Chase Utley

So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young, or slugging .659, anymore

The Phillies outscored the Mets 892 to 804 in 2007, a difference of 88 runs. That difference disappeared completely in 2008 as both teams scored an identical 799 runs. Offense was down across the league last year, but the Mets seemed less bothered than most teams. They scored five fewer runs than they had the year before while the Phillies scored 93 fewer.

There were injuries for the Phillies, most notably to Jimmy Rollins. Let’s hope that was it. Let’s hope what was not it is that the idea that the Mets are built around a pair of young stars in Reyes and Wright while the Phillies are built around a pair of young stars in Utley and Howard just isn’t as true as we’d like it to be. All four are definitely stars, part of baseball’s elite, but some of them are younger than others. Utley is 30 already and Howard turns 30 in November. Reyes won’t be 26 till June and Wright turns 27 in December. Utley and Howard, and Rollins for that matter, who turns 31 in November, are all going to start to get worse sooner than the younger Mets stars. I’m not saying that it’s started already, I don’t think it has. But it will, and when you look at some pairings of Mets and Phillies players over the past three years there are some concerning trends that help shed some light on how the difference in runs scored closed so dramatically in ’08.

Here’s the runs created, as calculated by Baseball-Reference, for Rollins and Reyes over the past three seasons:

rollinsreyes.jpg

Rollins was hurt for a lot of 2008, which will mess up your runs created, but even when he wasn’t Reyes outhit him. Reyes hit 297/358/475 for the year while Rollins hit 277/349/437.

Here’s Utley and Wright:

utleywright.jpg

After being outhit by Utley in 2006, Wright has been better in 2007 and 2008. It should also be noted that there were only four NL players whose runs created were better than the 130 that Utley put up in 2008 — Wright just happens to be one of them.

This one might be the most disturbing of all, comparing Howard and Delgado:

howarddelgado.jpg

Carlos Delgado isn’t the offensive player that Ryan Howard is, let’s not get silly here. But the similarity in the amount of offense they produced in 2008 is alarming. Even more alarming than the fact suggestion that Delgado and Howard created a similar amount of offense in 2008 is how dramatically Howard’s output has dropped since 2006 — for 169 in ’06 to 113 in ’08.

Finally, this one isn’t a natural pairing at all, but Carlos Beltran produced more offense than Burrell consistently over the past three seasons and widened the gap in 2008:

burrellbeltran.jpg

The two were very close in 2007. Both created more runs in 2008 than they had the year before, but Beltran had greater improvement between the two seasons.


Important first step is to make sure he knows that if you catch the ball in the air it doesn’t mean the pitcher is out

That’s dodgeball. Sometimes making sure of the little things can make all the difference.

Chase Utley is the undisputed king of getting hit by pitch in MLB over the past two years. In 2007 and 2008 the rate at which he was hit by pitch increased dramatically compared to the first four years of his career:

Years HBP PA % of PA
HBP
2007-2008 52 1,320 3.94
2003-2006 31 1,806 1.72

The lefty Utley has been hit at a higher rate by lefties than righties over his career, but the rate at which he has been hit by both right and left-handed pitchers has gone up in 2007 and 2008 compared to the first four years of his career:

 
vs LHP

vs RHP
Years HBP PA % PA HBP PA % HBP
2007-2008 30 503 5.96 22 817 2.69
2003-2006 12 467 2.57 19 1,339 1.42

Over the last two seasons, the rate at which he is being hit by lefties has more than doubled. The rate at which he is hit by righties has nearly doubled.

The number of times Utley is hit by pitch is especially alarming for a left-handed hitter. In the history of baseball there have been two left-handed hitters that have been as many or more times in a season as the 27 times Utley was plunked in ’08. Fernando Vina was hit 28 times in 2000 and Steve Evans was hit 31 times in 1910.

This could be part of Utley’s plan, the way he creates offense. If it is, though, it’s a bad plan and something he has come up with recently. During his minor league career, Utley was hit 45 times in 1,809 plate appearances. That’s about 2.5 percent of the time. The rate when down when he came to the Phillies in 2003, then skyrocketed when he was hit 25 times in 2007. Utley has just about the same number of minor league plate appearances as he had with the Phillies from ’03 to ’06 and was hit more often in the minors.

So maybe pitchers are hitting Utley because he’s killing them to the opposite field? Not in 2008 he wasn’t. Take a look at how often Utley went to the opposite field and the results (using the hit location data from Baseball Reference) when he went to the opposite field in 2008 compared to those of fellow lefty Ryan Howard, remembering that Utley was hit 27 times in ’08 and Howard three.

Player PA PA hit opp
field
% PA AVG SLG
Utley 707 54 7.6 .222 .296
Howard 700 66 9.4 .452 1.274

Howard went to left field a higher percentage of the time and with far better results. And he isn’t going to be scarred for life wondering why everybody hates him and keeps throwing things at him.

So why do pitchers do it? Could it be that Utley was less effective going to left in 2008 because throwing at him (or pitching him inside) is working? Here are Utley’s numbers going to the opposite field for 2006 and 2007:

Player PA PA hit opp
field
% PA AVG SLG
Utley 2007 613 79 12.9 .329 .592
Utley 2006 739 81 11.0 .333 .519

Tiny numbers, but Utley both went to the opposite field more regularly in ’06 and ’07 than he did in ’08 and had better results when he did.

The other thing I have to wonder is how much of a factor hitting in front of Ryan Howard is in terms of how often Utley gets hit. I’m just guessing now, but I would guess all three of these things are true: 1) for a left-handed hitter, hitting in front of another left-handed hitter means you face left-handed pitching more often than if you were hitting in front of a right-handed hitter 2) left-handed hitters are hit by left-handed pitchers at a higher rate than they are hit by right-handed pitchers and 3) a left-handed hitter is more likely to be hit by a left-handed pitcher if he is hitting in front of a left-handed hitter than if he is hitting in front of a right-handed hitter. Of that three item set, numbers one and two are almost surely true. Not as sure about number three.

This suggests that the Phillies are willing to pay $8 million of the $9 million that they owe Eaton for this season.

USS Mariner does not think the Ibanez signing was a stroke of genius for the Phils.

ESPN’s Keith Law is down on it, too. Law calls the signing absurd and says that Ibanez is a far worse defensive player than Burrell.

Three years, $31.5 million is the details of the deal for Ibanez. $11.5 million in 2010 and 2011 and $6.5 million in 2009 with a $2 million signing bonus. Linked article also reports the Phillies signed one-year deals with Bruntlett and Condrey. Rehabbing Scott Mathieson was signed to a minor league contract.

Update, 12/15: The Phillies signed Jamie Moyer to a two-year contract.


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