2013 Bold Prediction: Bill Baer

Throughout the week, the Crashburn staff will be unveiling their bold predictions for the 2013 season.

Chase Utley will log at least 600 plate appearances during the 2013 season and finish with at least 5 WAR.

Utley’s PA totals from 2008-12: 707, 687, 511, 454, 362. A clear trend. Utley had thumb surgery in 2010, suffered from patellar chondromalacia in his right knee in 2011, and suffered from patellar tendinitis in his left knee last year. Just a few weeks ago, Utley appeared in a spring training game for the first time since 2010. In a sense, the second baseman hit “resume” on a career paused by an unfortunate rash of injuries.

Even a hobbled Utley was still among the best at his position. Going by FanGraphs WAR, only five second basemen (min. 1,000 PA) were more valuable than Utley (12.6) from 2010-12. Baseball Reference (12.3) paints a similar picture, ranking him fourth. Though Utley is now 34 years old, he is by all accounts healthy once again and running on all cylinders. So far this spring, he has exactly as many walks as strikeouts (nine). Last year, he was one of ten players (min. 300 PA) with at least as many walks as strikeouts:

Player PA BB SO Year Age Tm
Jose Reyes 716 63 56 2012 29 MIA
Prince Fielder 690 85 84 2012 28 DET
Joe Mauer 641 90 88 2012 29 MIN
Carlos Lee 615 58 49 2012 36 TOT
Joey Votto 475 94 85 2012 28 CIN
Chipper Jones 448 57 51 2012 40 ATL
David Ortiz 383 56 51 2012 36 BOS
Ryan Hanigan 371 44 37 2012 31 CIN
Chase Utley 362 43 43 2012 33 PHI
John Jaso 361 56 51 2012 28 SEA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/16/2013.

And even while hobbled, Utley has been a positive contributor on the bases. According to Baseball Prospectus, he was the Phillies’ third-best runner in 2010 (+2.0 runs), fifth-best in 2011 (+0.9), and second-best last year (+2.9). FanGraphs agrees, putting him at fourth, second, and third (+3.6, +4.6, +4.3) from 2010-12, respectively.

Though Utley’s range at second base has been limited, he has still been an above-average contributor defensively. His defensive contributions have never centered around his athletic ability; rather, it has come from his intellect and the Phillies’ positioning of him on the field. John Dewan explained this in detail back in 2009:

What are these charts showing us? Against right-handed batters, Utley and Phillips look about the same. They both have minus plus/minus scores to their left. But their positive scores to their right more than make up for the difference. Both players appear to be shifting well over to the right when a right-handed batter is up. They have a harder time getting to the balls to their left, but there are fewer of those. They more than make up for the missed plays by making more plays on the greater number of balls to their right.

Now for the Left-Handed Batters side of the chart. It’s the whole key to Chase Utley. What appears to be clear from this chart is that both players are shifting left against left-handed batters, but Utley is going further. Phillips is missing plays to his right, but gets a few extra to his left. Utley is missing even more plays to his right, but is really making up for them on plays to his left. To the tune of +37, 30 more extra plays than even Brandon Phillips is making. That’s huge.

So what makes Utley so good? Simple answer: Positioning. And more specifically, positioning against left-handed batters.

There’s also the fact that manager Charlie Manuel may not be able to help himself use Utley as much as possible. In past years, the Phillies said they’d take it slow with Utley (and Ryan Howard, for that matter) and it never happened. It’s easy to imagine a world in which a healthier Utley is leaned upon for 140 or more games.

I’ve long believed that as long as Utley is physically capable of taking the field every day, he can continue to be a significantly productive player simply based on his non-physical abilities: his great plate discipline, his great decision-making on the bases, and his great defensive positioning. If the reports are truthful, Utley is his healthiest since 2009, which bodes well for the upcoming season.

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30 comments

  1. Ryan

    March 25, 2013 08:09 AM

    I’m looking forward to seeing a healthy Utley and Howard for the first time since the first half of 2010. Remember how badly Howard was hobbled by ankle and foot injuries even before tearing his achilles in the 2011 playoffs…

  2. JM

    March 25, 2013 09:27 AM

    I’ll drink to that…

  3. Pencilfish

    March 25, 2013 10:26 AM

    If Galvis is part of the 25-man roster, giving him AB’s will require sitting down Utley, Rollins and even Young. If Manuel gives Galvis 250-300 AB’s in 2013, it will require 20-25 games each from Utley and Rollins, to that fits nicely with getting Utley ~140 games.

    If Utley can log ~600 AB’s through ~140 games and be worth at least 5 WAR, then signing him to a new contract will be unavoidable, though one has to ask whether or not Galvis is ready to take over.

  4. Eric Longenhagen

    March 25, 2013 10:46 AM

    Freddy’s bat won’t play at 2B, only option for him to play everyday is at SS.

  5. Phillie697

    March 25, 2013 11:18 AM

    Chase Utley >>>>>>> Freddy Galvis. If that’s my choice for 2B, I’d pay Utley whatever the heck he wants.

    Plus, it’s Chase Fing Utley. Sorry MB, it’s the one guy I probably wouldn’t beat up RAJ on for overpaying, although I would at least acknowledge that it would be a bad signing all the while doing the happy dance.

    That said, the chance of RAJ overpaying Utley to re-sign him is probably around the same chance that Ryan Howard plays like it’s 2006 or even 2009 again.

  6. Pencilfish

    March 25, 2013 12:19 PM

    Agreed, but if BB’s prediction don’t come to pass, what to do in 2014? Resign a 35-yr 2B with two bad knees to a multi-yr contract? Galvis’ bat may only play at SS, but that’s taken for 2014 (and maybe 2015).

    Galvis is only 23. How much more can he develop? Can he hit .270 gap to gap with minimal power? I suppose giving him 300 AB’s in 2013 will help answer this question.

  7. Phillie697

    March 25, 2013 12:34 PM

    @Pencilfish,

    You don’t understand, I would give a multi-year contract to a 35-yr old 2B with two bad knees named Chase Utley just because I want him to retire a Phillie. This is one of those rare times where I would authorize the spending of money for the same of non-competitive-related reasons. Like, you know, avoiding the mass loss of productivity in Philadelphia and elsewhere if Utley signs with some other team, LOL.

    Re Galvis… The same rationale we use for Dom Brown does not apply to Galvis. Brown actually raked in the minors, so giving him chance to prove that he can do the same in the majors is a prudent thing to do. Galvis, not so much. Not every prospect deserve a chance to prove they can do it in the majors; by that rationale, I should probably volunteer my services to the Phillies and get my 300 ABs.

  8. GB

    March 25, 2013 12:40 PM

    I’m tired of the injury excuse…there is no shame in admitting Howard/Utley are on the backside of their careers and that decreased performance/injuries are thus more likely…we’re seeing it with Halladay as well. This is one of the downsides of the Phils approach; using older players or ones with established injury records is risky and they should not continue to be surprised if it does not work out. Howard is a sunk cost until his contract is up, but Utley is in the final year of his deal and if he cannot bounce back we’ve got to strongly consider letting him go…sentiment is a luxury when building a winner and we need the salary to go to ascending not descending & injured talent…

  9. pedro3131

    March 25, 2013 12:47 PM

    @Phillie if we’re playing that game I’d like to throw my hat in for consideration for some AB’s. I played highschool baseball against Jesse Biddle’s school (albeit a few years before his time) so you know I have the baseball pedigree.

    I also dislike even calling Galvis a prospect. He’s just kind of someone who’s worked their way through our farm system. Dom on the other hand was actually highly touted and actually a “prospect”

  10. Pencilfish

    March 25, 2013 01:03 PM

    Phillie697,

    No questions Utley should retire a Phillie, if possible. However, don’t forget he can sign with anyone after the Phillies stop playing in 2013. The bad knees have “DH” written all over them.

