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Chase Headley’s Defensive Value

MLB: Texas Rangers at New York Yankees

(USA Today Sports Images)

Chase Headley immediately endeared himself to Yankees fans with his walkoff single in the fourteenth inning of his July 22nd pinstripes debut. Headley went on to hit safely in his next seven games as well. Headley hit .333 in 30 at bats with an .875 OPS in that eight game hitting streak to begin his Yankees career. He’s cooled off a bit, hitting .230/.303/.333 since then, although he has collected 3 hits over the past two games with a solo home run last night.

However, Headley provides more value than his production at the plate. He is a superb third baseman. A Gold Glove award winner in his breakout 2012 season, he’s been worth 5 defensive runs saved at third base in 14 games since coming to the Bronx. His 8.3 Ultimate Zone Rating, as measured by FanGraphs, is excellent for this point in the season. His Total Zone Rating on the season is 12, 7 of those coming with the Yanks. He hasn’t made an error at third base since switching coasts.

His defensive wins above replacement metric rates at 0.7 since joining the Bombers’ infield, according to BaseballReference.com. There’s no doubt that even if Headley hasn’t quite been the MVP-caliber hitter he was in 2012, he has been an upgrade over the Kelly Johnson/Yangervis Solarte combo that preceded Headley. Johnson wasn’t the worst option at the hot corner– especially when considering this was the second extended stint of his career playing the position– as he was worth 2 defensive runs saved. However, his defensive WAR clocked in at only 0.2. Solarte came in with a below-average -3 defensive runs saved.

Headley is a defensive upgrade, and, given his ceiling, is a better bet to rebound offensively than Johnson and Solarte are. With his relatively low price of Solarte and middling pitching prospect Rafael De Paula, the Yankees might have found themselves a steal.