Happy Chase Utley Day!

Like a young child impatiently waiting for December 25, we have been X-ing out days on the calendar anticipating the return of Chase Utley. The Phillies have grimaced through 76 games in which the impotent bats of Freddy Galvis, Pete Orr, Michael Martinez, and Mike Fontenot have been not only utilized but relied upon in Utley’s absence, resulting in the third-lowest OPS by second basemen in the league. With all due credit to Galvis, of course, who played outstanding defense before suffering a back injury and testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

But there’s nothing quite like Chase Utley, a once-in-a-generation player who can do it all: hit for average (.290 career), hit for power (.215 career ISO), steal bases (27-for-29 in 2010-11), and play outstanding defense (best UZR/150 among second basemen since 2005). Despite a late start to his career — he was first promoted at the age of 24 — and having his last two years tarnished by injuries, Utley remains a fringe Hall of Fame candidate as well. With 50.2 career rWAR, he is one of only 17 second basemen to have accomplished the feat:

Player rWAR From To Age
Rogers Hornsby 124.6 1915 1937 19-41
Eddie Collins 118.5 1906 1930 19-43
Joe Morgan 97.1 1963 1984 19-40
Nap Lajoie 85.6 1901 1916 26-41
Charlie Gehringer 76.6 1924 1942 21-39
Lou Whitaker 71.4 1977 1995 20-38
Frankie Frisch 68.0 1919 1937 20-38
Bobby Grich 67.3 1970 1986 21-37
Ryne Sandberg 64.9 1981 1997 21-37
Roberto Alomar 63.1 1988 2004 20-36
Willie Randolph 63.0 1975 1992 20-37
Craig Biggio 62.6 1988 2007 22-41
Jackie Robinson 58.7 1947 1956 28-37
Joe Gordon 54.0 1938 1950 23-35
Jeff Kent 53.9 1992 2008 24-40
Billy Herman 52.5 1931 1947 21-37
Chase Utley 50.2 2003 2011 24-32
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/27/2012.

11 of the 17 are either in the Hall of Fame or on the ballot, so perhaps with a productive second-half of 2012, Utley can revive his historically-great career.

What can the Phillies expect out of Utley right now, though? Utley himself feels great:

“So far, so good,” he said. “It felt pretty good out there. … I’m feeling pretty confident out there. I felt a little bit more comfortable out there on the field and in the batter’s box and hopefully I’ll move forward from here.”

Utley stopped short of saying he expects to be activated for Wednesday’s game, saying he has to talk to general manager Ruben Amaro first.

“I’ll talk to Ruben tonight and tell him how I feel and go from there,” he said. “Right now I feel good. Everything so far has been pretty good.”

Even while battling injuries in 2010 and ’11, he compiled a combined 9.3 fWAR and 9.4 rWAR, so if everything goes as planned, the Phillies could still get two or three wins above replacement if Utley is able to stay healthy and productive throughout the second-half of the season. Though his power is waning, it would be a welcome addition to the lineup as his .169 and .166 ISO in the past two years would be the third-highest on the team, behind Carlos Ruiz and Hunter Pence. Short of making a trade for an impact player, something that has become commonplace over the last three years, activating Utley from the disabled list is the biggest improvement the Phillies could have made. It’s great to have him back.

(Not familiar with the stats cited in this article? Check out the Stats page full of links and resources!)

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17 comments

  1. Marrrk

    June 27, 2012 08:52 AM

    please please please don’t waste a stellar outing by the bullpen and a Chase Utley inside the parker to lose 2-1 tonight on a Papelbon BS.

    okay, got that out of the way and got all my Phils gear on up in NYC today. REPRESENT, indeed.

  2. LTG

    June 27, 2012 09:28 AM

    That .gif is mesmerizing. I can’t stop staring at his biceps (bicepses for plural?).

    Although the description ‘fringe HOF candidate’ fits Utley because of the writers’ ignorance of his greatness, he is clearly the best 2B since Joe Morgan. (Yes, clearly.) To keep him out of the HOF would be a ridiculous mistake.

  3. Richard

    June 27, 2012 09:34 AM

    I agree, LTG, except for the one caveat: playing time. Missing 45-75 games a year for three years that should have been adding to that resume will not help matters, unless of course he is able to extend his career at a reasonably high level.

