How does Chase Utley do it?
For the second straight year in 2012, chronic knee pain kept him out for much of the first half of the season. But just like 2011, once Utley returned, he was good to go every day.
Utley returned in the Phillies 77th game, homered in his very first at-bat and proceeded to play 83 of the remaining 86 games, including 71 of the final 72.
He played at a high level, too. Utley hit .256, his lowest batting average since his rookie season, but had as many walks (43) as strikeouts. The result was a .365 on-base percentage. More impressive was the return of his power. Utley hit 11 homers to equal his 2011 total, but he did it in 92 fewer plate appearances.
Utley was obviously a huge upgrade over his first-half replacements. Freddy Galvis, Michael Martinez, Mike Fontenot and Pete Orr combined for a .670 OPS. Utley was at .793. Utley’s OBP was 89 points higher.
Among second basemen with at least 350 plate appearances, Utley led the NL in OBP. The only 2B in the league with a higher slugging percentage was Aaron Hill.
Defensively, Utley saved eight runs in 720.1 innings. Only second basemen Darwin Barney, Robinson Cano and Jamey Carroll saved runs at a higher rate.
On the basepaths, Utley was 11-for-12 in stolen base attempts to boost his career success rate to 89.6 percent, the highest in major-league history.
Utley is fielding grounders regularly this offseason and will try different methods to be better prepared for the start of next season. Based on how effective he was in the second half last year, there is a semblance of hope that he can re-capture the offensive magic he had from 2005-09
And even if he can’t, Utley has proven that the watered-down, 33-year-old version of himself is still one of the top second basemen in all of baseball.