If Chase Utley Is Old, He’s Not Showing It

As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, there was but one conclusion about second baseman Chase Utley: he is old and washed up. The type of injuries Utley endured — patellar tendinitis and chondromalacia in his knees — can’t be healed, only mitigated by rehabilitation and strategic rest as needed.

Since starting to play every day in 2005 up until his last full, healthy season in 2009, Utley posted an average 135 adjusted OPS (the average is 100) over 3,374 plate appearances. From 2010-12 while he battled injuries, he posted a 116 adjusted OPS over 1,327 plate appearances. He was still a great defender and baseball’s smartest base runner (he stole 38 bases in 41 attempts!), posting a combined 12.6 Wins Above Replacement over those three years, according to Baseball Reference.

Utley entered the 2013 season playing out what could have been and still may be his final year as a Phillie, the last of a seven-year, $85 million contract extension signed in January 2007. The expectations weren’t very high: as long as he stayed healthy for the most part, hit a bit above the league average, and continued playing slightly above-average defense, the Phillies wouldn’t need to worry about second base at all, at least for this one year.

Utley has vastly exceeded expectations, especially offensively. He went 3-for-4 in last night’s 4-1 loss to the Cardinals, bumping his wRC+ (a stat like adjusted OPS that uses wOBA instead) to 137. The only second basemen better than Utley are Matt Carpenter (154), Jason Kipnis (151), and Robinson Cano (140). Howie Kendrick, in fifth place, is far behind Utley at 124.

He is walking at a career-low rate (7.6%) and striking out at a rate (15.9%) that is close to beating his career-highs. His isolated power — slugging percentage minus batting average — is at .240, the best he’s had since posting a .244 ISO in 2008. As he dealt with injuries, he hit more and more ground balls, cutting into his power potential. From 2010-12, his ground ball rate was around 41-42 percent, but is now down to 35.5 percent, while his fly ball rate is back up to 46 percent.

Although Utley has become more of a pull hitter than he had been in previous years, Utley is performing much better on pitches towards the outer half of the strike zone.

Utley’s ISO and wOBA on outer-half pitches has increased from .158 and .329 from 2010-12 to .246 and .384, respectively.

Utley has also closed the gap in his performance against left-handed pitchers. During his prime, he was well-known for hitting lefties well, but as he battled knee injuries, he didn’t handle lefties as proficiently. This chart shows his wOBA against each side by year:

While his overall performance against lefties hasn’t changed much from 2010-12 and this season, his power has improved substantially. He posted a .190 ISO against lefties in the three previous seasons, but it is up to .271 this season. Five of his 13 home runs have come against lefties, and it’s mostly because he has recaptured the ability to hit inside pitches.

Utley still rates among the team’s better base runners and, by all accounts (both scouts and stats agree), still plays great defense at second base. He is, however, 34 years old and will turn 35 during the off-season. The Phillies don’t have any legitimate long-term solutions at second base right now, so there is some speculation that the team could either sign him to a short-term contract extension soon, or trade him and try to sign him again as a free agent during the off-season. There are, rightly, concerns over his ability to stay healthy over the course of a potential three-year contract. In previous years, those injury concerns would have come with performance concerns as well. What he has done this season, though, changes that calculus a bit and makes extending the Chase Utley era much more appealing.

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47 comments

  1. Oskar

    July 24, 2013 07:28 AM

    His agent is going to hand this out over the offseason when Utley is looking for his next contract.

  2. Richard

    July 24, 2013 07:50 AM

    I would think the situation you described in your post yesterday – about teams signing their younger stars to long extensions, and the resulting relative poor quality of free agents – would point towards the Phillies extending Utley.

  3. Joecatz

    July 24, 2013 08:00 AM

    Bill,

    It’s frightening but I have a feeling that by Monday, if we were to outline our individual plans for what the phillies should do at the deadline, we’d probably be in 100% agreement.

    Which kind of goes to show how silly it can be to try and figure it out a month ahead of time.

    That said, I think I’ll genuinely be pissed if they trade Utley, not for the reasons I would have thought before (more attachment based), but because I genuinely believe he is the best option moving forward, and any return yo get for him will end up being less than what he produces for the phillies.