  4. Scott G

    June 27, 2012 09:45 AM

    I don’t understand why Utley would not be activated today. Correct me if I’m wrong, but his type of ailment (wouldn’t call it an injury)is just that he’s playing with pain in his knees? It’s the type of thing where he gradually wears down with use? I could be way off as I know he’s been “rehabbing” his knees, but why waste more of his “healthy” games not helping the major league club?

  5. CJ

    June 27, 2012 10:03 AM

    While I love the optimistic tone…

    Isn’t Chase done? That is, he has a degenerative ailment that only stops getting worse by not playing, and starts getting worse as soon as he plays?

    If he can only play a half a season this year, isn’t it logical that he’ll only be able to play a quarter next year?

    It kills me to confront what seems to be the reality of the situation. It seems like he’s too young to be done.

  6. Richard

    June 27, 2012 10:17 AM

    CJ – there’s no reason to assume he’s done.

    “If he can only play a half a season this year, isn’t it logical that he’ll only be able to play a quarter next year?”

    How is this logical? Have you been following the stories about him? I think we have every reason to be optimistic with him, based on the actual reports and his actual comments. But of course only time will tell.

  7. CJ

    June 27, 2012 10:33 AM

    Richard,

    From what I’ve read: He has a chronic condition, he hasn’t played a full healthy season since 2009, and he feels better than he has in years in part because he’s played the least amount of baseball in years.

    It’s the word “chronic” that worries me. He says he’s found a way to strengthen his legs without wearing them down. I’m hoping for the best, it requires more faith than logic.

  8. Richard

    June 27, 2012 10:40 AM

    “he feels better than he has in years in part because he’s played the least amount of baseball in years”

    see, this is the assumption I’m taking issue with.

    he came into Spring Training, having not done anything all off-season, was the word, and then as soon as he started doing anything, the pain started, but in the other knee (that is, he didn’t report pain in the first knee)…

    I think the word “chronic” is misleading. I’ve read stuff about his condition that says the pain can go away. But who knows. We’re all sort of reading tea leaves here.

  9. CJ

    June 27, 2012 10:46 AM

    OK. I’ll take the word “chronic” with a grain of salt. And I’ll take whatever Chase can give. He changes the whole dymanmic of the game. Opposing teams would rather he not be on the field.

  10. LTG

    June 27, 2012 10:51 AM

    On Utley, HOF shoe-in:
    He does still need a 10th year before he is eligible. After that, who needs longevity with a peak like Utley’s? (I know that this argument will fall on deaf ear’s with the writers.)

    On Utley’s condition:
    It is simply unclear what he might be able to do in the future. He might be able to play 120-130 games next year, if his new conditioning has helped as he claims it has for his right knee. But I see no reason, given what Utley has said about his right knee, to believe the pessimistic outlook that he will reduced to bench-player level contributions.

  11. Scott G

    June 27, 2012 11:35 AM

    Richard,

    Only the lack of an official announcement and all of the, “Chase will talk to RAJ and let him know how he feels to see if he’ll be activated” talk.

  12. Duane

    June 27, 2012 11:38 AM

    I don’t know about any of you, but I am as giddy as a skinny “Mac” from ‘It’s Always Sunny’ over Chase Utley being activated today. I think I might draft him a letter. “Dear Chase….. you would be impressed with my speed. We should play catch on the field tonight. Please ask Ryan how his rehabbing is going for me.”

  13. mratfink

    June 27, 2012 01:54 PM

    CJ: the reason to hope that it won’t be a problem going forward is because he was only diagnosed with the condition this year. Yes it is chronic but you can mitigate the effects by building up the muscles surrounding the area thereby lightening the strain on the most sensitive and weak part of the knee. This is what Chase’s rehab this year has been, he has been spending time building up the strength in the surrounding areas of his knee so that he would not be putting pressure on the weakest part of the knee. The hope is now that he knows the condition he can focus each off-season on building these support muscles. if he does that he can manage the condition quite well

  14. Frank Reynolds

    June 27, 2012 04:25 PM

    I am happy about him coming back. I am not as optimistic as some about him being the what he was in the past. However, him coming back can’t hurt this team. While I know we all don’t like Ryan’s contract I am also very much looking forward to him coming back Doc too.

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