Closing Time: Can Chase Headley reinvent himself?

Chase Headley is off to a fast start
Chase Headley is off to a fast start

I don’t blame anyone who takes a “been there, done that” approach with Chase Headley. Memories of that star 2012 season keep getting hazier and hazier. His three-year averages don’t amount to much — a .251/.327/.370 slash, with 12 homers and five steals in the average season.

Nonetheless, Headley does have a blow-up season on his resume, even if it was five years ago. And with him off to a strong push in 2017 — .396/.500/.646, three homers, three steals — we need to at least consider if anything different is at play. Headley’s latest homer came in Wednesday’s rout of Chicago.

For whatever it may mean, Headley’s early results have interesting slants. He’s hitting a line drive 35.1 percent of the time — anytime you do that, success follows. He’s hiked his walk rate up to 17.2 percent and he’s trimmed his strikeout rate by about five percent. He’s also stopped being such a pull-centric batter — after six years of being pull-happy, he currently has a spray profile that’s just about neutral, pull to center to opposite field.

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Again, some will dismiss Headley out of hand, and that’s reasonable — there’s a lot of mediocre history here. Obviously his ripping sample is a mere 48 at-bats. Obviously there’s an outlier BABIP at play, which is what comes with anyone batting .396. But at least there are some distinct changes in the approach — kudos to Headley for trying to combat the pesky shift, even if it includes the occasional bunt — and the stolen-base column is often about effort over raw speed. I’m giving Headley a shot at a modest comeback season, and in a few deeper leagues I’m kicking the tires, seeing where the story takes us. He’s owned in just over half of Yahoo leagues.

• I wasn’t sure what to make of Cincinnati pitcher Amir Garrett through his first two starts. He had solid results, but there were some things lacking — no long appearances, just a modest strikeout rate. There were legitimate reasons to pause for reflection.

Wednesday’s start against Baltimore went a long way to establishing Garrett as legitimate. He settled for a loss against the Orioles, but he was undeniably brilliant: 7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 12 K. That strikeout column sings to you. He’s now at a 1.83 ERA and 0.86 WHIP.

For a big pitcher (6-foot-5, 210 pounds), it’s a little odd to see Garrett throwing a fastball that averages a mere 91.4 mph. But he’s collecting plenty of grounders, his swinging strike rate is credible, and FIP (2.05) and xFIP (2.68) are in his corner. When you’re striking out seven batters for every one walk, it’s a story worth believing in.

The 24-year-old lefty is kicking around in about one-third of Yahoo leagues. He’ll visit Milwaukee and St. Louis in the next week.

• If you’re in the bullpen speculation crowd, meet me in St. Louis. Seung-hawn Oh has converted two saves in a row, but he hasn’t given us an easy appearance all year. He’s been rocked for 12 hits and six runs over six white-knuckle rides, with just three strikeouts. It hashes out to a 8.10 ERA and 1.95 WHIP.

Maybe Trevor Rosenthal can get back to the ninth inning eventually. He recorded a rogue save Wednesday, subbing for a resting Oh, and it was reasonably painless (1 H, 2 K). Rosenthal’s fastball is back in the 99 mph range. Remember all the fun we had in 2014 and 2015? You can dial up a whole lotta Rosey in 71 percent of Yahoo leagues.

• The Orioles won’t be happy until they’re starting Manny Machado and seven DHs on a regular basis, and they took anther step toward that Wednesday. With Seth Smith (hamstring) unavailable, the Os decided to give Trey Mancini a start in left field. The DH spot wasn’t available for anyone — sorry, Trumbo — as Baltimore was in a rare NL park game, visiting Garrett and Cincinnati. Come for the chili, stay for the ballgame.

Although Mancini had just 13 homers in 125 Triple-A games last year, he’s been Boom Boom Mancini in his limited Baltimore experience. Adding last year’s cup of cofeee with this year’s short sample, we’re looking at seven homers in 41 at-bats. Mind you, the walk rate is tiny and the strikeout rate is high, but this is the Orioles were talking about, America’s slow-pitch softball team. Tap the keg. Let the dogs roam the outfield.

If you need to dig deep for a stash-and-hope power play, Mancini is owned in just 21 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Francisco Liriano has rebounded nicely
Francisco Liriano has rebounded nicely

• Some things aren’t meant to be separated. Peanut Butter and Jelly. Andy and Red. Yahoo Noise and Tequila.

You can add Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin to that list.

Liriano had a nightmare debut in 2017 (one out, five runs at Tampa), in part because he was working without Martin, his security blanket. Liriano’s last two starts have rounded into form, with Martin back at the controls. Liriano struck out 10 last week against Baltimore, and he was effective in Wednesday’s victory against Boston (5.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K).

Some fantasy owners overreacted to Liriano’s debut, which means the veteran lefty is kicking about in 60 percent of Yahoo leagues. So long as Toronto keeps Liriano and Martin linked up, this is a story to believe in.

• Sticking with the Jays, let’s offer a few words about Kevin Pillar, leadoff man of the moment. Pillar is a curious fit for the assignment, given his skimpy career OPB (.306). Getting on base, after all, is the name of the game. But he is on an 8-for-14 binge the last three days — including two steals Wednesday — and his 2015 season was useful (12 homers, 25-for-29 on steals, .278 average). He was playing hurt for most of 2016, so perhaps we throw that sample out.

Pillar carries the Andy Behrens vote of confidence (the Fred McGriff of fantasy endorsements), and is ready to grab in 87 percent of Yahoo leagues. Can’t buy what I want because it’s free.

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