Chase Utley celebrated his 38th birthday on Saturday. He’s a free agent, and it’s not clear he’ll have a major league job in 2017. The Angels had expressed interest, but they just traded for Danny Espinosa. The Dodgers may still be interested, but we’ll have to wait and see if they or another team believe Utley has enough left at his age, at least for a bench role.
So while there’s a chance we may see more from Utley in the future, for now let’s appreciate the weird and wacky stuff he got into in 2016.
His 2016 was a typical season in some respects for Utley: He started hot, and then cooled off, ending up with 2 good months, 2 average months, 2 poor months -- a decent season overall: .252/.319/.396 (97 wRC+), and 2.0 fWAR. The Dodgers can’t complain much about what they’ve gotten from him since the August 2015 trade: in essentially one full season’s worth of playing time (706 PAs), not-quite-average hitting (94 wRC+) and 2.5 fWAR (2.9 rWAR). Not bad for a guy whom many declared “done” years ago.
The (Old) Man
Only two middle infielders played in the majors in 2016 at age 36 or older:
When Rollins was released in mid-June, Utley became the oldest middle infielder in MLB.
He was also the oldest player to get 500 PAs in the leadoff spot this year. The next oldest were Ian Kinsler and Yunel Escobar, both 34.
In fact he became only the 12th player in history to record 500 PA’s as a leadoff hitter at age 37 or older.
After famously being involved in breaking up a double play in the 2015 playoffs, Utley went through the entire 2016 season without grounding into a single one.
It was only the 6th time in history that a player had at least 500 PAs without a GIDP.
Hit By Pitch
For the first time since the 2010 season ended, Chase Utley is not spending the off-season as MLB’s reigning all-time leader in SB%.
He doesn’t run much any more (in fact he never did, peaking at 23 attempts in 2009), but in 2016 he only attempted four steals. After 14 consecutive successful attempts dating back to May 10, 2014, he was finally caught twice in 2016. The first of those was on May 15, 2016, more than two years since his last CS. Those two times caught dropped his career SB% to 87.88% (145 steals out of 165 attempts). That left him ever so slightly behind Alexi Casilla, the middle infielder who in an otherwise pedestrian career has been caught stealing only 11 times in 91 attempts for an 87.91% success rate. Ninety-one attempts is not that many, but it’s enough to meet baseball-reference.com’s minimum requirement of 80 for their all-time SB% list. Casilla last appeared in the majors in 2014 (for a single game), but he is only 32 and is still trying to make it back to the show (he was a teammate of Dom Brown’s with AAA Buffalo this past season), so he may yet get a chance to improve (or not) on his record.
Utley is just one successful steal away from taking back this crown. By the way this is the first season in the last 16 that the all-time leader in SB% has been someone other than Utley or Carlos Beltran. Beltran took over the top spot in 2001 and held it until 2008, Utley overtook him in 2009 (on the strength of his perfect 23-for-23 season), Beltran took it back for one year in 2010, and then Utley led from 2011 through 2015.
10 Years’ WAR
It’s fairly well known by now that Utley led all MLB position players in fWAR for the decade from 2005 through 2014 (as well as all pitchers). As an indication of how great his peak was, and how sneaky-good many of his other seasons were, Utley is still 5th in fWAR among position players for the past decade (2007-2016), in a virtual tie with Dustin Pedroia who’s 4th.
Interesting to note that #3 on the list for 2007-16 was a high school sophomore when the decade began, and has only had five full seasons.
Here is the full list from @MichaelStubel, starting with the 1903-12 decade. A couple of things to note on this list:
- Mike Schmidt led the list eight times, from 1972-81 through 1979-88. Only three players in history led more than eight times: Barry Bonds (13), Babe Ruth (10), and Willie Mays (9).
- Every player who has led this list and is eligible is in the Hall of Fame, except for Barry Bonds.
JAWS is a rough measure of Hall-worthiness by averaging two numbers: a player’s total career WAR (per baseball-reference), and their WAR in their seven best seasons (called WAR7). In 2016 Utley moved up to 11th all-time among second baseman.
He most likely won’t have any more seasons that count in his WAR7, but with just an additional 0.6 WAR he will pass Jackie Robinson on the JAWS list, as well as the average JAWS number of the 20 second basemen in the Hall of Fame. If he can get 1.6 more, he will also surpass Ryne Sandberg and Frankie Frisch for 8th all-time. Of course that will put him just behind the underrated Bobby Grich, who is still on the outside looking in.
All of the above of course was mere trivia compared to his feats in his return to Citi Field, and then to Citizens Bank Park.
Liz captured his return to New York marvelously here, picking it up after Noah Syndergaard threw behind Utley and was immediately tossed:
As you know, this is exactly the atmosphere that Chase Utley thrives on. In the top of the sixth inning, the crowd at Citi Field was chanting "HIT HIM! HIT HIM!" What do you think Chase did next?
That was followed in August by his return to Philadelphia for the first time since his trade a year earlier.
As LTG8 recapped it, in his first game back he began with two inauspicious at bats before delivering a home run and then a grand slam, both in the 8th inning, and both to thunderous ovations.
The Man is a treasure — here’s hoping he gets a chance to keep playing, even if it’s in a part-time role.