With the season fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about what kind of team the Phillies may have in 2015. This look at Chase Utley is the eighth in the series of articles speculating on a best and worst case scenario for each player that is likely to be on the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies squad.
Today’s Player: 2B #26 Chase Utley
Chase is my favorite player. Let me just start with that disclaimer. The reports that he has been on the trade block over the last few months have pained me. I am very hopeful, and expectant, that Chase will remain with the team in 2015.
That being said, Chase is probably on the decline. His bad knees have hindered him in years past, and even though he played a full season last year, they are bound to be a factor as he gets older. At 36, Utley is one of the last remaining core players from the 2008 World Champions.
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Let’s look quickly back at that 2014 season. Chase hit .270, drove in 78 runs, and most impressive of all, played in 155 games. However, there were a few negatives that should spark some concern. His on-base percentage dropped to its lowest mark since 2004. His power numbers were down. Even his hit-by-pitch total was down. This would not normally be a big deal, but for Utley it is, if it shows he is becoming less aggressive.
All those negatives, coupled with his age and his knee history, suggest that Utley is on the decline. But those positives suggest that it could be a slow decline. With that, let’s look at the scenarios.
Best Case: .285/ 18 homers/ 90 RBIs, an All-Star Game appearance, stays with Phillies
The last part of that best case scenario is for my own heart. Utley staying with the Phillies is the best case for me personally, and it is the best case for the city of Philadelphia. I know many fans share my feelings in that regard.
These numbers represent not a decline, but rather a slight up-tick in Utley’s numbers. I don’t think those offensive numbers can get any better, unless he can return to 2006 form, which I don’t think anyone expects is a possibility. In fact, this average would be right in line with his career batting average, these home run and RBI totals just slightly below. That would be an impressive year for a player who is 36 and many suspect to be on the decline.
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This table shows Utley’s decline through 2014. In order for him to achieve these “best case” numbers, Utley will have to stay consistent. If his knees hold up again, and he is able to remain consistent over a 5-6 month period, Utley can achieve these numbers.
Unfortunately, it is a catch-22. If Utley stays consistent until the trade deadline, there may be a greater likelihood of him getting dealt. Chase would need to approve such a trade, but assuming the Phillies are going nowhere, I would expect Utley to at least consider the idea of playing for a contender.
Worst Case Scenario: .240/10 homers/ 58 RBIs
Well, those are some ugly numbers, especially for a player who has been as elite as Chase Utley. But they represent the substantial decline that is quite possible with him at this point. It would be about even with the decline that Carlos Ruiz is experiencing at age 36.
Utley’s power numbers have already dropped substantially. Not just in homers, but his other extra-base hits as well. One of Utley’s fortes over the years has been finding ways to get on-base. But with his OBP dropping steadily, it is difficult to imagine that he can remain consistent for a full season.
Chase is also not as durable as in his younger days. He played 155 games last year, but you saw from the above chart how difficult it was for him to keep playing at a high level. Any injury troubles, such as he experienced on and off through the 2011-13 period, would further hurt his chances of remaining consistent.
I do believe that Chase can remain consistently competitive in nature, but unfortunately I can also see him playing consistently poor baseball. I think there is a reasonable chance that he may hit around .250 over the entire year, and each month I expect to see his average and OBP drop.
As I said right from the beginning here, Chase Utley is my favorite Phillies player. It hurts me to predict something like this, but unless he magically finds a way to turn his body clock back five years to 2010, this is what most likely is going to happen.