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May 05, 2015

Chase Utley is hitting .103, and everyone is rightfully pretty concerned

Despite being unlucky at the plate, "The Man" is trending in the wrong direction

The baseball season is a long grind, and to make it through that sometimes-arduous journey, the media periodically latches onto trends and makes that trend a story. Add up all of those trends (chapters) after 162 games and you hopefully end up with a longer story, whatever genre it is, because you of course can’t predict ball.

The most recent trend, and to be clear, this is my interpretation: OH MY GOD IS CHASE UTLEY GOING TO GET ANOTHER HIT EVER AGAIN?!?!?!?!

It has been pretty tough to watch. Let’s push the numbers to the side for a second, but only for a second, because those numbers are “worst player in Little League that bats 11th and exclusively plays right field” level. I’m not a scout, but to me it doesn’t seem like Utley’s short swing or bat speed is that much different than it used to be. Yet even if the difference in mechanics isn’t very noticeable, the crater in his production screams that it’s there.

Even as this season still is fairly young, a .103 batting average sticks out like a sore thumb. Yes, he’s been comically unlucky with a .082 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Eventually, that promises to turn around as some bloopers will drop safely and a few ground balls will find their way between two fielders. The problem is that although Utley’s brutal numbers are partially due to bad luck, he’s hitting fewer line drives and more ground balls than his career averages. That’s not a good trade-off, and I’ll let Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley explain:

If one or two of those fly balls to right-center dropped for a double in St. Louis and a few grounders found their way into the outfield throughout the first month, he’d still have miserable numbers. Utley hasn’t just been unlucky; he has simply not been making the type of hard contact that led him to so much success earlier in his career.

I love how specific you can get with baseball statistics. Think that Utley isn’t hitting the ball very hard? Look up his line drive rate and see that it’s almost five percent lower (16%, from 20.6%) than his career average. Baer’s larger point stands, too. Even if the numbers aren’t quite as bad as they seem, Utley’s peripheral statistics don’t indicate that a major turnaround is coming. When a red-hot 2014 start that saw him post a .965 OPS in April and obscured a steep decline for the rest of that season is taken into consideration, winter might already be here for “The Man.”

I don’t think benching him is the answer, because the Phillies aren’t playing any meaningful games the rest of the season and there isn’t a top prospect that he’s blocking. Sitting down a struggling potential Hall of Famer for Cesar Hernandez doesn’t feel like a solution. Then again, watching Utley continue to not hit into the dog days doesn’t sound very appealing, either.

That’s basically the story of the 2015 Phillies: There Are No Right Answers. If the team wishes to use that specific title for the video yearbook, I don’t require any royalties.