The Key for Chase Utley

If you listened to my spot on ESPN’s Baseball Today podcast, you heard me mention that Chase Utley is crucial to the Phillies’ success in 2012. Mark Simon, of ESPN Stats & Information, posted a blog illustrating Utley’s declining performance against left-handed pitching. Traditionally without a platoon split, it was surprising to see Utley struggle so much throughout the year, but it may be a one-off due to his knee problems.

More concerning is Utley’s declining performance after July. Given Utley’s nature to run full-speed for every routine out and dive for every ground ball, the obvious explanation is that the second baseman simply runs out of gas with two months to go.

In the past, the Phillies have hinted that they would like to give Utley more time off, but it never happened. At the end of December, one of the three New Year’s Resolutions I picked for the Phillies was to give Utley more scheduled rest. Utley means more to the Phillies at close-to-100-percent in 130 games than he does at below-70-percent in 150 games (if the Phillies are lucky enough to see him in that many games, anyway).

Don’t forget that Utley’s durability doesn’t just affect his bat; it affects his base running (29 total stolen base attempts in the last two seasons compared to 23 in 2009 alone) and his defense (his range runs over the last two seasons, per FanGraphs, were the lowest since 2006). Perhaps the days of Utley being a 7-8 win player are over, but he can still reach the 5-6 win plateau with the correct application.

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  1. Richard

    February 17, 2012 09:23 AM

    It seems to me that Utley’s struggles against LHP last season were simply a magnification of his struggles in general: if the problem was strength, as was widely reported, then I can imagine it was harder for him to both “stay in” on lefties, and also hit the ball with authority.

    Frankly, his baserunning and defense were fine last year. And 14 steal attempts in 2/3 playing time is not much different than 2009’s 23 in full-time. What’s less clear is why he ran less in 2010. But perhaps we can recall the mini-scandal when Davey Lopes spoke about Utley nursing a sore knee, which got quickly hushed up. Then last year, Lopes spoke about Utley again, saying Utley had said to him that he “finally felt healthy”. I suspect the knee had been a recurring problem, but that his new stretching routine helped him a lot. He didn’t seem to move around or run the bases in 2011 like someone who was hobbled by pain. Now it’s up to him to see if he can strengthen his lower body without putting undue strain on the knee. My money’s on him figuring that out.

    And note that, prorated, he still was a 5-6 win player last year.

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