Chase Utley

Power purge

In 2011, for the second straight season, Chase Utley’s offensive performance left people worrying if the old Utley was gone forever. Since the start of the 2010 season, he has now hit 267/367/435 over his last 965 plate appearances. Utley made his debut with the Phils in 2003 and got 287 plate appearances with the team in 2004. From 2005 through 2009, Utley hit 301/388/535 over 3,374 plate appearances.

First things first — a .367 on-base percentage over the last two years is better than fine. In 2011, there were 99 NL batters who got at least 400 plate appearances and 16 of them on-based better than .367. Even in his two down years combined, Utley still hit for more power than an average NL second baseman. Over the last two years, his isolated power is .168. Last year in the NL, the average NL second baseman’s isolated power was .123. But a lot better than average or not, it’s not 301/388/535 and the Chase Utley of the last two years hasn’t been the same guy we saw earlier in his career.

Here’s the percentage of plate appearances for Chase Utley that have ended in hits, walks, strikeouts, singles, doubles, triples, home runs or an extra-base hit of any kind for the years 2005 through 2009 and for 2010 and 2011:

Years PA H BB SO 1B 2B 3B HR XBH
’05-’09 3374 25.9 9.9 16.1 15.1 5.8 0.7 4.3 10.8
’10-’11 965 22.8 10.6 11.4 14.9 4.2 0.8 2.8 7.9

The good news is that over the last two years, Utley has been more likely to walk in a plate appearance and less likely to strike out. His triples are up a tiny bit and the percentage of his plate appearances in which he got a single is only down a little. The bad news is pretty much everything else — hits overall are way down and his plate appearances were far less likely to end in a double or a home run.

Not shown on the table above are the overall percentage of his hits that went for extra-bases. From 2005 through 2009 it was 41.7%, in 2010 and 2011 combined it was 34.5%.

Over the last two years, Utley has hit 27 home runs in 965 plate appearances. From 2005 to 2009, he averaged 29.2 home runs a season. If he had hit home runs at his 2005-2009 rate over his 965 plate appearances in ’10 and ’11 combined, he would have hit about 41.8.

When you look at his left-right power over the last two years, it’s up and down. In 2010 he was a monster against lefties and miserable against righties. In 2011, he was up against righties, but still way below his ’05-’09 numbers, and way down against lefties.

When you combine his isolated power numbers for ’05-’09 against lefties and righties, though, and compare them to the same numbers in 2010 and 2011 combined, the numbers are dramatic:

Vs Lefties Vs Righties
Years AB AVG SLG ISO AB AVG SLG ISO
’05-’09 958 285 501 216 1951 309 551 242
’10-’11 243 247 461 214 580 276 424 148

So, against lefties, despite the up and down over the last two years, in 2010 and 2011 his isolated power is almost exactly what it was from 2005 through 2009 (.216 from ’05 to ’09 and .214 from ’10 to ’11).

Against righties it was .242 from 2005 to 2009, but .148 in 2010 and 2011 combined. Utley’s numbers took a dive against righties in 2010 when he hit just 266/371/381 against them. He got better in 2011, while at the same time dropping off dramatically after a huge year against left-handed pitching. Even in 2011, though, he wasn’t hitting with as much power against righties as he had from ’05 to ’09. In 2011, Utley hit 285/362/467 against righties, giving him an isolated power mark of .182. That’s a whole lot better than the .114 he put up in 2010, but still a lot worse than anything he did in the six-year span from 2005 to 2009. During that stretch, his worst mark for isolated power was in 2009 — that season he hit 279/387/489 against righties, giving with an isolated power of .211 (nearly a hundred points better than in 2011).

Final note is that his isolated power against lefties over the last two years matches up with the previous six only because of his huge results against lefties in 2010. In 2011, his isolated power mark against lefties was .121 as he hit just .187 and slugged .308 against lefties. That’s almost as bad as the .114 against righties in 2010. Against lefties, his worst mark in any year 2005 to 2009 was 2006 when he put up and isolated power of .162 against left-handed pitching.

Ryan Madson’s agent and Amaro seem to have differing opinions about what happened before Madson agreed to pitch for the Reds.

The Phils will get two picks for losing Madson.

This says that the Phillies released John Bowker so he could sign a deal to play in Japan.

This suggests the Phils may be trying to sign right-handed reliever Jeremy Accardo to a minor league deal. Accardo was great with the Blue Jays in 2007 and good in limited action with them in 2009. He was bad in 2008 and threw to a 6.09 ERA in 44 1/3 innings in 2010 and 2011 combined.

