Chase Utley Isn’t Back… Yet

Chase Utley finally broke out of his shell yesterday, going 3-for-5 with three singles, a walk, and a stolen base in a 7-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went into the game with a .195 batting average, .298 on-base percentage, and a .293 slugging percentage in 41 at-bats. His much anticipated return had yet to live up to expectations, but it was nice to see him have a productive game.

Although he had good results yesterday, there is still some cause for concern. Utley entered yesterday’s game hitting line drives at just a ten percent rate, nearly half of his career average. His ground ball rate was down over four percent and his fly ball rate was up over ten percent compared to his career averages. We need 150-250 plate appearances before we can be confident in what the data tells us, but the data does show what has actually happened thus far, which is that Utley has been making very weak contact.

Yesterday was no different. Utley notched all three of his hits on ground balls to right field, grounded into a force out, and hit a weak fly ball to left field. Once again, no line drives to speak of.

Furthermore, Utley seems to be hitting the ball weakly to the opposite field. Unlike his teammate Ryan Howard, it is uncharacteristic of Utley to be hitting the ball this way. Compare his spray chart, courtesy Texas Leaguers, from this year to that of 2009, his last full healthy season.

2011

2009

The overwhelming majority of Utleys’ hits in 2009 went to right field. For Utley, pulling the ball is a high-percentage opportunity to reach base.

His slow start is, of course, very understandable. He missed the entirety of spring training and has not had as much time as the others in getting reacquainted with the grind of a 162-game baseball season. Instead, he played some rehab games for a while and was immediately tossed into the fire with the burden of high expectations (despite what some writers claim to the contrary). I even wrote on this blog that the addition of Utley could be worth about six wins, assuming he was back to his old self.

It has been clear thus far that Utley is still trying to shake off the rust. Hopefully his performance yesterday is an indication of better things to come, but we have learned that the steadfast second baseman is, in fact, human.

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11 comments

  1. sean

    June 06, 2011 07:47 AM

    the plate discipline is definitely there, with 6 walks to 3 strikeouts, so that is a positive. This pirates series his timing wasn’t there and he’d be late and after he’d hit the ball his head would just stay down and he’d proceed to curse at the ground after hitting a popup. the line drives are definitely down right now but that should come back as he gets more at bats. i agree that he’s making a lot of opposite field contact and that is not typical of a chase utley hit

  2. Scott G

    June 06, 2011 08:01 AM

    His weak fly ball was to left field. Kind of helps support your point about weakly hitting the ball the opposite way.

  3. Paco

    June 06, 2011 08:16 AM

    I’m confident he’ll find his groove once he’s had more than just a couple of weeks with the team after rehabbing for 4 months. The good thing is that his knee doesn’t seem to be troubling him too much. Everything I’ve read and heard said that his knee issue wouldn’t affect his hitting, so I think that’s just rust. But his defense and lateral movement looks solid, especially on that sweet little diving catch yesterday.

  4. Utley follwer for years

    June 06, 2011 02:30 PM

    Utley has definitely been poping out to left field weakly, but if you know utley like I do you know that those mid to high outside pitches are the ones that he usually intentionally pops foul down the left field side. Statistics can be manipulated to show whatever the analyst wants to show. I’ll bet you’ll start to see less pop ups to left and more foul balls to left when he gets his timing down. Good to see his fielding and running look like the Utley I know (thought he may look slow or bad on D since he isn’t the greatest and didn’t have spring training to work on fielding)

  5. Jerry

    June 06, 2011 02:51 PM

    any chance the knee is not healed and he can’t stride in to the ball?

  6. Phylan

    June 06, 2011 08:05 PM

    Statistics can be manipulated to show whatever the analyst wants to show.

    For as wrong as it is it’s amazing how much play this trite little cliche gets

  7. JNes12

    June 06, 2011 09:58 PM

    @Phylan: That phrase is actually somewhat true for survey type statistics

  8. Taco

    June 07, 2011 09:14 AM

    Correct me if I’m wrong but one of Chase’s outs yesterday was a screaming line drive that happened to be hit directly to an outfielder?

  9. Bill

    June 07, 2011 01:20 PM

    He hit a screaming ball just foul down the right field line last night. His timing looks off, his hands and his legs are not coming thru the ball at the same time on every swing. He had the perfect swing, just timing appears off……give him another week or so.

  10. Christopher

    June 08, 2011 11:33 AM

    He’s not quite yet picked up the timing, maybe about 90% so far. I think this is evidenced in his lack of follow-through on some swings. He’ll be back soon.

  11. SJHaack

    June 09, 2011 10:02 AM

    Small samples and arbitrary endpoints seem like pretty good examples of massaging the numbers. The trick there is that someone gives whoever is presenting it the numbers, and then they give their own misleading conclusion.

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