Why Isn’t Chase Utley Getting Hit?

Mitch asked me about Chase Utley‘s lower rate of getting hit by pitches for this week’s Crash Bag, but it was interesting enough that I thought a separate post was appropriate.

I went back to 2009 and looked at the rate at which pitchers were pitching Utley inside, and it really hasn’t changed:

Year PA HBP HBP% Inside%
2009 687 24 3.5% 18.2%
2010 511 18 3.5% 18.8%
2011 454 14 3.1% 17.1%
2012 362 12 3.3% 19.4%
2013 491 5 1.0% 18.3%

Utley led the league in HBP’s in 2009 (and the two years prior as well) and continued getting hit at about the same rate through last season. From 2007-12, Utley was hit a total of 120 times in 3,334 plate appearances.

Player HBP From To PA
Chase Utley 120 2007 2012 3334
Carlos Quentin 106 2007 2012 2581
Kevin Youkilis 84 2007 2012 3295
Prince Fielder 83 2007 2012 4190
Rickie Weeks 77 2007 2012 3174
Josh Willingham 76 2007 2012 3151
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/18/2013.

The 120 HBP’s represent about four percent of his on-base percentage. According to FanGraphs, HBP’s have had a run value between .72 and .74 since ’07, so between 2007-12, Utley added about 86 runs on getting hit alone, or about 14 runs per season.

As to why he isn’t getting hit as much, considering that pitchers are still pitching him inside at the same rate, I’m not sure. I went back and compared 2012 game footage to 2013, trying to reduce as many variables as possible. Both of the .gifs below show a game against the Marlins at home in September, with Utley facing a right-handed pitcher who throws a pitch inside.

2012

2013

I am not the most observant person on the planet, but I am not spotting any legitimate differences. If anything, Utley seems a little more willing to get hit in the 2013 clip, but it may not be indicative of anything considering it is just one clip.

Utley appears to be standing just as close to home plate.

2012

2013

Even the distribution of inside pitches appears to be nearly identical.

The only noticeable difference is that Utley has seen fewer pitches up around the hands, but I don’t recall him being hit on the hands with any regularity last year.

The last theory I have is that he has had the platoon advantage in more at-bats this season (68%) compared to last season (61%). However, that isn’t the case in previous years — 73% in 2011 and 68% in 2010, for instance. Utley has been hit in 72 of 1,795 PA against lefties (4.0%) compared to 84 times in 3,836 PA against right-handers (2.2%). This season, Utley has been hit three times by RHP and twice by LHP in half the PA, 333 to 158. But if it was simply his opportunities against lefties affecting his HBP rate, we would have seen similar blips in previous years.

The most likely explanation is that it is a one-year aberration. Utley saw just 277 inside pitches last year and 345 pitches this year, so it is quite possible that this year’s batch has not been conducive to this part of Utley’s game. Utley currently has a .346 on-base percentage which, while not terrible, is below expectations — his career average is .371. If he is able to keep the gains he has made in the power department while bringing his OBP up a few points, Utley could be even better on offense next year.

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17 comments

  1. MattWinks

    September 18, 2013 03:15 PM

    It would be really hard to figure this out, but is there any change in whether Utley’s approach in getting hit by a pitch? Is he moving out of the way more now than he did in the past where it seemed he was much more willing to just take a ball to the body?

  2. Bill Baer

    September 18, 2013 03:17 PM

    It’s really hard to tell without going over hours of video tape. I picked a couple similar games a year apart, just making some assumptions but it’s not enough to make any real conclusions.

  3. Mitch Goldich

    September 18, 2013 03:53 PM

    Interesting… thanks for looking into this. Like you said, it may just be a one-year aberration. But if you don’t mind me pressing you further:

    I’m looking at situations where Utley has been hit the most in the past. Of his 156 career HBP’s, 49 were on the first pitch, and 29 were on 0-1 counts. No other count has a total greater than 17. Obviously he sees more 0-0 pitches than any other count, but the difference is still pretty glaring.

    This year he only has 1 HBP on the first pitch.

    Is it possible to whip up a location map and/or another inside pitch % chart for just first pitches this year compared to the rest of his career?

