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.