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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!)