However good you think Chase Headley
has been this season, you’re probably wrong… because he’s been better. In fact, Padre fans have rarely seen a player get this hot and turn in a season as good as Chase’s 2012.
First, the details. Chase Headley is currently on pace for a 30 HR, 113 RBI season with a 284/369/485 slash line. He was the NL player of the month for August and hasn’t stopped hitting in September. He is also playing elite-level defense (ranked 2nd
in the NL for range factor, 3rd
in fielding percentage, first in assists). He should get at least some votes for MVP, but sub-.500 teams don’t usually employ the winner of that award. You can read and know all that and not truly get the full flavor of just how amazing this season has been.
What Chase is doing this year cannot be properly appreciated until this season is put in the proper context. In order to do that we will look at Headley’s season through 2 different lenses:
- Padre 3rd basemen
- Offense at Petco Park
When it comes to 3rd base, the Padres have been fairly pathetic historically. In the pantheon of Friar third baseman, only 3 have ever turned in a WAR (wins above replacement) of at least 6, according to Fangraphs. They are Ken Caminiti in 1996, Phil Nevin in 2001 and Chase Headley in 2012. Headley is currently at 6.9, which bests Nevin’s 6.0. Headley is also better than Nevin in every category except home runs, so we’ll make the determination that Headley’s 2012 is better than Nevin. That leaves us with Headley and Caminti.
Of course, the elephant in the room has to be at least referenced: Caminti was admittedly cheating in 1996. I hate to write that as much as you hate to read it, but it is true. So, let’s first keep that in mind when considering Caminiti’s WAR of 7.6. But, even if you take the steroids issue out of the equation a case can be made that Headley’s 2012 is still better than Caminti’s ’96. The reason why is summarized in one word: Petco.
While Qualcomm Stadium was a slight pitcher’s park towards the end of its existence (after the right field bowl was filled in) it was a more hitter friendly park in 1996. In fact, baseballstatistics.com has the 1996 park factor that Caminiti dealt with at 87. Not to over simplify things, but that stat means the park gives up 87% of the runs a neutral park would give up. Compare that to the park factor of 81 for Petco Park. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that 6% almost makes Qualcomm look like Coors Field by comparison. I know this is not accurate, but just for brevity let’s reduce Caminiti’s 7.6 WAR by 6%. You get 7.14. Headley is expected to get close to 7 by year’s end. Let’s also not forget Caminti had Tony Gwynn and Steve Finley getting on base for him, which Chase does not. Again, not a definitive analysis, but some interesting food for thought.
Meanwhile, over at Petco National Park… you already know Petco suppresses offense to the same degree that Bruce Banner loses his temper, which is to say: a lot. Only 4 players have ever, really been able to produce at Petco with any excellence: Headley, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Loretta and Brian Giles. Going back to the WAR statistic, each of the 4 has posted a WAR of at least 6 during a full season. Here are those seasons, for comparison:
Mark Loretta, 2004: 335/391/495 – 16 HR, 76 RBI
Brian Giles, 2005: 301/423/483 – 15 HR, 92 RBI
Adrian Gonzalez, 2009: 277/407/551 – 40 HR, 99 RBI
Chase Headley, 2012(projected): 284/369/485 – 30 HR, 113 RBI
The first thing that strikes me is the fact that Brian Giles was better than I remember, but I digress. Obviously Headley will probably wind up with the best run production of the bunch. The power numbers will be second to Adrian, mostly due to the 10-fewer home runs. And Chase won’t have the on base numbers of the others.
Certainly, Headley’s 2012 is not the clear-cut winner here. One could make the case, though, that Headley’s 2012 is the most valuable of the 4 seasons. The number 3 spot in any lineup is the most difficult to fill in that more is expected of a number 3 hitter. They are expected to drive in runs, get on base and do this while knowing the pitcher will likely come to them rather than face the clean-up hitter with a runner on. Loretta batted 2nd, Gonzalez 4th. Giles was the number 3 hitter, but Headley’s production was better.
Even so, the value of the season is not the issue, in my estimation. What makes Headley so remarkable can be summarized in 2 points. First, Petco Park does not lend itself to outrageous offense. In 9 seasons there, assuming 8 full-time starters for the Padres (giving us 72 potential seasons to analyze) only 4 reached the 6.0 WAR plateau. That is a success rate of 5%.
So, in effect, Chase Headley is doing something that, hypothetically, players only have 1 chance in 20 of doing. That’s remarkable.
The other issue that makes this season such an amazing breakthrough is the fact that Headley has had no history of putting up these numbers. Seasons like this do not often come out of nowhere. Headley’s has.
Gonzalez saw his WAR numbers increase every year in the Majors leading up to his stellar 2009. Loretta was a steady contributor for years in Milwaukee before breaking out in 2003 and 2004 in San Diego. Brian Giles was a perennial all-star and frequent MVP candidate in Pittsburgh before he put up his 2005. Chase Headley was none of these things. He was a solid MLB 3rd baseman. But he was no all-star. In fact he had some Padre fans questioning whether it was time to move on and roll the dice with a prospect from the minors. Admittedly, I was one of the voices clamoring for this change. I can happily say: I was dead wrong.
What’s the point in all of this? Simply that Padre fans really need to appreciate and relish was Chase Headley is doing. This is rare and it is spectacular and odds are this will not happen again anytime soon. If you have the chance to watch a Headley at bat, drop what you are doing and pay attention. This season will be remembered and discussed for years to come.