As Chase Headley scrutinized the film, searching for the flaw in his swing that kept him without an extra-base hit until May 12, he became concerned.
The Yankees’ switch-hitting third baseman had trouble distinguishing between clips from his season-long slump and those from previous hot streaks.
“I was like, man, I don’t see a whole lot different,” Headley said Tuesday, before going 2-for-4 in the Yankees’ 7-1 loss to the Texas Rangers. “Sometimes that’s worse than being completely lost because at least when you’re lost [and watch film] you’re like, OK, now I know where to go, I know what I have to do to get better. It’s a little tricky when you’re getting such bad results and there’s not something glaringly wrong.”
The results were worse than bad.
Through May 5, Headley was hitting and slugging .151 — the product of an offensive repertoire limited exclusively to singles and lots of outs. His average had not passed .200 all season.
And the Yankees were 9-17, entering a three-game set with Boston.
“When the team’s not swinging well and you’re the guy that’s swinging the worst, it’s an easy target,” Headley said. “It was tough, but I was fortunate to have a lot of support in here from the guys and from our coaching staff and from management for letting me kind of work through it.”
In time, Headley and Yankees hitting coach Alan Cockrell identified the problem. Headley said he was whipping his bat around slightly early, with the contact occurring as the barrel had already passed the pitcher.
“It’s a little mechanical issue that they were able to work out,” Joe Girardi said.
In 45 games between May 6 and Tuesday, Headley posted a .289/.359/.434 slash line to raise his season marks to .244/.323/.342. He has four home runs and 17 RBIs in that stretch.
He’s not just getting lucky. Advanced statistics indicate he has hit the ball significantly harder and used more of the field since altering his approach.
Through May 5, 23.2 percent of Headley’s balls in play were hit hard, according to fangraphs.com. The switch hitter sent just 16.1 percent of his balls in play to the opposite field.
The adjustment helped him square up the ball, which boosted both marks. Between May 6 and Tuesday, Headley’s hard-hit percentage was 32.5. He went the other way on 29.1 percent of balls in play.
“My bat path kind of corrected that,” Headley said. “There were times when I knew [as a lefthander] I was hitting way too many ground balls to the right side, so I was going out there trying to hit the ball the other way and couldn’t because my bat path wasn’t allowing me to. Now my bat path is going more straight at the pitcher, so I have a little bigger margin for error.”
Even though Headley entered Tuesday 3-for-25 over his last seven games, his hard-hit and opposite-field percentages during that span had risen to 55.6 percent and 33.3 percent.
“The last two homestands I haven’t had much luck, but I’ve been swinging good,” said Headley, whose average peaked at .260 on June 18. “You just have to tell yourself, hey, you’re doing things right, just keep swinging. That’s part of it, but it’s frustrating.”