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Chase Utley is back

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After a dreadful start (and that's putting it mildly), the Phils' second baseman has bounced back nicely.

Keep squaring that ball up, Chase.
Keep squaring that ball up, Chase.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Mario Mendoza was a shortstop and third baseman who played nine seasons from 1974 through 1982 for three teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.

Kids, he wasn't very good, owning a lifetime slash line of .215/.245/.262 with a career OPS of .507 in 1456 career plate appearances. He was a half-decent defensive player, but over the years has become a legend in the game for his offensive ineffectiveness.

That's right, whenever you hear people talk about "The Mendoza Line," this is the guy they're talking about. "The Mendoza Line" refers to a .200 batting average, although Mendoza actually finished with a career average well clear of that mark, so it really kinda makes no sense.

For the first time all season, after a 3-for-4 performance including a home run against the Cincinnati Reds, Chase Utley has finally cleared the Mendoza Line. The Phils' second baseman is now hitting .207/.281/.329, numbers that are still pretty terrible, especially by his standards.

But they are light years better than what he had at the end of April, by far the worst month of his career. And recently, it sure seems as if Chase is back to being the Utley of old.

We're dealing with arbitrary endpoints here, but it seems clear that after a start that defied explanation, Utley is humming along once again. And as we dig a bit deeper into these numbers, we see why.

Time BABIP BB% K% LD% Hard Hit%
Through May 8 .079 6.8 14.6 15.4 16.5
May 9 through June 2 .377 9.8 13.4 23.0 27.4

From the beginning of the season through May 8, Utley had a BABIP of .079, with a 14.6% strikeout rate and a 6.8% walk rate. Only 15.4% of balls hit were line drives, and just 16.5% were "hard hit" according to Fangraphs.

Since May 9, his BABIP has skyrocketed to .377. His strikeout rate has dropped to 13.4% and his walk rate is way up, to 9.8%. He's also hitting the ball harder, with a line drive rate of 23.0% and a hard hit rate of 27.4%.

It is those last two numbers that is the main reason why his BABIP is higher. More line drives and more hard hit balls mean a better chance for balls put in play to go as hits.

BABIP ain't all luck. Sometimes, it's science. But Utley has also made some adjustments at the plate.

Through May 8, Utley swung at 28.1% of pitches out of the zone. Since May 9, that number has dropped to 19.9%. He's chasing less. His contact percentage through May 8 was 85.9%, and since May 9, it's up to 92.9%. And his swinging strike percentage went from 5.6% to 2.7%. He's making more contact per swing, and he's simply swinging and missing less.

In addition, his first strike percentage has dropped from 60.2% to 51.2%, meaning he's getting himself into a better hitter's count right away. All these factors have led to a resurgence in Utley's offensive numbers, although his season totals are going to take a long time to resurrect.

Now, this is obviously an optimistic take on Utley's resurgence. Crashburn Alley's Bill Baer tackled the same topic and offered some very interesting counter-arguments that pumps the brakes a little bit on Chase's hot last three weeks. It's worth a read.

Aside from making Utley an attractive option to other teams in need of a veteran second baseman (and yes, I know, with full 10-5 rights Utley can block, and has said he will block, any efforts to trade him), it's just good to see one of the best players in franchise history get himself right.

Talk of retirement has abated, and Utley is once again doing his thing, even if on some nights it seems he's the only one doing it.