This says the Phillies are hopeful that Howard will return to the lineup sometime in May.


Ooze views

With the ooze just about over, Bobby Abreu, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are likely atop most lists of the best hitters for the Phils over the past ten years. Here’s what Abreu, Utley and Howard did for the Phillies in the 00′s:

  Years PA AVG/OBP/SLG OPS OPS+
Abreu 2000-2006 4634 298/412/510 .922 137
Utley 2003-2009 3813 295/379/523 .902 129
Howard 2004-2009 3145 279/376/586 .961 142

Howard hit 222 home runs, which is by far the most of the trio. Despite getting about 1,500 fewer plate appearances, Howard also drove in about as many runs as Abreu. Abreu nipped him 647 to 640 with Utley lagging behind with 585. Pat Burrell hit more home runs in the decade (251) and drove in more runs (827) than any of the three, but had nine seasons to do it and hit just .257 for the Phils in those years.

Here are the rates that Abreu, Utley and Howard registered hits, walks, extra-base hits, doubles and triples and home run runs per 100 plate appearances while playing for the Phillies in 2000 through 2009:

 
H/100

BB/100

XBH/100

(2B+3B)/100

HR/100

Abreu

24.5

16.3

10.1

6.7

3.4

Utley

25.6

9.4

10.6

6.4

4.2

Howard

23.8

12.9

11.7

4.7

7.1

Utley and Abreu both got hits at a better rate than Howard and were a lot more likely to hit a double or a triple. Utley doesn’t keep pace with Abreu or Howard when it comes to walks and Howard just buries the rest of the group in hitting home runs.

Howard seems like he’s clearly the best Phillies hitter of the decade, but all those times that Abreu failed to make an out makes it a little closer than I would have guessed. Here’s the percentage of plate appearance in which each of the three got hits or walks, singles or walks, extra-base hits or walks or home runs or walks for the decade:

  H or BB 1B or BB XBH or BB HR or BB
Abreu 40.8 30.7 26.3 19.7
Utley 35.1 24.5 20.0 13.7
Howard 36.8 25.0 24.6 20.0

Looking at the home runs or walks category can obviously be misleading because a home run is a whole lot better than a walk and the fact that he drew so many walks is what allows Abreu to hang with Howard. The fact that he hit so many home runs is what makes Howard the best hitter of the group, though.

Finally, the reason that Utley’s rate of getting hits or walks is worse than Howard’s despite the fact that he had a better on-base percentage is in large part because Utley is so regularly hit by a pitch. He was hit by a pitch about 3 1/2 times as often as Howard for the decade and about seven times as often as Abreu during Abreu’s plate appearances with the Phillies. If we changed the hit or walk column to hit, walk or hit by pitch, Utley would top Howard 37.9 to 37.6. Utley got 668 more plate appearances than Howard in the decade but was hit 107 times compared to 25 for Howard.

On the other hand, Howard was given a lot more intentional walks than Utley was and by a margin that was very similar to the margin for hit by pitches. Howard was walked intentionally 105 times while Utley was passed intentionally just 25.

The middle chart suggests that Howard has walked more often than Utley. He has. The gap shrinks, though, if you take out all of the plate appearances in which Howard or Utley have been given an intentional walk. With all of those plate appearances eliminated, Howard drew walks in 301 of 3,040 (9.9%) of his plate appearances while Utley drew walks in 335 of his 3,813 (8.8%) of his.

The Phillies have picked up their 2011 option on Rollins. Rollins will make $8.5 million in 2011. The linked article points out that the Phillies will have Ruiz, Howard, Utley, Rollins, Polanco, Ibanez and Victorino all under contract for 2011 with Werth as the only position player of their starting eight becoming a free agent. Pitchers Halladay, Hamels, Happ, Lidge and Madson will also remain under Phillies control for 2011.

Fernando Rodney signed with the Angels.

The Phillies may be close to signing righty reliever Danys Baez or righty reliever Mike MacDougal.

This says that the Phillies have an agreement in place with a reliever that will not be announced until the first week of January and that “the team’s recent focus has been on free-agent reliever Danys Baez.”

Adding either of Baez or MacDougal would be good news for the Phils.

This says that Chan Ho Park is unlikely to re-sign with the Phillies.


Brother, can you spare $115,384 so we can beat the Nats 6-2 instead of 5-2?

The rise to super-stardom by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard has helped bring the Phillies a championship and a whole lot of spectacular moments. It has also brought a payroll challenge. Utley and Howard have been fantastic offensive players over the last four seasons. They were great four years ago, great last year and the Phillies are counting on them to keep on being great in 2010. But while the amount of offense they are producing hasn’t improved over the past four years, the amount of money that the Phillies have to pay them to produce it has.

