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.
— Mitch Goldich (@mitchgoldich) September 18, 2013
I went back to 2009 and looked at the rate at which pitchers were pitching Utley inside, and it really hasn’t changed:
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.
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.
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.
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.