We continue on with the final player review for 2011. Today, Chase Utley.
From the moment I stepped foot into Bright House Field in Clearwater back in early March, it became all about Chase Utley. His every move would be scrutinized, his every step analyzed to see if the end was drawing near for the perennial All Star second baseman. A serious knee injury is just about the only thing that could put a damper on the Spring Training festivities mixed with the low-80′s temperatures.
The 2011 season was supposed to begin in sunny Florida with hope, promise, and eternal optimism – after all, the Phillies were the odds on favorite to win the World Series, having added Cliff Lee in the offseason. Instead, it was about Utley and his balky knee.
After a 2010 that limited Utley to just 115 games with injuries, the ’11 season all started with a lengthy stay on the DL as well. It was a guessing game as information on Utley’s knee injury was widely unavailable. The Phillies and Utley only spoke when necessary or when a certain plateau had been reached. As you’re well aware, Utley communicates very little and shows no emotion when doing so, so there was never a way to figure out how his knee was progressing at any point during his rehabilitation.
On May 23, Utley finally made his return to the Phillies lineup against the Cincinnati Reds. It had been two months since he spoke during Spring Training and announced that he would miss an extended period of time. As Utley does, he worked his ass off and made it back in good time. However, it was a struggle for most of the season.
Utley’s season began with an 0-for-5 against the Reds and it took him a while to get his sea legs back, so to speak.
Utley and the Phillies mentioned several times during the season that the knee injury took away some of his power; he was just trying to get back into everyday-playing-shape, so the ability to completely strengthen the leg like in previous years wasn’t really the goal. To play pain free for an extended period was, and although he remaining healthy for the better part of the year, his bat never truly caught up.
Looking at his final numbers, Utley had an OK season. They’re numbers we aren’t accustomed to seeing with Chase, but a serious knee ailment will do that to you.
Utley finished with a .259 average, 11 home runs and 44 runs batted in. His stats across the board mostly consisted of career-lows. His .769 OPS was over 200 points lower than his career high in that category. However, his 3.9 WAR placed him seventh among all second basemen, ahead of names like Weeks and Espinosa. Even with back-to-back disappointing season, Utley’s 17.6 WAR places him second at his position behind only Ben Zobrist of Tampa Bay.
Defensively, Utley gave it his all as usual, posting an 8.4 UZR in 2011. And although he has missed some time and dealt with myriad ailments recently, his 29.9 UZR from 2009-2011 has him seventh among ALL position players.
So, on the surface, it looks like Utley is slipping. That is true for his power numbers, but overall, he’s still producing at a fairly healthy clip, even if he isn’t…healthy that is.
Next season will be telling for Utley. Will he finally regain the power stroke he once possessed? It will be necessary as Ryan Howard will miss some time and the middle of the order will be hurting for some homers.
GRADE: 6.6/10 – It wasn’t vintage Utley, but it wasn’t awful, either.
UTLEY DURING SPRING TRAINING:
UTLEY FOLLOWING FIRST GAME: