In 2011, Chase Utley Needs PTO

Ever since taking over at second base for the Phillies in 2005, Chase Utley has been a cornerstone of the franchise and one of Major League Baseball’s best players. His contributions come in many forms:

  • Offense: Five consecutive seasons with a wOBA at .389 or higher. (The league average is around .330.)
  • Defense: Five seasons with a UZR/150 at +12 or better.
  • Base running: Five seasons with 13 or more steals and a career stolen base success rate at 88 percent.

Today is Chase Utley‘s birthday. (Happy birthday, Chase!) He is now 32 years old. He missed 51 days during the 2010 regular season, almost all of them due to a torn thumb ligament. Even when he returned, he wasn’t the same hitter.

Utley isn’t exactly a case for chronic injury like some other players, but his max-effort style of play combined with his age and non-zero injury history creates a little cause for concern. It is true that two of Utley’s three serious injuries — a broken hand and the torn thumb ligament — are freak injuries that can happen to anyone at any time in the wrong circumstances. However, past injuries can pop up again in the future and can lead to other injuries, especially for players in their 30’s.

Fans have already suggested that, as an injury-preventative measure, Utley be given scheduled days off during the regular season going forward. Charlie Manuel hasn’t publicly said anything indicating that he plans to adhere to this, although he did say he would rest Utley more often going into the 2010 regular season.

Utley played in the Phillies’ first 36 games of the 2010 regular season. He missed two days battling an illness, then played in every game leading up to his thumb injury on June 28 — 36 consecutive games. After returning on August 17, he was given one day off on the 22nd, then played in every game until the Phillies clinched the division in Washington, D.C. against the Nationals on September 27.

If you’re counting, that is exactly two voluntary days off in 43 games, post-injury.

You know Utley wasn’t happy taking those two days off when he was sick in May.¬†There have been many reports that, in the past, Utley refused to take a suggested day off, lending to his reputation as a gritty gamer. It’s great to see from an athlete, many of whom simply coast their way to the next paycheck.

It is time, though, to demand that Utley take days off. His performance clearly tapers as the season progresses:

Utley is significantly better than anyone who would play in his stead (i.e. Wilson Valdez). If Valdez were to replace Utley over an entire 162-game season, the difference in production would be felt immensely. Over a much smaller chunk of games, though, the difference isn’t likely to cost the Phillies more than a game or two. The upside is that they may gain those one or two losses — or more — back later in the season as Utley is better-rested and thus more productive.

Chase Utley needs to be benched in 2011. Who’d have thought we’d ever be legitimately saying that?

Regarding the title: in case you’re not hip to acronyms, PTO is paid time off.