    Galvis can’t rake like Brown, but that’s only one half of an inning. The other half (ie, playing the field), he can play better than most (all?) players currently on the 25-man roster. For that reason alone, he should be considered if Utley leaves (or is forced out).

  11. Phillie697

    March 25, 2013 01:37 PM

    @Pencilfish,

    No question defense should be part of the equation, but I haven’t given up on finding someone who can at least contribute to both halves of the inning, something a 35-yr old Utley can probably STILL do.

    I mean, my god, if Phillies fans weren’t happy with Polanco, who by all accounts was a FANTASTIC defender at 3B, to the tune that Galvis should consider himself lucky if he can be as productive defensively at 2B, Galvis will not satisfy them.

  12. Ryan

    March 25, 2013 02:24 PM

    If not Galvis, then who would replace Utley at second base if he’s either too injured or signs with someone else?

  13. Phillie697

    March 25, 2013 02:34 PM

    @Ryan,

    I think that was exactly my point: Don’t let Utley sign with someone else.

  14. Pencilfish

    March 25, 2013 04:15 PM

    Phillie697,

    From 2010-2012, Polanco played in
    132, 122 and 90 games,respectively. His corresponding triple-slash line was .298/.339/.386, .277/.335/.339 and .257/.302/.327 from ages 34-36.
    Polanco’s age/injury-related decline was obvious.

    If Galvis’ bat cannot play 2B, imagine Polanco’s at the hot corner, a position traditionally manned by more powerful bats. That must have been the source of the “unhappiness” you spoke about.

    It’s highly unlikely Galvis has reached his ceiling at 23, both in his triple-slash line and his physical ability to play, so the comparison with Polanco is not the best one.

  15. Cheesecrop

    March 25, 2013 05:53 PM

    A lot of what will happen to Utley also depends upon the players around him during the next few seasons. Everyone who presumes Utley will remain a Phillie for life has to ask about Rollins as well.

    Phillie697 noted on a n earlier page about Ryan Howard’s UZR. Although I don’t put a ton of stock in a defensive metric, ask youself this:

    Would I rather keep a second baseman who is slowing up, & leave him out there w/a first baseman who’s also questionable defensively…

    or

    Would I rather invest in a shortstop who doesn’t possess all the intangibles that Utley does, but can do enough to get the job done, while being superior in the field?

    Who’s going to play third base? If it’s Cody Asche, then maybe I can drop Rollins, & place Galvis in that spot. I can allow Utley to cheat towards first, while allowing Galvis at SS to cheat up the middle, w/a younger Asche covering an extra step or two at the hot corner.

    I’d love to see Utley finish his career here in Philly, but at the same time, to what lengths do you go to satisfy one player at the expense of the future?

  16. jtj06

    March 25, 2013 08:21 PM

    At age 22, Utley had a .746 OPS in A+ ball. At age 21, Galvis had a .716 OPS in AA/AAA ball. In his first taste of MLB play at age 24, Utley had a .696 OPS with 10 doubles, a triple and two HRs in 152 PA. At age 22, Galvis had a .617 OPS with 15 doubles, a triple and three HRs in 200 PA.

    Don’t live in the past, Utley won’t reach 110 games. Galvis will have 600 PAs filling in for injured, geriatric infielders and will develop into an All-Star. The guy has great skill and gets better every year. Seems to be a bias against teenage free agents in favor of draft picks.

  17. Pencilfish

    March 25, 2013 09:23 PM

    Cheesecrop,

    How would you drop Rollins? He is a 10/5 player, meaning the Phillies cannot even trade him without his consent, and he’s signed through 2014 with a performance-vesting option for 2015. Next, why would you drop him? He has performed well enough in 2012, so it is hard to argue he’s Utley-in-waiting healthwise. The only way to “drop” him is to treat him like Texas treated Michael Young, so he would welcome a trade.

