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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Education of Chase Utley 

When the 2005 season began the Phillies made a momentus decision that has had serious repercussions for their season: despite promising Chase Utley the starting job at second last year the team decided to platoon Utley at second base with the team's 2003 and 2004 incumbent, Placido Polanco. The decision has had baleful effects on the Phillies season: angering Utley (who is more than justified in having any feelings of betrayal, I might add), irritating Polanco (who still wants to be a full-timer), and depriving a punchless lineup of one of its most explosive bats.

Utley is a tremendous talent, the fifteenth overall pick in the 2000 draft, and clearly the Phillies second-baseman of the future. The team's decision to offer arbitration to Polanco (probably a bid to get draft picks when he signed with the Cardinals, as expected) was an awful mistake when Polanco accepted their offer and expected to get his old job back. Chase is younger, cheaper and more durable than the talented, but oft-injured Polanco. Here is how Chase is doing...

Batting: Chase is exactly what the Phillies lineup needs with Thome struggling. I'm also rather impressed by his developement this season. In his first two years with the Phillies Chase was a slugger-in-the-making, a guy who swung for the fences and seemed to have trouble rounding out his game. While Chase continues to pound out the extrabase hits, he's added the ability to get on base:

On-Base Percentage:
2003: .322
2004: .308
2005: .366

Okay, Chase had improved his batting average this season (.300 to .266 in '04 and .239 in '03), but a lot of that is an improved skill at drawing walks. Look at Chase's Walks per Plate Appearances (BB/PA):

BB/PA (Total Plate Appearances)
2003: .072 (152)
2004: .052 (287)
2005: .090 (134)

Much better. Chase has also added a little more power to his arsenal, improving his slugging percentage (.468 in '04, .542 in '05) and his Isolated Power (ISO): .202 in '04, .242 in '05. He's a more explosive bat and a much more potent offensive threat than his platoon-mate, Placido Polanco: .338 OBP, .343 SLG.

Here are Polanco & Utley Gross Productive Average (GPA) stats:

Utley: .300
Polanco: .238

Frankly, Polanco is a big reason why the Phillies are 15th in slugging and 16th in ISO. Also frankly, Polanco's bat is a big reason why the Phillies are struggling. This team needs power at the plate to be successful and Chase Utley can supply that.

Defense: Statistically Polanco is besting Utley here. The two have played virtually the same number of innings (Utley 232, Polanco 202), but Placido has turned twice as many double plays (22 to 11) as Utley. I didn't bother to look up the pitchers each one played behind (I'd expect Polanco & Utley to be turning more double plays with Lidle on the mound rather than Wolf or Padilla), but that seems like a dramatic difference. Utley has had more chances (119 to 114) than Polanco, but Polanco seems to have played a little better:

Zone Rating / Range Factor
Utley: 4.72 / .813
Polanco: 5.06 / .921

Generally speaking, Utley would be middling if he qualified innings-wise amongst NL second basemen: at .813 he'd be 7th amongst 12 NL 2B's. Polanco would be leading the NL. (Polanco and Utley would both rank 5th amongst NL 2B's in Range Factor.)

Conclusions: I'm impressed by Chase's development this season and dearly wish the Phillies would junk the platoon and play him full-time. I don't think Polanco's glove justifies the drag he puts on the lineup. I think Chase is strong defensively and his bat is what this team needs to get some extra-base hits. I also think Chase is improving dramatically. I note that Chase seems likely to surpass Bill James 2005 projections for him:

(to-date) / (proj.)
OBP: .366 / .333
SLG: .542 / .478
GPA: .300 / .269
ISO: .242 / .203

If the Phillies want to play Polanco then put him in at third for David Bell. I wish this team had the eyes to see that Chase Utley is one of their strongest assets.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I talk about:
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
OBP (On-Base Percentage): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
BB / PA (Walks per plate appearance): (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)
Zone Rating (ZR): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.
Range Factor: (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / IP. Essentially measures how much a player is involved in defensive plays.
Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.

Comments:
You love to throw out all this math while missing the obvious. Utley hasnt learned to hit LHP yet. He will eventually have to get in there everyday, but for now,
the Utlay/Polanco platoon is correct.
 
At least work him into the linup against subpar lefties like Milton. He sat that game btw.
 
i completely agree with trading polanco, chase may be the greatest all around second baseman in the league
 
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