Chase Headley has been the best player on the Yankees through the first three games of 2017. It’s hard to ask for a better start than 7-12 with a homerun and a walk. This is confirmed through FanGraphs’ new team pages (which are awesome by the way) that credit him with 0.5 WAR. The Yankees have won exactly one game through their first three, so Headley is responsible for half of their entire season win total.

In spite of his excellent play so far, Headley has not been mistake free. In the top of the fifth inning on April 5, he hit a leadoff double. Nothing wrong with that; doubles are good! The next batter was Aaron Judge who hit a groundball to shortstop Tim Beckham. Herein lies the problem. As early as Little League, players are taught not to advance on a ground ball hit in front of them. Throwing all care to the wind, Headley attempted to advance anyway. He was predictably caught in a rundown and eventually tagged out. Payers are also taught at a young age not to make the first out at third base. Somewhere in the town of Fountain, Colorado a former Little League manager lost a small piece of his or her soul.

Oh well. Baserunning mistakes happen. A lot can be forgiven when you’re slashing .636/.667/.1000. However, Headley may not need forgiveness even for his baserunning. According to FanGraphs he has actually been the best baserunner on the team so far:


The season is only three games old!! How can a player who has made such a boneheaded mistake have a positive BsR? Granted, he’s been on base far more often than his teammates, but one would think it should be tough to do enough good on the basepaths to overcome an early season TOOTBLAN.

Since the season is still new and Headley has only been on base eight times, we’ll look at each of them to determine what he’s been doing in between the bases, with help from Baseball Reference game logs. After each one we’ll score his baserunning positive, negative, or neutral.

 

Game 1 (4/2/17): New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays

Baserunning: NEUTRAL

After a single, he advances two bases on Judge’s double then scores on a fielder’s choice. Pretty much station-to-station.

 

Baserunning: NEUTRAL

Reaching on a bunt single usually requires a player to run well, but it’s not exactly baserunning if you aren’t on base yet. He later moves to second on a single and is stranded there.

 

Baserunning: NEUTRAL

This is the definition of station-to-station baserunning. Depending on how bad the throwing error was you might even fault him for not advancing to third, but we’ll give him a break because it was the ninth inning and the team was losing by five runs. There would’ve been little benefit from trying to advance.

 

Game 2 (4/4/17): New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays

Baserunning: NEUTRAL

The best way to run the bases is to trot.

 

Baserunning: SUPER AWESOME POSITIVE

Here’s what we’re looking for! A stolen base AND an advancement on a wild pitch! Watch out, Billy Hamilton!!!

 

Game 3 (4/5/17): New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays

Baserunning: EXTREMELY STUPIDLY NEGATIVE

We have reached the aforementioned rundown. Score that one 6-5-4-1.

 

Baserunning: NEUTRAL

He didn’t get to do very much running here, never making it as far as second base. Not a good outcome for Aaron Judge but there’s not much Headley could’ve done.

 

Baserunning: SORT OF POSITIVE?

Advancing to second base is good, so that’s positive, but the Rays literally didn’t care. Should he get credit for defensive indifference? Statistically speaking, he should. The Yankees most likely would’ve scored a run if Judge had singled. That hypothetical run would factor into the Yankees’ run differential and Pythagorean W-L for the season. Furthermore, the WPA for this play was -0%. The minus symbol leads us to believe the defensive indifference had some small outcome on the WPA even though it rounded to zero. A run would’ve also impacted our thoughts on Alex Colome in some small way via a myriad of pitching statistics. So let’s give Headley some applause here for taking second base when it was offered, just not enough credit to round up to 1% of a win.

 

Here’s our final math:

Stolen Base
+
Advance on Wild Pitch
+
Defensive Indifference

Dumb Rundown
=
0.2 BsR

 

That’s a fair enough result. No one else on the Yankees has yet attempted a stolen base, so it’s certainly plausible that Headley’s steal could put him in the team lead for baserunning regardless of what else happened.

Still, this doesn’t tell the whole story of Headley’s adventures on the basepaths. If we look again at the rundown the play was described thusly:

“Fielder’s Choice at 3B/SS-3B-2B-P: Judge to 2B”

Assuming an out is a foregone conclusion on a groundball to shortstop, Headley effectively let Judge replace him at second base. Headley is probably about a league-average runner, or at least he has been in the past. However, next month he turns 34. Maybe he feels not quite as fast as he did in his youth in spite of his other baserunning exploits. Judge is nine years younger and approaching his athletic prime. As a prospect he was rated a 50-grade runner (league average) this offseason by every scouting website. In theory he’s probably close to the same speed as Headley, even though he’s the size of a small rhinoceros, but perhaps Headley knows something about himself that the rest of us do not.

When the ball was hit to Beckham, Headley had three choices:

Go back to second base
Run to third base
Get caught in a rundown long enough for Judge to move to second

The classically correct answer is A. Headley chose C. The Yankees might have been ever-so-slightly better off anyway. Are intentional rundowns the new baseball inefficiency? Is he the pioneer of a new strategy? Is he a baserunning savant? Is he building a resume as a future third base coach?

Probably none of these things. Maybe he’s just a player off to a hot start. Ultimately no one will care what he does on the basepaths with a 1.667 OPS. But if you can take a base for free every now and then, regardless of the method, it’s OK to get tagged out sometimes. Just don’t tell your Little League manager.

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