  18. Phillie697

    March 26, 2013 10:16 AM

    @Pencilfish,

    I wasn’t comparing Polanco to Galvis, I was saying if you think Phillies fans would be happy with a defensive wizard who can’t hit the side of a barn even if his life depended on it, then I offer you Exhibit Polanco.

    You see those triple slash lines for Polanco you mentioned? Galvis’s lines would beWORSE.

    @Cheesecrop,

    We sacrificed a fuckload of our future to keep one Ryan Howard, and he wasn’t nearly as deserving of such stature as Utley was/is/will be. We sacrificed a lot of our future to sign one Jonathan Papelbon, and he’ll be the best closer money can buy for a third-place team that won’t make the playoffs. You want to talk to me about “to what lengths do you go to satisfy one player at the expense of the future?” Really? Utley’s next contract will be HALF, at most, of Papelbon’s. If I’m going to sacrifice something for emotional reasons, Utley is the guy I sacrifice it on, not freaking Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon.

    @jtj06,

    Chase Utley’s minor league OPS prior to becoming a permanent major league player: .827, .746, .813, .907, .880. Galvis, .507, .588, .568, .586, .716. Surely you’re joking with the Utley to Galvis comparisons, right? I was looking for some comedy, and I just found some.

  19. Pencilfish

    March 26, 2013 03:19 PM

    Phillie697,

    For someone who is sabermetrically-literate, I’m surprised about your statement on Galvis’ triple slash line. First, you are talking about 190 AB’s in 2012, so you are ignoring the small sample size. Second, you are assuming Galvis has reached his ceiling (at age 23!), because you are implying he “can’t hit the side of a barn”. Third, Galvis was worth 0.6 WAR in his rookie year, while Polanco was only worth 0.3 WAR. Galvis *should* do better than 0.6 WAR in 2013.

    I do agree he can’t replace Utley on the offensive side (ever!), but he’s infinitely cheaper. Depending on how Utley and Galvis perform this year, it may well be that Galvis cost less $$/WAR going forward. If you are upset about money we sunk on Howard, Papelbon, the Youngs, etc, then you can’t ignore $$/WAR for Utley either, although I do hope Utley plays well enough this year to justify an extension.

  20. Phillie697

    March 26, 2013 05:34 PM

    @Pencilfish,

    Again, I point you to Galvis’s minor league statistics. You have to actually have done something for someone to assume you might do so again in the majors. Utley raked in the minors. Galvis couldn’t rake in my living room.

  21. Phillie697

    March 26, 2013 05:36 PM

    And my point is, those who argued and defended Howard and Papelbon’s contracts do not get to come back at me for wanting to give Utley more money than he’s worth for emotional reasons. That’s a hell of a lot better reason than, “wtf did we pay Howard and Papelbon for???”

  22. Phillie697

    March 26, 2013 05:46 PM

    Just to add too… Obviously I’m advocating re-signing Utley because I don’t think it’s going to be THAT expensive to re-sign him. He, Phillies, and rest of the league all know that a 2B with two bad knees and at this point a long history of injury problems isn’t gonna be worth $20M a year. He can be re-signed, IMO, at around $10/year, on a 2 to 3 year deal. It won’t take Howard or Papelbon money. For that price, to keep Chase Utley as a Phillie forever and ever and ever and ever? I’d gladly pay it, because Utley at $10M a year isn’t that bad of a gamble to begin with just on production, without even adding in the emotional aspects of it.

    If Utley asks for $20M a year (fat chance)? Yeah, then I’d say, “good luck Chase.”

  23. Cheesecrop

    March 26, 2013 06:55 PM

    Phillie697:

    In your own exquisite paranoia, you suggested that I tossed Papelbon into the mix. I never did such, though if you must generate extra enemies to fill the bill, I guess I don’t mind. I’m not too much of a Papelbon fan, though he did get the job done.

