Is Chase Headley The Best 3rd Baseman in Baseball?

Updated: September 10, 2012

The answer, unfortunately, is no. However, I can think of only two guys who edge Headly at that premiere position. One is Miguel Cabrera, a man whose atrocious defense is overshadowed by his unbeliveable hitting prowess (he’s got a decently realistic shot at the AL triple crown). The other is David Wright, one of the best all around players in baseball, and a guy who has single handedly carried the Mets for most of the season (sorry Ike). Though an argument can be made for Adrian Beltre–and the last two weeks have strengthened that argument–I think Headley has cracked the list of top three 3rd basemen in the league today.

Headley is batting .284 with 27 home runs (!) and a league-leading 102 RBIs. That is particularly remarkable considering he plays his home games at spacious Petco Park, and the Padres rank 26th out of the 30 teams in runs scored. Headley has driven in almost 1/5 of the team’s runs. That alone should garner him some MVP consideration.

Chase is currently 8th in the NL with a 4.9 WAR and third in offensive WAR. He’s also 4th in walks, 4th in runs created, and 8th in total bases.

Defensively, Headley is first in the NL in assists as a third basemen and second in putouts, a category in which he lead the league last year. A little more sabermetrically speaking, he’s currently second at the position in range factor per game. Basically, the stats say he’s a solid defender, especially for his position, in addition to being a well above average hitter.

Headley has also shown durability as he’s played in 140 out of 141 Padres games this year, giving him the league lead in that category. He also leads the league with 138 games played at third.

Of note is Headley’s unbelievable second half. In 54 games since the break, he is hitting .310 with a whopping 60 RBIs and 19 homers. He’s slugging .601 in that time with a .369 OBP. To place this into perpective, Miguel Cabrera has 17 homers and 45  RBIs since his trip to Kansas City.

At 28, Headly is a bit of a late bloomer. He wasn’t a bigtime prospect, but he’s been slowly grinding away at the big league level for a few years now, and is finally achieving some measure of notoriety this year. He’s a carrer .272 hitter, not too far from this year’s numbers, but his 102 RBI have basically tripled his career total. The 27 homers are 15 more than his previous career high, and until 2010, he was primarily a left fielder.

Headley’s was a name floated extensively at the trading deadline as a youngish, versatile, and durable player who could bolster  a team down the stretch. He could have really helped a team like the Yankees, Dodgers, Orioles, or even the Braves, and the Pads were in pretty deep in talks, reportedly.

Then, San Diego came to its senses and realized that Headley was way more valuable to them if he stayed in town. Chase is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and will likely make something around $4 million next season. That’s a bargain basement price for top flight power hitter and run producer at a premiere position, and it gives the Padres time to work out a contract extension.

Chase Headley is having a career season. He’s clearly a guy who has benefited from a few years of growth and experience at the big league level, and it’s great that all his work is finally paying off. He’s never going to have the name recognition of a Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, or Adrian Beltre, but he may very well put up comparable numbers.

Is Headley the best third basemen in baseball? No. But, thanks to his contract and ability to produce in even the most anemic of offenses,  he might be one of the most valuable.

-Max Frankel

Stat of the Day: In season’s in which he has thrown at least 110 innings, Clayton Kershaw has never had an ERA above 3.00.

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