Building a successful baseball team constitutes an arduous task, riddled with uncertainty, doubt, and difficulty.
Still, every front office must begin somewhere, and if asked, most would agree that that place is up the middle. The premium positions on the field reside up the middle, at catcher, pitcher, second base, shortstop, and centerfield. To play these positions players must have numerous tools, talent, and intelligence. Over the last decade, the Phillies have built their club around Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley. These three play premium positions, and do so at the highest level.
So far this season Jimmy Rollins hasn’t been the J-Roll of old, but he hasn’t become a decrepit version of himself either. Carlos Ruiz has seen the inactive and disabled list, and when inserted in the lineup, his production has lacked the quality it once had. As for Chase, he came into this season on the field instead of on the disabled list, which all Philadelphia fans know automatically constitutes a success. Utley may not be in his prime, but even a lesser version of his former self could easily bolster the Phillies both offensively and defensively.
Between 2005 and 2009 Chase Utley was the best second baseman in baseball and arguably a top 5 player overall. He averaged 7.5 fWAR over that span, an astounding amount when you consider that Utley never won an MVP, but last year’s most valuable player in the National League, Buster Posey, won the award after compiling 7.6 fWAR. Utley’s lack of accolades aside, coming into his 10th full season as a pro, no one expected Chase to rekindle his 2005 form. Still, if healthy, almost everyone with the Phillies and in baseball knew that Chase would contribute as much as he had left, which could prove quite useful to a team in need of talent.
Unfortunately, Utley could not fend off the injury bug forever, and on May 21st the Phillies officially placed him on the 15-day disabled list with an oblique strain. This wasn’t Chase’s first visit to the disabled list, he’s been a frequent and dedicated visitor throughout his career, making his incredibly productive statistics all the more impressive. Every player reacts differently to injuries. Some bounce back quickly, and return to the field as if they had not missed even one game. At the same time, some have the utmost difficulty returning to their previous form, becoming shell’s of themselves, and oftentimes finding themselves benched or demoted not for injury issues but instead for lack of production.
One of Chase’s best qualities and the one that endears him so much to the fans of Philadelphia is his hustle. You’ll never see Chase lollygagging it down the line, he gives 100% effort on every play, in the weight room, watching film, and even sitting on the bench getting a drink of water. This passion and “never say die” attitude probably led to some of his injuries, but it also has allowed him to return as a productive member of the team from those injuries.
On June 21st, the Phillies reinstated Utley from the disabled list, and he immediately returned to the starting lineup. So far he’s played in 3 games, compiling 2 hits in 13 plate appearances, and has scored one run. He’s played a very solid second base, and even tested out his recently healed ribs and previously healed knees by jumping over a runner attempting to steal second base. On May 21st, when the Phillies placed Chase on the DL, the Phillies had a record of 22-24. While Utley resided on the DL the Phillies went 13-14. During that time Domonic Brown hit many many home runs, Ryan Howard and Ben Revere began to swing the bats a bit better, and Jimmy Rollins put up a .361 on base percentage.
So, without Utley the Phillies played about as well as they did with him in the lineup. Hopefully, upon his return the team continues hitting the way they did without him. The question that remains is, what can we expect from Chase following his injury? If he can produce the way he did prior to hitting the DL and the rest of the team plays as well as they did with him out of the lineup, the Phillies could play above .500 baseball.
|DL Start||DL End||Days on DL||Injury||OPS Pre-DL||OPS 15 Games Post DL||OPS 30 Games Post DL|
|2||6/29/10||8/17/10||49||Torn Thumb Ligament||0.849||0.690||0.809|
Above you’ll see a breakdown of Chase’s 5 career stints on the disabled list. He’s spent time there with recovering from hand and knee ailments as well as the most recent injury to his oblique. While every injury is unique, each one affecting a player’s ability to hit and field differently, Utley has had a gamut of them. After suffering a broken hand, Utley returned to the field with a vengeance, putting up a better OPS, .938, that he produced prior to fracturing his metacarpal. After tearing a ligament in his thumb that required surgery, Utley once again returned and put up a higher OPS than prior to hitting the DL.
In 2011 and 2012 Utley began the season on the DL with knee ailments, the latter one keeping him out for the first 3 months of the season. Although he showed some rust when returning from those injuries, he quickly returned to form putting up OPS’s in the .800’s both times. So, what can we expect from Chase Utley? My guess, based on his history, his makeup, and his talent, is that Chase might need a week or two, but by the All-Star break he should be right back to his normal self. More importantly, the All-Star break will provide him with more rest, which for a player with bad knees can only prove useful.
So far this season Chase has been worth 1.5 fWins, and the updated projection systems forecast he will finish the season with worth about double that. Utley may not be the player he once was, but his track record shows that this most recent injury shouldn’t push his play on the field off course, which can only be good for a Phillies team in need of his attitude, production, and lead-by-example nature. Expect the best Chase has to give and hope he remains healthy the remainder of the season because he’s integral to the Phillies winning more games than they lose.
Thanks to Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and Baseball-Reference for statistical assistance in the writing of this piece.
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