2015 Phillies Report Card: Chase Utley
In 2014, for the first time in five years, Chase Utley was able to play a full season. The oft-injured second baseman had been diagnosed with degenerative conditions in both of his knees, then suffered a strained oblique in 2013. Though his numbers were down quite a bit compared to previous years, that Utley accrued 664 plate appearances was a victory in and of itself. The goal going into the 2015 season was to rebound to his usual level of production while staying healthy.
Things couldn’t have gone more poorly. Utley dealt with ankle problems during spring training, but made it into the Phillies’ Opening Day lineup. Maybe he shouldn’t have. Between Opening Day and June 22, Utley hit .179/.257/.275, racking up only 12 extra-base hits in 65 games. Utley was placed on the disabled list with inflammation in his right ankle, and he wouldn’t return until August 7.
Utley played in eight games, starting seven, and showed signs of life. During his time on the disabled list, Utley said that his injury caused a mechanical flaw in his swing, and that he had corrected it. In those eight games, Utley hit five doubles and a home run, batting .484/.485/.742 in 33 trips to the plate.
Utley’s name had been bandied about in trade rumors through July and into August. If he hit well after returning from the DL, it was said, the Phillies might find a trade partner. They did in the Los Angeles Dodgers. On August 19, the Phillies sent Utley to the Dodgers in exchange for minor league pitcher Jon Richy and the multi-positional minor league hitter Darnell Sweeney.
During his time with the Phillies during the 2015 season, Utley accrued -0.5 WAR according to Baseball Reference and he mustered a meager .617 OPS. It is such a shame that his time with the Phillies had to end on such a down note. He’ll go down as one of the absolute greatest players in Phillies history. No, he’s not in the same stratosphere as Mike Schmidt, but he has the second-most WAR among position players in team history, ahead of Richie Ashburn.
The Phillies got a good haul for Utley, too. Sweeney didn’t hit particularly well (.639 OPS) in 98 plate appearances at the major league level with his new team, but the 24-year-old showed plenty of potential and his versatility should prove valuable to the club in years to come. Richy made only two starts before the minor league season ended, allowing four runs on 10 hits and a walk with 10 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings with Single-A Clearwater. Richy is 23 years old and could serve as pitching depth for the Phillies down the road.
Utley’s production on the field didn’t matter that much to the Phillies, since they were more or less trying to lose, as finishing with the worst record in baseball would net them the first overall pick in the 2016 draft. An argument can be made that his production was so bad that it was palpably helpful to the Phillies. The spirit of these report cards, I feel, is to grade the players as if it were a normal season with a full intent to win. Utley’s season can only merit an F.