  4. Richard

    July 24, 2013 09:57 AM

    Regarding his K & BB rates. Both are well within his career norms. In his best seasons, he’s struck out more than he is this season, and not walked much more often. He’s rarely been a big BB guy. On the other hand, his OBP is down primarily because of his career low HBP rate.

    I’d guess his lower K rate in the previous three seasons was somewhat a product of being less aggressive, but which also led to more frequent (and weaker) contact.

  5. Phillie697

    July 24, 2013 10:25 AM

    I think Chase’s days of getting HBP more often than Lindsey Lohan’s drug habit is over. At least I hope it’s over. Not worth risking anymore injuries.

  6. Richard

    July 24, 2013 10:30 AM

    I’ve seen that argument, 697, and I don’t fully buy it. The times he’s gotten injured from HBPs (Lannan hitting his wrist, O’Flahery his head) have been on flukes he couldn’t impact anyway.

    I’d be curious to know if he’s actually been approaching PAs differently in that regard, or if it’s just weird noise, or possibly a by-product of another adjustment.

  7. Phillie697

    July 24, 2013 10:39 AM

    @Richard,

    I don’t think there is enough evidence to say, short of Chase actually coming out and saying it, that he has in fact changed his approach. I’m just saying I HOPE he has, because I’ll take a Chase Utley who plays 140 games a year but with zero HBP over a Chase Utley that gets HBP 20 times a year but gets injured and lose weeks of playing time at every now and then because of being HBP.

  8. Richard

    July 24, 2013 10:49 AM

    I know there’s not enough evidence; I meant I’d indeed like to know from him actually saying so. But I’m also saying the injuries he incurred are flukes, and could just as easily happen now.

    In any case, my only reason in bringing it up was to point out that the HBPs made up a LARGE part of his historically good OBP, since it’s pretty common for his BB rate to be below 10%.

  9. Phillie697

    July 24, 2013 11:11 AM

    @Richard,

    At this point, I’ll take this version of Chase Utley over no Chase Utley, LOL. Or over a lot of other 2B actually, walks or no walks. There is really nothing to nitpick about a guy who has no projections left and is hitting with a .371 wOBA. Not one single GM is going to pay him like the 5-WAR 2B he is this year, and I don’t even think any GM would pay him like the 3.1-WAR 2B he was last year, unless the contract is 2 years or less. I think his market value will properly reflect any inherent risk vs. reward he carries and therefore be a good signing for any team. Walks or no walks.

    That said, if trading him would bring in a significant haul, I can’t in good conscience say we shouldn’t explore the option. But of course, I myself, for emotional reasons, would gladly forgo that option to keep him a Phillie for life.

  10. Richard

    July 24, 2013 11:19 AM

    Yeah, I’m not disagreeing with anything you say there about his performance. I’m not nitpicking, just making an observation, in connection with Bill’s post.

    However, I think you’re wrong about his market. Utley will, rightly, command more money & years than you think.

    Relatedly, it’s also my sense, based on what Utley has said about what he’s had to do to work with his knees, such as in those long-ish profiles that appeared earlier this season, that his knees really are not a problem for him going forward as a player.

  11. Larry

    July 24, 2013 11:21 AM

    Jimmy did the same thing in his contract year. All of the sudden his wOBA and OPS + were the highest since his 2008 season. Notice Jimmy’s wOBA and OPS + went back down since that year. I see so many players having this trend in contract years. The big test for me will be what Utley does in 2014 and 2015.

    Jimmy got paid more than what people thought he would get in a new contract. If you asked someone at the beginning of 2011, not many people were saying as high as 11 mil per year.

    This also brings me to my point that everyone is saying Chase will get 11-13 mil per year in his next contract. I say it will definitely be more. Chase and Jimmy are very smart, they know when to play at their best.

  12. Phillie697

    July 24, 2013 11:24 AM

    @Richard,

    You really think there is a GM out there who would give Utley 4/60M, or more?

  13. Larry

    July 24, 2013 11:48 AM

    @697,
    What if he goes to the AL splitting time as a DH, 2B, or even 1B? We could easily see 3 years 50 mil, or more.

