeouts to his lowest career total, 92.  His BB% was the highest of his career at 11.8%.  He got on base more and didn’t sacrifice to terribly much from his slugging percentage.  Headley’s slash-line was an impressive .289/.374/.399.  He added 20 points to his previous career best batting average and 32 points to his previous career best OBP.  While his slugging percentage was 21 points lower than his career high, it was actually higher than his 2010 figure of .375 and his 2009 figure of .392.

Rather than complain about Petco Park’s effect on offense like some of the Padres previous sluggers (Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin), Headley has altered his approach at the plate and tailored his offense to the park.  He has become more patient at the plate increasing the number of balls he sees to 41%.  His previous totals were:

2010: 38%
2009: 38%
2008: 38%

Headley is making pitchers work more and focusing less on jacking the ball out of the park.  The result has been less fly balls, more hits, less strikeouts, and a higher OBP.   Here’s a look at Headley’s fly-ball percentage over the last few years, courtesy of Fangraphs:

As you can see the drop-off is intense.  Part of this is the natural park factor of Petco, but the other part is Headley conscious adjustment at the plate.  Rather than fight the thick marine layer in San Diego (and some of the other NL West parks for that matter), Headley has chosen to get on base, hit to all fields, and completely alter his offense.

Headley’s approach is one that should be considered by all hitters who play in San Diego.  Not everyone needs to reduce their power numbers, but it may be a good idea to focus on making contact and making pitchers work before focusing on hitting the ball out of the park.  Headley has done this, and it leads us into our next analysis for later today.  So check back with us this afternoon.