Results tagged ‘ Chase Utley ’
It’s been a while, I know. I took a few days away from the blog to recharge the batteries. But it’s back to baseball tonight at Citizens Bank Park.
This week is a good test for the Phillies. They went 4-3 in San Francisco and Arizona and return home to play five games against the Indians and Reds. The Indians outscored the Phillies in two games two weeks ago in Cleveland, 20-2. The Reds swept the Phillies in three games in April by a combined score 16-4. If my math is correct, that’s zero wins, five losses, six runs for and 36 runs against. So I guess we’ll see if that 4-3 road trip meant anything.
A few random stats to digest:
- From Elias Sports Bureau: Ryan Howard drove in the game-winning runs in the 10th inning Sunday. It’s the 13th time Howard has had extra-inning go-ahead RBIs. The only active players with more extra-inning, lead-assuming RBIs are Raul Ibanez (16) and Placido Polanco (15). Adam Jones and Albert Pujols also have 13.
- I took a look in yesterday’s Inbox at the Phillies’ All-Star candidates. Interestingly, I found Chase Utley‘s .858 OPS best among NL second basemen. He’s third in baseball behind only Ian Kinsler (.911) and Robinson Cano (.895). Among NL second basemen, Utley is first in slugging percentage (.514); tied for first in triples (two) and home runs (seven); second in hits (41) and RBIs (24); third in batting (.289) and on-base percentage (.344); tied four fourth in runs (21) and sixth in doubles (seven). There is no question Utley has been the team’s bright spot offensively on a team that has struggled to score runs. (The Phillies’ three losses in San Francisco and Arizona were by a combined three runs.) Where would this team be if Utley’s knees were keeping him from the lineup?
- The Phillies are 12th in the league with a 4.11 ERA. Remove Roy Halladay and they have a 3.60 ERA, which would rank sixth. I’ve said this for a while, but I consider the complaints about the Phillies’ pitching overblown. Halladay isn’t the same and he might never be, despite his optimism. No matter who takes that fifth spot while Halladay is out (right now it’s a four-man rotation), it’ll be an improvement over his 8.65 ERA. And while the ERAs of Jeremy Horst (5.51 ERA), Chad Durbin (6.17 ERA) and Raul Valdes (7.00 ERA) are scary, we’re not really pinning this team’s record on three pitchers in the front of the bullpen are we? Typically those guys are pitching when the Phillies are trailing or when the starter has gone less than six innings (again, which means things probably haven’t been going well). They aren’t pitching in too many high-leverage situations. Clearly, they need to pitch better, but this team’s problems fall mostly on the offense, which is 13th in the league averaging 3.54 runs per game. At some point this offense is going to have to get its act together or we’ll be looking at a fire sale in July.
He finally split up Chase Utley and Ryan Howard with right-handed-hitting Michael Young.
I think it was long overdue.
Theoretically, it should make life more difficult for left-handed pitchers. Utley entered the game against the Pirates hitting .125 (2-for-16) with one triple, one RBI, two walks and five strikeouts against lefties this season. Howard entered the night hitting .111 (2-for-18) with two doubles, one RBI, one walk and 10 strikeouts against them.
But their struggles against lefties are not coming from a small sample size. Utley has hit .197 with a .634 OPS against lefties from 2011-13. Howard has hit .199 with a .608 OPS against lefties in that span.
They essentially have been automatic outs against lefties for two-plus seasons. Young has not been much better this year, hitting .200 (3-for-15) against lefties, although he has a much more than respectable .832 OPS against them from 2011-13. But simply having a right-handed hitter between Utley and Howard will make opposing managers think a little more late in games. Before Wednesday, managers could just run a left-handed reliever to the mound to face Utley and Howard in succession. Now the lefty will have to face a right-handed hitter, or the manager has to remove him from the game, if he does not want him facing Young.
“I can see how that would be beneficial,” Utley said.