  14. schmenkman

    July 24, 2013 11:58 AM

    @Larry, not sure what you’re looking at regarding Rollins last year. Both OPS and OPS+ were essentially the same as in 2011:

    2011: .736 OPS, 101 OPS+
    2012: .743 OPS, 98 OPS+

    Rollins OPS+ seasons can be summarized like this:

    1) 2007: 119
    2) 6 years between 97 and 104 (04-06,08,11-12)
    3) 5 years under 93 (01-03,09-10)

  15. Larry

    July 24, 2013 12:20 PM

    @Schmenkman,

    I was looking at wOBA too. As far as OPS+ goes, his approach for 2012 totally changed. He was trying to hit a lot of home runs, which did help his OPS+. However, notice that his Batting avg and OBP was more in line with 2009 and 2010 that year. He also popped up more than any Phillie I have ever seen in a season. Now in 2013, his OPS + is 84 which is like 2009 and 2010.

    Another thing about 2012, he may have been told this year that he can’t hit in the top of the lineup anymore with such a low OBP. Consider he was the lead off guy most of last season hitting .250 and 316 OBP. That’s not doing your job as a lead off hitter. He also had 96ks which is the highest since 2003 which is another sign that he was trying to hit the long ball. My guess is that he was padding his stats maybe to get in the Hall of Fame. He certainly has a shot.

  16. Joecatz

    July 24, 2013 12:21 PM

    697,

    Ill be shocked if utley gets less than 3 years guaranteed with a 4th year option at 15 per. And he’s worth 5/100 anyway.

  17. schmenkman

    July 24, 2013 12:35 PM

    @Larry, the old “padding his stats”?! Love it.

    His wRC+ last year was 100. And he racked up 4.8 fWAR, second among all MLB shortstops.

    He’s always been a second half hitter — we’ll see if that pattern repeats again this year.

  18. Richard

    July 24, 2013 12:38 PM

    a) there is no such thing as a “contract year” effect. Period.

    b) 697, you hadn’t said anything about 4/60 specifically, you said he’d not get paid like 5 WAR or even 3 WAR 2nd baseman, leading me to believe you were anticipating something much lower, like 2 years at $10M per.

    I agree with Joe. Utley’ll get something like 3/45 or more.

  19. schmenkman

    July 24, 2013 12:39 PM

    i.e. wOBA and wRC+ were also essentially the same in 2012 as in his “contract year”:

    2011: .325 wOBA, 103 wRC+
    2012: .322 wOBA, 100 wRC+

    Hopefully that puts to rest the notion that Rollins “turned it on” for his contract year only to back off in 2012.

  20. Phillie697

    July 24, 2013 12:39 PM

    I don’t think Utley’s market value is as high as you guys think. He should be paid more, but he won’t be. I really think he’s going to get a deal comparable to Rollins.

  21. Murph

    July 24, 2013 12:52 PM

    I love Utley. His performance is still very good if not as good as it was four years ago. He will be good for several more years. Unfortunately, the team continues to decay. Even if he is the “best” option at second, it won’t make much difference to the overall success of the team over the course of any extension. He is the best chip (Lee aside)the Phils have to land true, quality young talent. Paradoxically, trading Utley (regardless of how good he may continue)and getting weaker at second will make them a better team sooner.

  22. Joecatz

    July 24, 2013 01:08 PM

    697,

    Rollins got a 3 year deal with a 4th year super easy vest at 11mm per. That was effectively a 3mm a year raise for Rollins. A comparable deal for utley, who’s made 15mm per for the last four years and outplayed that value is in essence, 3/55 with a 4th option year bringing the total value to about 4/72

    That’s his open market value.

    Find a Player in a free agent season like utley that has hit the market and gotten less per year than his last contract AAV wise.

    Utley costs minimum 15-16mm per. Where you get the discount is in the length. I don’t see a five year deal from a NL
    Team out there.

    He’s getting minimum 3/45 unless he had a catastrophic injury between now and the time he signs.

    And the best chance to get close to that is to tender him a QO, effectively costing a signing team a draft pick.

  23. Joecatz

    July 24, 2013 01:11 PM

    697,

    And don’t take this the wrong way, but to makethe statement that utley should get paid more and won’t is in complete contradiction with the statement that we should trade him because he’s got extreme value.

    If teams didn’t think they could resign him and didn’t want to pay him, why give up top prospects for him?

    Because he’s back. That’s why.

  24. Phillie697

    July 24, 2013 01:17 PM

    You think teams trading for him at the trade deadline is thinking about what he’s going to do in 3 years? You’re joking right? They want what he can do NOW. There is almost NO risk of worrying about him declining in 3 months.