  4. Larry

    September 18, 2013 04:22 PM

    They might be pitching him differently or his approach has changed a little. Considering 2 other stats:

    His BB% at 8.6% is well below last year which was 11.9%. His career BB% is 9.7%. This is a contributing factor to his lower OBP.

    His Pit/PA at 3.82 is the second lowest of his career. His worst was 3.81 which was his first season.

    However since his OPS+ 127 is 1 point higher than his career average, his lower OBP doesn’t seem too concerning.

    Off topic- One other weird stat is 12 GDPs which is a career high. I guess you can attribute that to declining speed, but his speed still looks normal. I guess someone using a stopwatch could figure that out in a normal sample size compared to previous seasons.

  5. Dan K.

    September 18, 2013 04:23 PM

    Could just be selective memory on my part, but I’ve (internally) remarked multiple times this season that Utley has been moving out of the way of pitches more than he used to.

    Specifically, he still leans in to balls by his shoulder, thigh, etc. But he has been moving out of the way when the ball is closer to his hands and knees. Which would make sense considering his past injuries.

    But again, it may just be selective memory, and I personally know that it is hard to train yourself to react differently to something that occurs in a split second.

  6. Larry

    September 18, 2013 04:27 PM

    “His worst was 3.81 which was his first season.”

    not worst I meant lowest

  7. Dan K.

    September 18, 2013 04:32 PM

    @Larry,

    RE: GIDP, his speed score is barely below his career norm according to fangraphs (5.8 this year, 6.0 career), for what that’s worth.

    His GB% is in line with his career, too.

    So, I guess it’s partly bad luck. Maybe he’s had a lot of opportunities, too. Although that seems unlikely considering the team…

  8. adam_s

    September 18, 2013 04:57 PM

    I’m with Dan, I feel like maybe it’s more on Utley being more aware that he needs to avoid reckless injury in his old age…That’s hard to substantiate but I’m sure our boy Chase would still take a HBP in a big situation!!PS. does anyone know of a good quality Phillies podcast?

  9. Joecatz

    September 18, 2013 06:26 PM

    My father and I have had this arguement all season. I say he’s farther off the plate now, and he insists he’s just not leaning in anymore.

    Bill, have you compared video from 2009 or 2010, stance wise? I went back and looked at a few PAs from before the knee issues and I swear he’s a good 6 inches further back off the plate now. It’s incredibly hard to discern though, without comparing exact camera angles, or looking at shots of his feet.

  10. JM

    September 19, 2013 09:05 AM

    Could he be swinging at more 1st pitches? I have been thinking this all year, but never in a HBP perspective. I have seen him swing at the 1st pitch this year more than I ever remember. Couple that with the fewer pitches he is seeing overall, and he has less opportunity to be hit.

  11. Ryan

    September 19, 2013 09:06 AM

    When you’re getting close to the end–perhaps you’re not quite as willing to take a chance on missing half of a season with a broken hand or wrist!

  12. hk

    September 19, 2013 09:09 AM

    I agree with others that Utley has probably decided that it is not worth the injury risk, especially when the games are meaningless. If the Phils were in the playoffs and he was facing Aroldis Chapman in a situation in which he needed to get on base in any way possible, I assume he’d still “take one for the team” or at least pretend to do so.

  13. hk

    September 19, 2013 09:28 AM

    BB,

    Speaking of getting on base, is there an easy way to find out the Phillies’ hitters’ BB% with Charlie as manager as compared to their BB% with Sandberg as manager? It seems as though they are walking more, but I am not sure how to check this.

  14. MattWinks

    September 19, 2013 10:23 AM

    Not sure the easy way to do it but I extracted the game logs summed the PAs and unintentional BBs and did the math.

    With Charlie:
    4450 PAs 288 BBs 6.47%
    With Ryne:
    1216 PAs 108 BBs 8.88%

    Part of this is the arrival of Darin Ruf and Cody Asche coupled with the departure of Michael and Delmon Young.

    Overall the batting lines are .251/.306/.391 for Charlie and .247/.304/.389 for Ryne hinting that there really has not been a huge change in team offensive makeup.

  15. hk

    September 19, 2013 11:57 AM

    Matt,

    Thanks. I did not want to take the time to do exactly what you did, so I appreciate your efforts.

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