From 2010 through 2012, Kashmir by Led Zeppelin was noticeably absent from the speakers at Citizens Bank Park for a good chunk of games.
Chase Utley had missed a combined 185 games in the three seasons prior to 2013. The majority of that time missed was due to chondromalacia patellae in his knees. Utley was diagnosed with a chronic knee problem that left him averaging just .263 from 2010-2012 with a combined 38 home runs.
To put that in perspective, Utley had a hitting average of .302 with a combined 86 home runs from 2007-2009. It looked like the man who tied Reggie Jackson for the most home runs in a World Series in 2009, was nearing the end of his career as a star second baseman and face of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise.
However, Utley had a resurgence of sorts in 2013. For the first time since 2010 Utley was the starting second baseman for the Phillies on opening day. After tweaking his offseason program Utley claimed his knee problems were a thing of the past and that he was healthy. He managed to prove that by playing 131 games in 2013 his most since 2009.
The total number of games played wasn’t the only thing up for Utley in 2013, as his batting average of .284 was his highest since 2008. Utley also put up his highest isolated power average since 2009 with .191. The Phillies offense struggled mightily in 2013 and Utley was one of the few players on the team who was able to create runs.
Utley’s wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created) was 126 which was the highest on the team and 26% above the league average. One could tell just by watching Utley play that he looked healthier and more effective. With that said, there is no denying that despite the improvement, Utley he was no longer the same all-star caliber second baseman that he’d been from 2005-2010, especially on defense.
The one part of Chase’s game that has rapidly declined is his defense. Utley’s 17 errors last season were his most since 2006. The 2013 season marked the first time in Utley’s career where he had a dWAR in the negatives, at -0.2. Prior to this past season Utley had never had a dWAR below 1.0 aside from 2003 when he played in his first 43 games as a pro. It’s going to be difficult for the Phillies to be successful moving forward with suspect defensive play from Utley. It remains to be seen if this is an area of Utley’s game that can be recovered.
On August 7th, Utley signed a two-year contract extension worth $27 million. However, the contract can max out at five years and $75 million due to certain vesting options. If Utley can stay healthy he will get paid. If he doesn’t, 2015 could be his last season in a Phillies uniform.
It’s clear the Phillies need Utley (and some others) to stay healthy to be a playoff team again. He may never put up all-star numbers again, but the Phillies offense can be successful if he puts up similar numbers to 2013.
It was clear that he was able to use his knees more to drive the ball when batting, always a great sign for an aging hitter. The power that had been painfully missing from him the previous few years seemed to return. Most importantly, Utley’s presence and work ethic in the clubhouse is something the Phillies front office and fans alike cherish. Utley can still produce, especially offensively at a position where getting offense is difficult.
A lot of this grade has to do with Utley remaining healthy for the majority of the season. On top of that he was one of the few Phillies who were productive at the plate for an entire season. The questions that loom as we approach 2014 is if he can remain healthy and improve defensively. Those questions remain unanswered, however, Utley’s 2013 showed that he is back. Phillies fans would love to hear Kashmir blasting through the Citizens Bank Park speakers for all 81 home games in 2014.