    Garza just got traded for a haul. So you think he’s going to be a Ranger for the next 5 years?

    But I don’t want him traded, so this is all moot :P

  25. Larry

    July 24, 2013 01:30 PM

    “Hopefully that puts to rest the notion that Rollins “turned it on” for his contract year only to back off in 2012.”

    It doesn’t put it to rest, because his approach changed. Why all the pop ups and ks?What about his OBP?? All of the sudden he hits the 3rd most homers in his career in 2012? His OPS and some other stats were masked because of the home runs. Explain 2009 and 2010 then? You can say injury in 2010, but what about 2009? Why are his stats so similar in 09,10, and 13? What do you think will happen in 2014?

  26. Larry

    July 24, 2013 01:51 PM

    @ Richard,

    “a) there is no such thing as a “contract year” effect. Period”

    You can just google it. Easy to find, many pages, many examples.

    Real life story- If you were inline for a raise and a promotion at your job, would you put more effort than usual? I know I would. The notion of giving 100% everyday in baseball is rare.

    Motivation can make you perform better. They talked about it yesterday during the Phillies game. Ryan Howard has incredible numbers at the Cardinals Stadium. This is his home town, many of his friends and family go to those games. He gives a way better effort.

    Most players also seem to play better at home than on the road. They are more motivated in front of their home crowds. Team records are mostly better at home than on the road. Does this mean teams dog it more on the road? Maybe, but more likely the effort raises at home.

  27. Scott G

    July 24, 2013 03:31 PM

    You think Utley is going to have power if he hits FA? You really think he’ll earn considerably more than the 15MM he made over the last 4 years of his contract, that was signed before any hint of a possibly degenerative knee syndrome? You think teams aren’t going to see that he has not played more than 115 games in the last 4 seasons and be willing to pay him less?

  28. Scott G

    July 24, 2013 03:33 PM

    Larry. Many jobs give yearly raises, or at least are known to be capable of doing that. Thus, you perform well every day. And, I’d argue that every game a player plays contributes to that next raise. Not just the ones that happen to fall in the 162 game schedule before the next opportunity.

  29. schmenkman

    July 24, 2013 03:36 PM

    @Larry, so the theory is that he changed his approach in 2012, after he signed his contract, from what it had been up to that point?

    I don’t see it. A 22 pt drop in OBP, and 28 pt increase in SLG is well within normal variation from year to year, without relying on a supposed “change in approach” to explain it.

    But the bottom line to me is that he performed very well in both 2011 and 2012. Whatever his approach was in each year, it worked for him, and therefore the Phillies. Kudos to Rollins.

  30. Soulfood77

    July 24, 2013 04:40 PM

    Apparently RAJ is working for Boston now – they just signed 2B Pedroia through his age 38 season for an AAV of around $13MM. With the caveat, they can DH him if he becomes a defensive liability.

    Does this set the market for Utley? (It also takes one more 2B off the market so it definitely has to factor in the Utley contract consideration.) I would think signing Utley through his age 38 season would be worth it, for similar money.

  31. bill

    July 24, 2013 05:01 PM

    I think any team wanting Utley will discount the offer based on his health, pretty clearly. Even this year with relatively healthy knees (or so it seems) he probably won’t play more than 120 or so games.

    If Pedroia (29 and mostly healthy in his career) is only making $13.75 AAV, Utley isn’t making more than that.

  32. Ginner207

    July 24, 2013 05:15 PM

    Simply said, we all love Chase Utley.

  33. Larry

    July 24, 2013 05:22 PM

    @Scott,

    “Larry. Many jobs give yearly raises, or at least are known to be capable of doing that. Thus, you perform well every day. And, I’d argue that every game a player plays contributes to that next raise. Not just the ones that happen to fall in the 162 game schedule before the next opportunity.”

    In baseball it’s not yearly most of the time. It’s usually a multi- year contract.

  34. phil

    July 24, 2013 05:31 PM

    Phillies should trade Utley now. He is coming of the all star break with rest and is hitting the ball better. Utley wears down too much anymore. He did not have a single rbi in july before the all star break. It is a common trend with him. He had a good April then he struggled in May before his injury. He came of the DL in June swingin good and he then started to go cold again. After the Allstar break he broke out in New York but sooner or later he will wear down. Trade him now and get what yu can.

  35. Larry

    July 24, 2013 07:14 PM

    RAJ just had an interview and suggested that he is in a buy and sell mode, pretty much what I thought. I can’t wait to see the moves he is gonna make. This will be a very busy site within the next week.

  36. schmenkman

    July 24, 2013 09:32 PM

    @phil, you’re saying they should trade one of the best second basemen in the game, because he’s inconsistent?

    What do you think they’ll get back for 2 months of Utley? and what will they replace him with?

    He’s somewhere between 25th and 30th most productive position player in MLB this year (depending on your flavor of WAR). And if you adjust for playing time, game for game he’s somewhere between 10th and 15th in MLB. I don’t savor trying to replace that, even with anticipated age-related decline.

  37. phil

    July 24, 2013 10:36 PM

    Trade Utley and Michael Young. I don’t care about WAR numbers. It is time to replace Utley’s pre 2010 offensive production with a future third baseman. Freddy Galvis will at least be a huge defensive upgrade and anybody can play third better than Young.

  38. schmenkman

    July 24, 2013 10:57 PM

    @phil, first, thanks for the info on your interest in WAR. Second, nobody is talking about Utley’s pre-2010 offensive production. What will be next to impossible to replace is his 2013 production. Finally, I assume you don’t mean to acquire another third baseman since they have multiple prospects there, but I’m not sure why you care which position the production comes from.

  39. Brian

    July 24, 2013 11:56 PM

    @Larry,

    When have you ever seen Chase Utley give less than 100% effort on any play? I’ve watched his entire career – there were years when I watched all 162 games – and I can’t remember one instance when he didn’t go all out on even one play. Certainly there are players who play harder in their contract year, but Chase Utley has gone as hard as he could in every game of his career.

    Would you be happier if he had a poor season in his contract year? Would that show he’s not out for the money and really loves the game? Your argument is ridiculous. I can’t believe you watch these games if you think Utley is only playing for the money.

  40. phil

    July 25, 2013 12:09 AM

    Hey im an utley fan im just being honest. Utley can still get on base and score runs from the 2 hole, but he isn’t that threat he used to be in the 3 hole. Chase Utley can not handle the load of 150 game plus season and be expected to produce runs. He still is valuable in the 2 hole but Dom Brown will take over the 3 hole eventually.

  41. Larry

    July 25, 2013 12:29 AM

    @Brian,
    “I can’t believe you watch these games if you think Utley is only playing for the money.”

    I never said he was just playing for the money. However, if you don’t think money is important to Utley, then we will test your theory. So many people on this site believe with his age and injury history, he will take a 10-11 mil deal from the Phillies. Then why wasn’t that deal not made yet. Chase and RAJ both publicly stated that they want him to stay. If he takes that deal Brian, I will publicly tell everyone that Brian was right on one condition…….. If he makes more than that next year as a Phillie, will you do the same?? Do we have a deal?

  42. phil

    July 25, 2013 01:09 AM

    The best hitter on this team is Ryan Howard. He gets bigger and more impactful hits than any other Phillie.

  43. pedro3131

    July 25, 2013 01:39 AM

    Before everyone jumps on phil, lets remember that no single at bat was bigger then his at bat in game 6 of the 2010 nlcs. With the vastly inferior Utley having worked a measly walk to put the tieing run on base, the Mighty Ryan Howard, stood there, and with his mighty lumber forget out of the handle of Thor’s hammer perched gently on his shoulder, and watched strike three go whizzing by

  44. phil

    July 25, 2013 10:00 PM

    Pedro3131……Howard gets bigger hits than anyone in baseball as he still leads the majors in go ahead rbi since 2006. Howard is with out a doubt the most important player on this team.

  45. Cameiros

    July 28, 2013 06:16 PM

    I’m a little incredulous.
    Yes, Chase is a gamer. And we all have great memories.

    But the degenerative condition of his knees tell me its pretty much over for Utley.

    The man is playing for a contract. No one knows for sure but my take is that he is taking whatever medication he can from cortisone injections on down to keep playing.

    MLB is littered with players who have done the same thing, or taken PEDs…all for the mega bucks.

    We have a couple of examples right here on the Phillies.

    Re-signing Utley for anything more than 6 mil for 3 years will be another huge mistake by Ruben…

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