At some point this weekend, Chase Utley will suit up in Los Angeles Dodgers blue, marking the first time in his career that he won’t be donning the red pinstripes for the Philadelphia Phillies. Though it’s a tough blow for the City of Brotherly Love to lose an icon of Utley’s caliber, it seemed to be a long-time coming for an organization that’s in tremendous need of the legitimate rebuild in which they currently find themselves.
Chase Utley leaves Philadelphia as perhaps the greatest to ever play for the organization, save for Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. Always a vastly underrated star, Utley saw his worst years come at the end of his tenure with the Phils, though there isn’t any reason for that to put a permanent sour note on his career.
Of course, that isn’t necessarily going to stop folks from dwelling on Utley’s final season. The only time in which he posted a negative WAR in his career, Utley featured a -0.5 figure at the time of the trade. A declining skill set due to a career of battling injury, as well as declining defense, culminated in Utley having the worst season of his career. He reached base at a rate of just .284 and posted a wRC+ of 66, labeling him as a player far below league average offensively.
But just like we shouldn’t characterize Chase Utley’s entire career by what it was at the end, it’s also important to acknowledge that his season wasn’t nearly as bad as it has been made out to be. His BABIP on the year currently sits at a paltry .227, while his contact rate (88.9%) and swinging strike rate (4.4%) are both the best marks of his career. What doesn’t work in Utley’s favor is the fact that his hard hit rate is down, at just 26.2%. That’s the lowest of his career and certainly indicative of the wear and tear that has so heavily affected him.
It’s widely said that it’s not necessarily how you start, but how you finish. In the case of Chase Utley, we should probably ignore the old adage.
Utley leaves the Phillies sporting a slash line of .282/.366/.481/.847. He reached base at a clip of at least .365 on six different occasions throughout his career, including a career mark of .410 back in 2007. He posted a WAR of at least seven on three different occasions throughout his career, as well as back-to-back seasons (2008 & 2009) in which he went for a WAR of 8.2. In 2008 he was second in the league in that category, trailing only Albert Pujols, while he ranked third in 2009.
He was a far above average player for the majority of his career, as indicated by his career wRC+ of 124. He finished with a mark of at least 130 on five different occasions, with his best years coming in the form of wRC+ numbers of 141 and 150. Always the extra base threat, Utley finishes his Phillies career with a .199 ISO as well. In his five-year stretch from 2005 through the 2009 season, he went for a .234 ISO.
It’s really hard to overstate how much of a threat Chase Utley has been at the plate throughout his career. He’s always made steady contact, with an 84.7% contact rate, and has managed to limit strikeouts throughout his career. His SwStr% for his tenure with the Phils came in at 6.3%, with an overall strikeout rate of 14.5%. As he’s grown older and has featured less power, he’s actually decreased his strikeouts and increased his ability to make contact.
In the field, Utley was just as good. On five different occasions, Utley posted UZR figures better than 10, including outstanding seasons in which he recorded marks of 15.5 (2005) and 18.3 (2008). His Revised Zone Rating for his Phillies career ended at .843, a really solid figure as an indicator that if it was hit in Utley’s direction, he was going to make that play far more often than not. And that’s even with a poor defensive final season in which that number came in at just .762 prior to the trade.
Obviously we’re talking about Chase Utley’s career in the past tense because we appear to be very close to the end. But it’s important to acknowledge just how terrific he was for the majority of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s hard to look past just how ugly his 2015 season looks, on the surface, and recognize that, but it shouldn’t be too long before he’s welcomed back to Philly as a part of the organization for the future, in some sort of capacity.
**Statistics via FanGraphs
Randy Holt is the managing editor for Statliners. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.