After a strong end to the 2016 season, New York Yankees third baseman Chase Headley enters the 2017 season with something to prove.
New York Yankees third baseman Chase Headley has been the subject of scrutiny since his pinstripe debut in 2014. Whether it’d be for his questionable defense during the 2015 season, or for his slow start during the 2016 season, there’s always something said.
Headley knows the New York media and fans observe him under a microscope, which is why he enters 2017 with something to prove. Headley isn’t the flashy player Yankees fans are accustomed to seeing, but he gets the job done in a quiet manner. But in New York, fans want players who constantly get the job done with sparkle or a big bang.
Headley was aware of his struggles, and he didn’t need the fanbase to remind him. After his weary April last season, however, he did turn things around, finishing the 2016 season with a .265/.338/.418 slash line with 14 homers and 49 RBI’s in 121 games. The 32-year-old proved he was capable of performing under the bright lights of New York City, but the fans emphasized on his April, simply because Headley’s good contributions went under the radar.
That was when Headley knew he had to garner the fans attention in a positive light.
Entering play on Sunday, Headley wanted to provide production in the lineup, especially since he’s one of the few veterans surrounded in a sea of youth. He knew the veterans couldn’t rely on the youth to provide all the offense and acknowledged that he along with Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Holliday, Brett Gardner and Starlin Castro needed to step up.
“Everybody needs to do their job and I think that’s the way everybody feels,’’ Headley said prior to Sunday’s Opening Day loss against the Tampa Bay Rays. “I know our veterans want to carry the weight and take some pressure off these young guys.”
Headley wasn’t the only one who voiced the veterans could do better. Yankees manager Joe Girardi reiterated Headley’s words by respectfully putting all the veterans on notice.
“I know we talk a lot about the youth. But the veterans have to do their jobs. To me, that’s a huge key,’’ Girardi said. “If we do that, we’re going to be in good shape.’’
On Sunday and Tuesday, Headley followed Girardi’s advice and contributed offensively.
In his last two games, Headley is 5-for-8 with a homer, which contradicts his poor start last April. Not only is Headley off to a hot start, he’s doing something different this year; he’s hitting against the shift.
On Sunday, all three of Headley’s hits were against the shift, and on Tuesday Headley added another one after he homered earlier that night.
Headley is fully capable of going the other way, and when he does, he’s successful. According to FanGraphs, Headley is 164-for-531 (.309) when he successfully hits against the shift. Not only did Headley contribute offensively, he also made a dazzling play at third base which prevented a potential double.
While Yankees fans thrive on players that are flashy, Headley is one of those that quietly leads by example. He does things the right way, he says all the right things and contributes in ways he knows how.
No, Headley’s not going to hit 20 home runs in two months like Gary Sanchez did. He’s not going to bat flip and majestically run around the bases after a potential walk-off. He’s not going to swipe 49 bases in a season. But Headley will contribute. He’s going to do things in a reserved manner, and just because he goes through bad slides, doesn’t mean it should be the only thing we focus on.
Headley is playing almost as if he has something to prove. But the truth of the matter is, there’s nothing for Headley to prove. He proved he was a fit for the Yankees the day he arrived. He earned his pinstripes when he hit a walk-off in the middle of crucial postseason race. Yes, he went through bad stretches, but that’s baseball’s a marathon, not a sprint, so if Headley struggles along the way, so be it.
The Yankees are going through a youth movement, and one day Headley’s services are no longer going to be needed. But until that moment comes, Headley’s going to contribute, and he’s going to constantly remind Yankee fans why he belongs here.
Headley is off to a great start. Let’s try to keep that in mind the moment fans want to crucify him during a rough stretch.