Will Chase Utley ever be the same? That’s the question Philadelphia Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro has been asking himself for at least three years, and he still has no idea.
The answer is no, he’ll never be the same. He was once the best Second Baseman in Major League Baseball, a perennial MVP candidate with an average Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 7.84 between 2005-09. He can never be that player again, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be effective.
He’s gotten older, and the chondromalacia in his knees has been wearing on him for a few years now. Chondromalacia is (from what I’ve learned scouring the internet) when the cartilage between the knee and the shin wears away because of overuse. Cartilage does not grow back. Long story short, what hurts Chase Utley now will probably never fully go away. However, with regular stretching and conditioning he can manage and get used to the pain.
The concern is not about Utley’s effectiveness. The concern is how often he can play. How much pain can the gritty 2B work with? Since the end of the 2008 season his games played have decreased each year:
2008 - 159
2009 - 156
2010 - 115
2011 - 103
2012 - 83
Utley has been working with chondromalacia for three seasons. By now he’s figured out a treatment that works for him and makes him feel good. Right? It makes sense that with his extended experience working with the condition that by now, after three or more years with some of the best doctors money can buy, he’s figured something out. And if he hasn’t figured it out by now, will he ever? With his contract expiring at year’s end Chase Utley could find himself contemplating retirement if he can’t put something good together.
Don’t let the doom and gloom of this article fool you, in his brief stint last season Chase played decently. If you double his statistics (half of 162 games is 81, and Utley played 83, that’s close enough for me) his line is:
22 HR / 96 R / 90 RBI / 22 SB / .256 AVG / .365 OBP / 3.2 WAR
If Chase can produce on pace with those numbers the Phils could tolerate his lower batting average, and maybe even sign him to a short contract with option years.
I think Utley will play in more games in 2013, and thus be more effective. He has worked with his condition for three years, and he’s in a contract year. I predict 135 GP and using his 2012 numbers as a baseline, this is his 135 games statistics:
18 HR / 78 R / 73 RBI / 589 AB
Sure, there are no rosters officially set yet, but the speed and experience could give Utley a boost. For the first time in years the Phillies have to prove they are worth of the post season. They are not as young as the Washington Nationals or Atlanta Braves, and they aren’t as talented either. But the Phillies have the hunger they haven’t had in years. Chase Utley is one of the foundations the Phillies are built on, for the Phillies to succeed Utley needs to play more and be effective. And I believe he will.