The chart below shows the number of runs they each created in 2009 (as calculated by Baseball-Reference), their ’09 salary and the salary over runs created. It also shows the same information for the 2006 season.

  Runs
Created
Salary $/RC
Howard ’09 130 $15,000,000 $115,384
Howard ’06 169 $355,000 $2,100
       
Utley ’09 130 $11,285,714 $86,813
Utley ’06 136 $500,000 $3,676

The point here is not that Utley and Howard are overpaid. It’s also not that they’re anything but great offensive players. They are — in 2006, Howard led the NL in runs created and Utley was fifth. In 2009 they tied for fifth in the league with 130 runs created.

The point is that in 2009 they created about the same or less offense and it cost the Phillies about 55 times as much for Howard to produce a run as it did in 2006 and about 23 1/2 times as much for Utley.

Last year the Phillies spent about $57.1 million to pay their offensive players and scored 820 runs. Let’s pretend that for each of the past four years the Phillies had spent $57.1 million on offensive players and also tried to score the 820 runs they did in 2009. Using runs created as the measurement, the amount of offense produced by Utley and Howard is not improving. It’s high, but has stayed very much the same for Utley since ’06 and gone down a little for Howard. So to get to 820 every year they get similar offense from Howard and Utley, but need to get the same contribution from the players who aren’t Utley and Howard and have a lot less money to pay them.

The Phillies didn’t pay their offensive players $57.1 million in 2006. If they had, though, the $855,000 they paid Utley and Howard would have accounted for about 1.5% of the offensive payroll. In 2009, the $26,285,714 was about 46% of $57.1 million. With Utley and Howard producing at about the same rates in both years it would leave the Phils about $56.2 million to pay non-Utley or Howard players in 2006 and about $30.8 million to pay them in 2009.

If Utley and Howard do the same thing every year, that’s about half the money to acquire players from whom you need the same result.

Of course, the Phillies payroll isn’t staying the same year after year. It’s rising. With help from USA Today’s Baseball Salary Database we see that in 2006 the Phillies payroll was about $88.3 million and in 2009 it was about $113 million.

The problem is, though, that it wasn’t rising as fast as the salaries for Utley and Howard. The table below shows the payroll for each of those years, how much Utley and Howard combined to make and how much all of the players on payroll other than Utley and Howard combined to make:

  Payroll Utley and
Howard
All
players other than Utley and Howard
2009 $113,004,046 $26,285,714 $86,718,332
2006 $88,273,333 $855,000 $87,418,333

So despite the fact that the Phillies spent almost $25 million more on payroll in 2009 than in 2006, they spent less to pay players that were not Utley and Howard.

Again, Utley and Howard are great but they’re not getting better. If the goal is to get the same or better results from the rest of the team it leaves the Phillies with less money to do so.

Good news, though. Just about everyone seems to think that the Phillies payroll for 2010 will be about $140 million. Let’s pretend it is exactly that. Knowing that Howard will make $19 million in 2010 and Utley will make $15 million, we can add 2010 to the list:

  Payroll Utley and
Howard
All
players other than Utley and Howard
2009 $113,004,046 $26,285,714 $86,718,332
2006 $88,273,333 $855,000 $87,418,333
       
2010 $140,000,000 $34,000,000 $106,000,000

Nifty. So compared to 2006, the Phillies didn’t spend more money on players other than Utley and Howard than they did in 2009, but they sure will in 2010 (if their payroll really is $140 million).

Finally, a payroll jump from $113 to $140 million would be a huge one for the Phillies. By total dollars the jump of about $27 million from the 2009 payroll would be the biggest for the team in more than 20 years. By percentage things get weirder — remember that the Phillies went to the World Series in 1993 with a payroll under $27 million. So things have changed. Still, $140 million is about 123.9% of $113 million, which would be the biggest percentage jump for the Phils since 2004. In 2003 the payroll was about $70.8 million. In 2004 it rose to about $93.2 million — the ’04 payroll was about 131.7% of the ’03 payroll after a jump of about $22.4 million.

This suggests that the Phillies might be offering JA Happ and one of Domonic Brown or Michael Taylor in a deal for Halladay. Really? I would be surprised if that happened.

The Phillies took 24-year-old right-handed pitcher David Herndon in the first round of the Rule 5 draft. John Sickels writes about him here. You can see the results of the Rule 5 draft here.

Pedro Feliz and Brandon Lyon will both be Astros.


