I’m probably going to get screamed at, raked over the coals, and tarred and feathered for suggesting this, but in my ongoing quest for intellectual honesty, I must forge ahead.
Is it time for the Phillies to consider platooning Chase Utley?
We talk all the time about how the Phils should platoon Ryan Howard because of his massive splits against right-handed and left-handed pitchers.
Howard’s struggles against lefties is long and distinguished. For his career, Howard is a .226/.303/.434 hitter against left-handed pitching, and it’s gotten worse in recent years, including this year (6 for 37, .162 BA):
- 2012 (106 PAs): .173/.226/.378 .604 OPS 6 HRs 18 RBIs
- 2011 (185 PAs): .224/.286/.347 .634 OPS 3 HRs 28 RBIs
- 2010 (216 PAs): .264/.333/.492 .826 OPS 12 HRs 39 RBIs
However, if you look at Utley’s stats against lefties the last few years, it’s fair to question why there aren’t ANY calls for Utley to be platooned as well.
This year, Utley is actually hitting worse against lefties than Howard (4 for 37, .108 BA), and over the last few years, his numbers have not been much better against southpaws.
- 2012 (142 PAs): .215/.324/.355 .679 OPS 4 HRs 10 RBIs
- 2011 (124 PAs): .187/.298/.308 .607 OPS 2 HRs 9 RBIs
- 2010 (166 PAs): .294/.422/.581 1.003 OPS 10 HRs 27 RBIs
Clearly, Utley’s injuries the last two years have somehow affected his ability to hit left-handers. And, those injuries have affected his overall numbers as well, so a decrease in his numbers against lefties makes some sense. And to be fair, before 2011, Utley performed extremely well against lefties, which is why he’s always had more slack when it came to his recent struggles against left-handers.
Still, stats from 2010 don’t matter a hoot here in 2013. The fact remains, Utley has been a terrible hitter against left-handed pitchers for over two years now.
So, should the Phillies consider platooning Utley? And if not all the time, should they consider at least a partial platoon?
Consider that, while his batting average against lefties so far this year is just .108, Utley is destroying right-handed pitching to the tune of .326/.365/.579 for an OPS of .944 with 6 HRs and 22 RBIs. He has just one homer and two RBIs against lefties.
Last year, even in a down offensive year, he still hit .283/.391/.478 for an OPS of .869, with 7 HRs and 35 RBIs against right-handers. In 2011, his numbers against righties were strikingly similar, with a line of .285/.362/.467, for an OPS of .829, with 9 HRs and 35 RBIs.
In other words, over the last two-plus years, Utley’s splits against righties and lefties have become as pronounced as Howard’s.
And yet, there have been very few calls for Utley to be platooned. And certainly, the drumbeat for a Howard platoon has greatly drowned out any thoughts about the same for Utley.
Of course, Utley’s superior baserunning and defensive ability provide more of a reason to keep him in the lineup everyday, including against tough left-handers. Howard’s baserunning and defense are a constant negative, which is perhaps why it’s easier to consider sitting him against lefties.
Still, the main problem with the Phils right now is offensive production, especially against left-handed pitching. Going into last night’s series opener against Arizona, the Phillies were hitting .216/.271/.365 for an OPS of .635 against left-handed pitching. As a team, that’s second-to-last, 29th out of 30 teams, with only the Nationals (.198 BA) lower than the Phils.
Perhaps it’s time for the Phillies to consider using Kevin Frandsen more against left-handers (career .290/.331/.443 hitter vs. left-handed pitching, .405 BA in 2012-13). Frandsen delivered yet another big hit in last night’s loss to Arizona, knocking in the only run of the game against lefty starter Patrick Corbin. He also hit a home run off Giants starter Barry Zito on Wednesday, the only run they scored against the soft-tossing southpaw.
Sitting Utley more regularly against left-handers doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun. We got used to seeing Chase own left-handed pitching, and it’s hard to remove his defense and baserunning from the lineup.
But if you look at the cold, hard facts, platooning Utley may be a way to make this Phillies offensive a bit more productive.
At the very least, it’s a question at least worth considering.