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Draft Round Battles: Headley Vs. Zimmerman

Washington D.C. is about 2700 miles from San Diego but the two cities' star third basemen could hardly be closer.  In Mock Draft Central's most recent average draft position report, Chase Headley's 50.84 ADP narrowly edges out Ryan Zimmerman's 51.55 ADP and the duo are ranked 48th and 49th overall among all players.  It's basically about as close as it gets between the two third baseman heading into 2013 and when you hit that late third round/early fourth round, you'll probably still have both of them on the board.  Who do you take if you're looking for a big bat at the hot corner?

Let's take a look at both players' 2012 numbers.  As we see, Headley had the clear edge...

Headley: 699 PA, .286/.376/.498, 31 HR, 115 RBI, 95 runs, 17 steals, 144 OPS+, 145 wRC+

Zimmerman: 641 PA, .282/.346/.478, 25 HR, 95 RBI, 93 runs, 5 steals, 121 OPS+, 121 wRC+

You really struck paydirt if you were a Headley owner in 2012.  The Padres third sacker took the big step from underrated fantasy option to superstar, providing consistent production all year long and taking it to another level in the second half.  Headley posted a .984 OPS over his last 74 games and no doubt swung many a fantasy playoff race.  

Going into 2012, the line on Headley was that he was a Petco Park victim, putting up big numbers on the road but mediocre stats in his very pitcher-friendly home ballpark.  Headley still had significant home/away splits last season but he definitely turned a corner at Petco, posting an .812 OPS at home and a whopping .975 OPS on the road.  He can hit, he can steal you some bases and he's just going into his age-29 season, so Headley should be right in the middle of his prime.

Headley's big 2012 bore quite a resemblance to Zimmerman's big 2009-10 campaigns, when Invader Zim averaged a .299/.375/.518 slash line, 29 HR, 96 RBI and a 137 OPS+ over those two seasons, no small feat considering that Nationals Park is also pretty pitcher-friendly.  Zimmerman was hampered by injuries in 2011 (yet still posted a .798 OPS in 440 PA) and was also bothered by a shoulder injury at the start of 2012, spending some time on the DL and owning a measly .590 OPS and three homers through his first 55 games.  Like Headley, however, Zimmerman caught fire in the second half, hitting .321/.383/.584 over his last 90 games.  Zimmerman has undergone surgery this offseason in an attempt to fix his shoulder issue once and for all, and he is on pace to be ready to go on Opening Day.

A healthy Zimmerman and a "new normal" Headley are basically the same player, so fantasy owners have to ask themselves what's more likely to happen --- Zimmerman going back on the DL or Headley coming back to earth.  All things considered, I'll consider Zimmerman to be the slightly better fantasy option.  Here's my reasoning...

* Past history.  Put me in the camp that believes Headley is probably due to produce something closer to his .773 OPS performance from 2011 than repeat his 2012 performance.  Fangraphs' Chris Cwik recently noted that most players who had similar jumps in production (as measured by wOBA) over a single season regressed the following year, in some cases drastically.  An explainable dip in production can be more comforting to a fantasy owner than an unexplainable surge in production, and I put more faith in Zimmerman getting over his shoulder than I do in Headley suddenly putting up Adrian Gonzalez numbers on a consistent basis.

* Surroundings.  I actually think the Padres lineup could be underrated next season, especially since they're moving the fences in at Petco Park.  Headley has some talent around him and his ballpark will be at least slightly more hitter-friendly, and yet that said, Zimmerman clearly benefits more from hitting in that stacked Nats lineup and playing in Washington.

* Luck.  This is kind of a minor thing since Zimmerman owns a career .313 BABIP himself, but Headley's career BABIP is an eyebrow-raising .339.  Unless Headley was given a lifetime blessing by the BABIP fairy (or maybe just really knows how to hit 'em where they ain't in his spacious home stadium), surely you have to figure that sooner or later, Headley's luck will turn.  Also, Headley is due some bad karma for not adopting this classic as his walkup music.  C'mon, he actually plays in San Diego and his first name is actually Chase!  It's a no-brainer!  If a member of Petco Park stadium operations staff happens to be reading this, at least start using the "ooooo, the Chaaaaaase" sound clip after Headley's base hits.

I reserve the right to change my opinion if Headley is dealt before the trade deadline, though it seems the Padres are eager to work out a contract extension with him even if talks aren't taking place at the moment.  As it stands now, however, I see Zimmerman carrying a minor edge over his fellow third baseman.  While Headley is still a strong option and I'd be happy to have him on my fantasy roster, I just think Zimmerman's track record makes him the safer option. 

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