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Fan Favorite Utley Struggling

Phils second baseman is in a tailspin and his output has been in decline for four years.

To fully comprehend what Chase Utley truly means to the Philadelphia Phillies, one only needs to attend a game at Citizens Bank Park, where Utley’s #26 is by far the most common jersey worn by the multitudes of Phillies fans despite the fact that the ballclub has had more productive superstars such as Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Chase Utley is considered by many to be the single most indispensable player on the team.

In many ways, Chase Utley is an imperfect superstar, a player who has fairly obvious flaws which manifest themselves for long stretches during each rigorous campaign. For one thing, Chase is prone to lengthy slumps during which time his coordination at the plate is often out of sync for significantly long stretches. 

Utley has an unusual batting approach, one in which he seems to rock his body and waggle the bat, often leaving him less than ready to time a major league offering. He often goes into prolonged slumps during which time he appears less than ready for pitches and his tendency to frequently use his upper body and his hands and not incorporate his legs and hips into his swing, has had a detrimental effect on his production.

But when his timing is on, no one is better. Utley will go through stretches when he is so locked in that he can almost single-handedly carry the team on his back.

Chase also has some other unusual traits, which sometime lead to problems. Utley, for some reason, has always used an outfielder’s glove despite playing a middle infield position.  Even as a shortstop at UCLA, Chase would employ the larger mitt and this, of course, would often lead to having to fish around for the ball in his glove in order to turn a double play.  This, no doubt, led to his frequent wont of constantly flipping backhanded tosses to his shortstops without using his right hand to search for the sphere in his oversized glove.

Another bothersome habit and one that I hope does not lead to serious injury, is that of Utley blocking second base on steal attempts or to prevent doubles, by using his unprotected thigh to block the runner.  That is a good way to require a tetanus shot due to an exuberant base-runner arriving with his spikes high.    

Chase Utley is currently in an offensive tailspin. As of the morning of September 23rd, Chase is not only batting a mere .188 against left-handed pitchers, but has managed to garner 3 hits in his last 43 at bats versus southpaws, a fairly putrid .070. What makes this an even more disturbing trend is that Utley has generally hit lefties very well throughout his career.

Chase Utley is perhaps one of the greatest instinctive players in recent memory. Major league games are won by making split second decisions, throwing to the correct base, advancing from first to third, second to home and taking an extra base when the opportunity avails itself. No one in the major leagues accomplishes these goals with more consistency than Chase Utley. He always seems to make the right choice at the correct time. 

However, there remains one statistic that is most troublesome to most observers, one that cannot be overlooked. Whether this stems from his recent spate of injuries, normal attrition or just bad luck, we cannot deny that Utley’s OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) has gone down for four consecutive seasons and with precious little time remaining in the campaign, it would take a hot streak of monumental proportions to prevent this trend from making it a fifth consecutive decrease in 2011. 

The soon to be thirty-three year-old superstar missed the initial 46 games of 2011 with a knee injury. At the time of Utley’s debut on May 23, the Phillies were 29-18, but struggling offensively. Utley’s return to the lineup immediately resulted in a resounding ten run explosion against the Cincinnati Reds, despite the fact that Utley went 0-5 and was the only starting player without a hit, however, his presence began a significant surge in which the Phillies would score nearly a run more per game although Utley’s numbers did not reflect the increase. It’s just that his mere presence in the lineup seems to energize the entire team. 

Of his many accomplishments, Utley’s four 100 RBI seasons place him in elite company for second basemen. As of September 20th, Chase has a lifetime batting average of .290 through nine seasons and he has scored 728 runs while knocking in 691. His numbers include 257 doubles, 34 triples and 157 home runs.

Of course, there is that remarkable instinct which has seen Utley accumulating 109 stolen bases while only being thrown out 13 times in his entire career, a ridiculous success rate of .926, one of the greatest marks in baseball history. As we approach the 2011 post-season, with expectations sky high for the Philadelphia Phillies, all eyes will be focused on Chase Utley to provide leadership and results. It says here that he will not disappoint.

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