It also makes perfect sense to keep this look against right-handed starting pitchers, too, but Manuel was noncommittal.
“I could,” he said. “It depends how we match up.”
He absolutely should use this look against right-handers, too. By having Utley and Howard hit back-to-back against a right-handed starter the Phillies essentially are banking on getting to the starter in the first five or six innings. If they don’t, which often has been the case this season, things get easy again for the opposing manager late in the game.
“I think it’s going to be a fun summer,” he said afterward.
He certainly can help the cause. Utley, who started each of the previous two seasons on the disabled list because of knee problems, is healthy and hitting .316 (12-for-38) with two doubles, two triples, two home runs and 10 RBIs in 10 games. He has reached base safely in every game this season, and last night was his second game-winning RBI of the year. He ranks first in the NL in triples. He is tied for third in RBIs, tied for eighth in extra-base hits (six) and tied for ninth in total bases (24).
He is looking like the Utley from 2005-09, when he was the best second baseman in the game. It is just 10 games, but it is encouraging.
- You should be worried about Roy Halladay. Despite protests from Halladay and everybody else in the Phillies clubhouse and front office, Halladay has not looked good since 2011. So this isn’t a four or five start slump. This is a slump that has extended beyond one full calendar year. It started in Spring Training 2012 and has lasted through his first two starts in 2013. Besides a drop in velocity, Halladay’s ERA from 2010-11 to 2012-13 has jumped from 2.40 to 4.95, while his strikeout-to-walk ratio has plummeted from 6.75 to 3.43. He is going the wrong direction in every relevant statistic. Maybe he can figure out things and be productive, but right now there is no evidence to suggest he is close. He faces the wretched Marlins on Sunday. They’ve had Placido Polanco and Greg Dobbs hitting cleanup. It is a good opportunity to have some success on the mound. Maybe it gets him going.
- Don’t be worried about Cole Hamels. If we’re at Defcon 2 with Halladay, we’re at Defcon 5 with Hamels. There is nothing to see here. Please, disperse.
- It’s more the rotation than the bullpen. Phillies starters have a 6.24 ERA, which ranks 28th in baseball. That is the biggest issue right now, not middle relievers like Chad Durbin, Jeremy Horst and Raul Valdes. Certainly they need to do a better job. They have allowed 12-of-15 inherited runners to score. That 80 percent mark is the worst in baseball. (Technically, the Reds have allowed 100 percent of their inherited runners to score, but they’re only 1-for-1.) But the middle relievers have been pitching too much and have put into too many tough situations. That blame falls on the starters. They are the ones that need to do better. They are supposed to pitch deep into games and they have not done that nearly enough.
- The Phillies rank seventh in the National League, averaging 4.67 runs per game. They have looked better recently, and they show some potential. Chase Utley, Michael Young and Jimmy Rollins are swinging well right now. Domonic Brown has been OK. I believe Ryan Howard will be better than he has been. The only drag right now is Ben Revere. He has struck out seven times in 38 at-bats. That’s 5.86 plate appearances per strikeout. He struck out 54 times last season, or once every 10.24 plate appearances. John Mayberry Jr. has been productive, but even if he continues to swing well the Phillies are going with Delmon Young in right field when he is ready. Add Young and Carlos Ruiz to the lineup before the end of the month and this lineup has a chance to score some runs.
- Utley looks like the guy that earned the “Best Second Baseman in Baseball” tag from 2005-09.
- Cliff Lee can be streaky. The Phillies should be thankful he started on a good streak, otherwise they’d be in deep doo-doo.
“I know Chase suggested drilling a few guys this year so I might mix that in.”
He seems to have taken that suggestion to heart. After Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg hit Chase Utley with a pitch on his left foot in the third inning today at Bright House Field, Halladay threw behind Nationals designated hitter Tyler Moore’s back in the fourth inning.
