Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Headley vs Freese

Flashing a little leather. Even when the ball is ruled foul.
 David Freese is the reigning NL NLCS and World Series MVP.  A lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth has appeared recently regarding the 2007 trade of Freese to St Louis for Jim Edmonds.  Let's separate fact from fiction.  Freese became the Cardinals third baseman in 2009.  Chase Headley became the Padres full-time third baseman the same year.  How do the two men stack up?

Headley came to the majors as the next great Padre power hitter, and he charged out of the gate.  Headley hit HRs in 2 of his first 4 games after being called up for good in 2008.  Since?  He hit 34 HR in his next 517 games.  Freese didn't make it to the majors with as high of a set of expectations as Headley did, but he's hit the ball about as well.  Freese's OPS+ (116) is slightly better than Headley's (105), but their career slash lines are pretty close:
  • Freese .298/.354/.429
  • Headley .269/.343/.392
Freese hits for a higher average and more power.  Most will assume his power numbers are a product of playing at a more hitter-friendly park, but the reality is Busch is only slightly less of a pitcher's park than Petco.  You read that correctly.  So the edge on pure offense goes to Freese.

Defensively the edge goes to Headley, and it's not particularly close.  In his three years as the everyday starter he has excelled with the glove.  Chase Headley was ranked the #1 defensive third baseman on the Dewan Plus/Minus scale (which can be found at Bill James' website), saving 19 runs.  Last season he was 10th but still credited with saving 2 runs in his 113 games.  Freese, on the other hand, has never had a positive runs saved number.  This year he was -1.  Last year he was -4.  If you watched any of the World Series, you saw Freese get eaten up by several ground balls to third.  He looked slow.  And no, I am not counting the pop up that hit him in the head in Game 6.  Headley in a rout.

Then there's the injury bug.  In his three major league seasons, Freese has yet to play 100 regular season games.  Over the same span Chase Headley has yet to play LESS than 100 regular season games. San Diego suffers from a systemic lack of infield prospects.   Suppose Freese had stayed with the Padres and reached the majors, with Headley having been moved.  The Padres would have had to have someone play almost as many games at third as Freese did.  Could you see Jesus Guzman trying to man the hot corner for the 40% of the season Freese is on the DL?  Better offensively, worse defensively.

Because to his injuries, Freese lags Headley in fWAR.  For the 3 years in question Freese's WAR is 4.4.  Headley's is more than double that (9.1).  It's what we expect given the disparity in playing time and defense.

What is the point of this exercise?  To show that Headley has been a better bet than Freese over the past 3 years in terms of defense and durability.  The Padres have been better off with Headley at third than they would have been had Freese taken over the hot corner.  Those recently bashing Kevin Towers for that late 2007 trade have lost sight of this fact.


  1. If you wanted to measure defensive capabilities, UZR is a better way to go. In that matter, Freese is actually the better defender but extremely considerably margin. Since Freese hasn't played 150 games in a season yet I'll use the UZR/150G

    Freese: 1.1 career, 3.9 in 2011
    Headley: -12.9 career, -10.4 in 2011

    In this matter, all you get in Headley is a more sturdy player, which is why he has the higher WAR. Looking at DWAR, Headley loses again at -1.1 career compared to Freese's +0.8.

  2. Showing Headley as the sturdier player was one of the points of this post. Because UZR is used in Fangraphs' WAR calculation I went with the Dewan plus/minus metric to demonstrate their differences defensively.

    So much for my methodology.

    You may not have meant to but you bring up a great point regarding defensive metrics. There is disagreement among writers I respect on which is the best metric to use for evaluating defense. I'll likely treat that in a future post.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. I found your site thanks to Baseball-Reference.

    Both David Freese and Chase Headley are above average 3rd basemen.

    I am aware of the fact they use UZR in their WAR calculations, I don't know how they measure Dewan Plus/Minus where as I do with UZR.

    The UZR/150 when you stretch a player's UZR out to 150 games (average games played for a everyday player)

    Fangraphs uses basic UZR to calculate WAR, not UZR/150.

    I enjoyed the post though, very sound reasoning, it's hard to find mathematically sound amateur sports writing. I look forward to more of your posts.