    In addition, when we signed Howard, it was when he was coming off a great 2009 season. At the time, it obviously looked as though he warranted said contract.

    My suggestion, your most exalted frustrated G.M.’ness, is to crank up your DeLorean to 88 mph, zoom back in time to November 2008, take over for RAJ, & undo the nightmare that’s keeping you awake lo these many nights.

    btw – Pencilfish – I made a geniune mistake when I commented on Rollins. I was aware that we’d signed him for three yrs., but I honestly forgot that he has a fourth yr. option. In light of that, some of what I said is clearly & obviously wrong.

  24. Phillie697

    March 27, 2013 09:32 AM

    I’ve concluded that either Cheesecrop is Cutter in disguise, or else we have another Cutter amongst us. God help us.

    Yes, because, you know, the money we spend on Howard or Papelbon or anyone cannot be spend on ANYTHING else in the entire universe, like, you know, re-signing Utley. That MUST be how money works in real life. They are all destined and earmarked for something the moment they were “made.”

  25. Cheesecrop

    March 27, 2013 10:41 AM

    I have no clue who Cutter is.

    You seem to be the one putting up roadblocks regarding how money can be spent. We didn’t have to spend for Papelbon, clearly, but we did. We have to live w/it.

    Regadring Howard, I made it pretty clear what I was getting at in the last post, regarding the whens & why’s of his contract. Nothing very big going on here.

  26. Phillie697

    March 27, 2013 11:08 AM

    No actually we don’t have to live with anything. We can fire RAJ and Cholly tomorrow and not have to live with a lot of stuff. We can also trade Papelbon, offer to pay half of his remaining salary, and use the other half to re-sign Utley. We don’t have to live with anything. You may if you’re GM, but I don’t think like you.

    I would trade Howard too, but I don’t think we’d find a taker even if we offer to pay half of his salary…

  27. Phillie697

    March 27, 2013 11:37 AM

    Actually, my own comment just raised an interesting question… Can we find a taker for Howard if we offered to pay 3/4 of his remaining salary? If we can extract a decent prospect or two out of a deal like that, I would trade Howard for 25 cents on the dollar in a heart beat. In a freaking heart beat.

  28. Pencilfish

    March 27, 2013 11:37 AM

    Cheesecrop,

    Not only does Rollins have a 4-yr vesting option, but the vesting conditions are not impossibly hard to trigger:

    1) 600 plate appearances in 2014 or 2) 1,100 PAs in 2013-14 and Rollins is not on disabled list at end of 2014 season (or if he is on the DL, a mutually agreed upon doctor deems him available for 2015 Opening Day roster)

    The much bigger issue is that Rollins is a 10/5 player. He can veto ANY trade. Therefore, he can play in Philly for as long as he is contractually obligated.

  29. BobSmith77

    March 27, 2013 11:22 PM

    I do think Utley will push that 5.0 WAR predciton but won’t have anywhere near 600 PAs.

  30. Cheesecrop

    March 28, 2013 04:30 AM

    By Pencilfish on Mar 27, 2013

    Cheesecrop,

    Not only does Rollins have a 4-yr vesting option, but the vesting conditions are not impossibly hard to trigger:

    1) 600 plate appearances in 2014 or 2) 1,100 PAs in 2013-14 and Rollins is not on disabled list at end of 2014 season (or if he is on the DL, a mutually agreed upon doctor deems him available for 2015 Opening Day roster)

    The much bigger issue is that Rollins is a 10/5 player. He can veto ANY trade. Therefore, he can play in Philly for as long as he is contractually obligated.
    ———————————————
    I was aware he was a 10 & 5. I simply figured that if he was in the second yr. of a three yr. deal, we might wait till the end of 14 & not re-sign him. I kind of figured there might be an option yr., but I had no clue how easy it would be for him to reach the numbers.

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