“Yeah, that one slipped a little bit,” said Halladay, easing out a slight smile. “It slipped. That’s not necessarily the case, but I think we do need to protect our guys to an extent. I’m not saying that’s what happened. It slipped, but I think that’s important. We’ve had a lot of guys hit over the years. I think as a staff we need to do a good job of protecting those guys. Spring Training, I don’t think you’re necessarily trying to do it. But it wouldn’t have been the worst thing had it got him after getting one of our good guys.”
Remain calm, all is well.
Chase Utley got scratched from today’s lineup just minutes before a 4-3 victory over the Yankees in a Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. Hearts skipped a beat in the Delaware Valley as Utley has missed the previous two springs because of chronically injured knees.
But it wasn’t an injury that removed Utley from the lineup.
It was wet field conditions.
The field received a ton of rain before the game and the infield tarp was dumped in shallow right-field, which obviously is where Utley could be chasing down a pop up. So Charlie Manuel decided to play things safe and sit him.
Told he gave folks a scare, Manuel said, “What’s new? I give them a scare all the time. Knee jerk. Chicken Little. The world is coming to an end. I see it every day. You know? How many games have we played? I see it all the time, even when you win.”
He had Chase Utley hitting second, Michael Young hitting third and Ryan Howard hitting fourth.
First, I like this because it splits up Utley and Howard. There once was a time hitting Utley and Howard back-to-back made sense because both hit relatively well against lefties. But that no longer is the case. Utley has hit .202 with a .645 OPS against them the previous two seasons, while Howard has hit .205 with a .623 OPS against them. Put them back-to-back and it’s a gift for opposing managers late in the game. Just run out your left-handed specialist and get out of the inning.
Second, there have been studies that suggest teams should hit their best hitter second because he is still capable of driving in the leadoff man, plus his high on-base percentage allows him to get on base for the team’s other top hitters. So forget that, “We need a contact guy that can advance the runner in the two-hole.” Put Utley second.
Third, I simply think Young is the team’s best option to hit third at this point. He’s going to hit left-handers: he hit .333 with a .794 OPS against them last season, and has hit .314 with an .836 OPS against them in his career. So that makes things a little more difficult for opposing managers late in the game. Now, I’ve heard some people say, ‘Young doesn’t hit home runs.’ True, he doesn’t hit home runs, but if he moves toward his 2011 season (it’s too early to say either way which Young we will see this season) he should come up with enough extra-base hits to drive in enough runs to warrant the third spot.
Now, Jimmy Rollins: I want him hitting first. Each spot in a lineup is worth about 18 plate appearances per season. So the further you drop Rollins, the fewer at-bats he gets. If you want to take advantage of Rollins’ power and hit him fifth, you are costing him 72 plate appearances over the course of the season. I know there’s been a big push for Ben Revere to hit first, but after examining the numbers a little more closely I disagree. Rollins hit .250 with a .316 on-base percentage, .427 slugging percentage and .743 OPS last season. Revere hit .294 with a .333 on-base percentage, .342 slugging percentage and .675 OPS. I agree with Manuel when he said Rollins’ .250 was more productive than Revere’s .294. And again, I simply don’t want to cut Rollins’ plate appearances because Revere had a higher on-base percentage than Rollins (by just 17 points, mind you) for just one season. It’s worth noting here that Revere’s career on-base percentage is .319 compared to Rollins’ .328.
Yes, Rollins has a higher on-base percentage in his career than Revere.
That’s why I keep Rollins in the top spot.
So here’s my Opening Day lineup (not that Manuel is listening):
- Jimmy Rollins, SS
- Chase Utley, 2B
- Michael Young, 3B
- Ryan Howard, 1B
- Darin Ruf, LF
- Domonic Brown, RF
- Ben Revere, CF
- Erik Kratz, C
Feel free to agree or disagree below.