Relief grief

The final point I’d like to make on Utley and Howard related to having them hitting back-to-back is that in 2008, both Utley and Howard didn’t fare well against relief pitching. This is a change from recent years when, by OPS, they had both put up very good numbers against relievers and numbers that were much closer to their overall OPS for the season.

There were 12 hitters that got at least 200 plate appearances for the Phillies in 2008. Of those, four put up a higher OPS in their plate appearances against relief pitchers than they did in their plate appearances against starting pitchers. Here they are, ordered by the difference between the OPS they put up against starters and relievers:

  Total vs Starter vs Reliever  
 
PA

OPS

PA

OPS

PA

OPS

Diff

Victorino
627
.799
409
.749
218
.892

.143

Rollins
625
.786
412
.744
213
.872

.128

Burrell
645
.875
424
.835
221
.955

.120

Ruiz
373
.620
221
.614
152
.628

.014

So by OPS, Ruiz was better against relief pitchers than he was against starting pitchers, but just by a tiny bit. Victorino at the top of the list was better against them also, but by a wider margin.

And then there’s a longer list of players who were better against starters. Here they are, again with the players with the largest difference between what they did against relievers and starters at the top:

  Total vs Starter vs Reliever  
 
PA

OPS

PA

OPS

PA

OPS

Diff

Utley

707

.915

470

.990

237

.763

.227

Howard

700

.881

445

.962

255

.737

.225

Bruntlett

238

.594

129

.684

109

.484

.200

Dobbs

240

.824

131

.904

109

.727

.177

Werth

482

.861

295

.927

187

.753

.174

Jenkins

322

.694

200

.745

122

.608

.137

Feliz

463

.705

266

.729

197

.672

.057

Coste

305

.748

171

.768

134

.722

.044

Utley and Howard are at the top of that list, and the difference in what they did against relievers and starters is larger than the difference for any of the players in either group.

Even while the difference between their total OPS and OPS against relievers is very large, it’s important to realize that Utley and Howard still hit relief pitching well compared to the other guys on the team. For example, they both have a bigger difference between their total OPS and OPS against relievers than Bruntlett, who hit a miserable 158/252/232 against relief pitching in ’08, but that’s because they had a lot further to drop. Utley’s .763 OPS against relievers is still better than anybody on the team except for three guys on the top list who hit relievers better than starters, Burrell, Rollins and Victorino.

The huge drop off in numbers against relievers in 2008 is something new for Utley and Howard.

Looking back at 2006 and 2007, in 2006 Utley was about as good against relievers as he was overall. In 2007 he put up an OPS against relief pitchers that was better than his OPS overall. But 2008 was a different story:

utleyvsrel.jpg

For Howard, his OPS against relievers wasn’t quite as good as his overall OPS in ’06 and ’07. But he was still hitting them hard, putting up an OPS of over .900 against relief pitching in both years. And then it dropped way down in 2008:

howardvsrel.jpg

All of Howard’s OPS-related numbers were down in 2008, but his numbers against relievers were down by even more.

The why of all this is the hard part. I don’t know. It’s tempting to suggest that the two lefties hitting back-to-back is the problem in that it allows a team to bring in its best left-handed reliever to deal with both of them. The problem with that is that the Phils hit Utley and Howard back-to-back in the three and four holes regularly in 2007 and both players pounded relief pitching.

I still think I’d be looking to put a right-handed hitter in-between Utley and Howard. I don’t think the Phillies will, though, based on what they’ve done in the past and the issues they have with the right-handed hitters in the lineup for 2009.

Utley says he likes the balance of the offense in terms of lefties, righties and switch-hitters. I agree that the three righties, three lefties and two switch-hitters is nice — I think the issue is that of the three righties, two of them (Feliz and Ruiz) are players whose value comes a lot from their defense rather than what they do with the bat.

This suggests that Utley could return to game action before the end of March.

Article about Mike Koplove’s ties to Philadelphia here.


Seriously, though, the Phillies could use a right-handed hitter. Maybe two.

Yesterday’s point was that both Utley and Howard are facing lefties more regularly than other elite left-handed hitters in baseball. Today’s is that this is a bigger deal for Utley than it is for Howard. By OPS, over the last three years the difference between what the two did against right-handed and left-handed pitching has been much more dramatic for Howard than it has been for Utley. Over the last two years, Utley has been the better hitter against lefties by a wide margin while Howard has struggled.

Here’s Howard’s total OPS, his OPS against righties and against lefties over the past three years:

howardops.jpg

First of all, just wow. That’s pretty much what you would hope that chart wouldn’t look like. That said, though, the focus of this post is the difference between what Howard does against right-handed pitching, the purple line, and what he does against left-handed pitching, the orange line. Over the three years they have been separated by between 220 points (in 2008 he put up an .746 OPS against lefties and a .966 OPS against righties) and 246 points (in ’07 he was 1.072 against righties and .826 against lefties).