Utley, who played in today’s intrasquad game, will play in his first Spring Training game since 2010. He missed the previous two because of bad knees. Ryan Howard, who missed last spring following left Achilles surgery, also will be in the lineup.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel’s lineup looks like this:
- Ben Revere, CF
- Michael Young, 3B
- Chase Utley, 2B
- Ryan Howard, 1B
- Darin Ruf, LF
- Domonic Brown, RF
- Laynce Nix, DH
- Yuniesky Betancourt, SS
- Erik Kratz, C.
Chase Utley will start Friday’s intrasquad game at Bright House Field, and is expected to start Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Houston Astros. That is noteworthy because Utley has not played in a single Spring Training game since 2010 because of chronically injured knees.
“He’s going to get at least one at-bat (Friday),” Charlie Manuel said. “He’s going to play like two or three innings. … Yeah, he’ll probably play (Saturday). He probably won’t play Sunday. I think he worked hard this winter. The way he’s swinging right now and the way he looks, you can tell he’s willing to pay the price to get back to where he was. He wants to play quite a few more years. That’s good.”
“That’s the sentiment right now, but that can change in a month as soon as the games are played,” Durbin replied.
Wait for some games to be played. That sounds pretty reasonable. But why be reasonable when it’s more fun to speak in absolutes?
On paper I can’t argue the Phillies are the third-best team in the division. The Nationals won 98 games last season. The Braves won 94. The Phillies won just 81. And while I know the Phillies have been telling everybody they played .600 baseball from July 31 through the end of the regular season, those two teams are in a better position to win (especially the Nationals) while the Phillies have a ton of questions entering camp in a couple weeks:
- Can Roy Halladay bounce back?
- Can Chase Utley stay healthy and produce like a true No. 3 hitter?
- Can Ryan Howard hit left-handed pitching and produce like a $20 million cleanup hitter?
- Can Carlos Ruiz replicate his offensive numbers without the benefits of PEDs?
- Can Michael Young return to form and play third base regularly?
- Can Delmon Young play right field?
- Who in the world is going to play left field?
Those seven questions constitute six of the team’s eight positions in the field, plus its ace. Oof. That’s ugly. And based on e-mails and tweets this offseason, most of you agree. There are a lot of angry, upset, depressed and pessimistic Phillies fans. But relax for a moment. Follow Durbin’s lead and give them until June 1. That’s just two months of baseball. I really don’t see any need to get bent out of shape on Jan. 31. What’s the point? A colleague recalled earlier this week how experts gushed over the Marlins and Angels last winter, annointing them the clear-cut winners of the offseason. Both teams missed the postseason — the Marlins in spectacular fashion — while nearly nobody had the Nationals coming together so quickly, the A’s winning the AL West or the Orioles winning an AL Wild Card.
Another colleague posed an interesting question last week: Do the Braves’ additions of the Upton brothers and Chris Johnson make up for the losses of Chipper Jones, Martin Prado and Michael Bourn? The Braves might lead baseball in five-tool outfielders, but are they so much improved they’re completely uncatchable?
The Phillies need quite a few things to go right this season if they expect to win the division. The odds of that happening are not good. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to see them make the postseason. Their chances might not be as strong as the past few years, but this team is not doomed before camp opens. But that school of thought is not popular. It’s much better to declare clear-cut winners and losers and speak in grand absolutes. Delmong Young? Disaster waiting to happen. Michael Young? He won’t be able to play third base effectively every day. Utley? Can’t stay healthy. Halladay? Too many innings on that right arm.
Those things might end up being completely true. The Phillies might flat-out stink. They were on pace to lose 91 games on July 29. And with a few injuries and their worst fears coming true at a couple other positions, this team could lose 90 games this year. But is it more likely they lose 90 or win 88 and win the second Wild Card? I’d say 88, but I’m going to wait and see. I’m heading to Clearwater in a couple weeks. I’m going to grab some breakfast at Lenny’s, enjoy the sun and watch everything unfold.
It’s not the worst idea in the world. It’s much less stressful, too.