The other point is that the .746 OPS against lefties, Howard put up a 224/294/451 line against them in ’08, isn’t good.

For Utley, the difference between what he’s done against righties and lefties is much smaller. His OPS against left-handed hitting has been better than Howard’s by at least a hundred points for each of the past two seasons:

utley2ops.jpg

Over the past three seasons, the biggest difference between the OPS that Utley posted against lefties and righties came in 2007. His OPS against righties was just seventy-seven points higher in that season (for Howard the smallest difference over the past two years has been two hundred and twenty points).

In 2007, Utley put up an .927 OPS against lefties, which was more than hundred points higher than the .826 put up by Howard. Utley’s .888 against lefties in ’08 was 142 points higher than Howard’s .746.

This suggests that Utley may be more ready for opening day than Feliz.

Long SI article about Cole Hamels and family.


Left doubt

Off the Mets now and on to the lineup and whether or not it’s a big deal that the Phils hit Utley and Howard back-to-back as well as the general problem with the lack of right-handed hitters on the team. Three related points coming in this and upcoming posts: 1) (today!) Utley and Howard get a higher percentage of their plate appearances against left-handed pitching than many of the other elite left-handed hitters in baseball 2) this is a bigger deal for Howard than it is for Utley and 3) whether it’s because they hit back-to-back or not, in 2008 Utley and Howard both had numbers against relief pitchers that were a) bad and b) worse than they had been in recent years.

Pretty much I’m thinking that a lineup that goes Utley-Howard-Ibanez 3-4-5 isn’t the way to go (or the way the Phillies will go).

Today’s point is that Utley and Howard get more of their plate appearances against left-handed hitting than many of the other best left-handed hitters in baseball.

In 2008, Howard and Utley each got about 38% of their plate appearances against left-handed pitching. By OPS, Utley was the best left-handed hitter (.915) in the NL in ’08 and Howard was fifth best (.881). If you compare the percentage of their plate appearances that came against lefties for 2008 to the percentage of plate appearances that came against lefties for the four other top hitters in the NL, Utley and Howard faced lefties more often.

The chart below presents, for the six left-handed NL hitters with at least 500 plate appearances in 2008 who posted the best OPS, the percentage of their plate appearances that have come against left-handed pitchers in 2008 and in ’06 and ’07:

nlvleft.jpg

In 2006, Adam Dunn got 32.8% of his plate appearances against lefties while Howard got 32.0% of his plate appearances against lefties. Since then, though, none of the rest of the group has gotten as high a percentage of their plate appearances against lefties. That adds up to a lot of plate appearances. Brian McCann, for example, has had 1,617 total plate appearances over the past three years and 480 (29.7%) have come against lefties. Utley has had 2,059 total plate appearances and 752 of them, 36.5%, of them have come against lefties. So Utley has had 442 more total plate appearances, but 272 of them have come against left-handed pitching.

Utley and Howard are also getting a higher percentage of their plate appearances against lefties than the top left-handed hitters in the American League. By OPS, here are the top six left-handed hitters in the AL from 2008 and the percentage of their plate appearances that have come against lefties over the past three years:

alvleft.jpg

The highest mark for that group for the last three years is the 35.5% of Justin Morneau’s plate appearances that came against left-handed pitchers in 2008. Utley and Howard have both faced a higher percentage of lefties in each of the last two seasons.

It should also be noted that, like Utley and Howard, in 2008 Morneau hit almost exclusively behind another very good left-handed hitter. The Twins lineup regularly featured Joe Mauer hitting third and Morneau in the cleanup slot.

Interesting Q&A with Pat Gillick here in which he suggests the Phillies might have been willing to bring Burrell back but the length of the contract that Burrell was looking for was a problem. I also find it fascinating given how regularly Gillick wins the World Series that when asked why he pushed for the Ibanez signing the first thing he mentions is that Ibanez will be a positive influence in the clubhouse. Gillick also suggests that Ibanez may hit for more power at Citizens Bank Park and that he hits left-handed pitching well.

In this article, Charlie Manuel says that Ibanez has hit lefties well for the last few years. Ibanez smoked lefties to the tune of 305/368/497 in 2008, but hit 256/294/356 against them in 2007 and 243/301/362 against them in ’06.

This article says that Feliz hasn’t swung a bat since his surgery in November. Also says that Feliz expects to be ready for the start of the season.


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