Chase Utley is not the same type of player that we watched become a superstar in Philadelphia. He returns another year older after suffering through the worst season of his career. Does he have anything left? He just might.
Philadelphia traded Utley to the Dodgers on August 19, 2015. At the time, Utley was playing extremely well (15-31; .484 AVG) since returning from the disabled list after missing 37 games due to an ankle injury. Unfortunately, Utley cooled off when he landed in LA and never really regained his stroke. He slashed .212/.286/.343 for the season, all career lows, and never became a factor in the Dodgers’ season.
Utley was suspended two games for a legal slide against the Mets that fractured Ruben Tejada’s leg and he appealed.
Utley won his appeal and the suspension was overturned so he is available to play when the season starts against the Padres in San Diego. Although Utley’s slide was legal pursuant to MLB rules at the time, it was aggressive enough that it resulted in a rule revision. In the future, a slide like Utley’s will be illegal.
2016 Role and Steamers Projections
With Howie Kendrick starting at second base, Utley is destined for the bench and the occasional sabermetrically advantageous start. He’s also been taking some reps at third base in the event Justin Turner needs to rest his surgically repaired knee. Steamers is actually projecting an improvement for Utley in 2016. Dodgers’ fans can expect Utley to slash .243/.309/.367 which, while not stellar, is still a significant improvement from 2015.
What Could Go Wrong?
Utley is the oldest second baseman in MLB. In a world where 37 year-old second baseman are retired, quite a bit could go wrong. Utley is a defensive liability so he needs to hit to provide any value to the Dodgers. A worst-case scenario in 2016 would look much like 2015 and almost certainly be Utley’s swan song.
What Could Go Right?
During his career, Utley has absolutely owned 60% of the Giants’ starting rotation as well as their closer. This is what owning a pitcher looks like:
Johnny Cueto .417 1.107
Jeff Samardzija .400 1.371
Matt Cain .300 1.077
Sergio Romo .400 .800
If you’re curious what owning a pitcher sounds like, it sounds like “Bulletproof” from Five Finger Death Punch – but I digress.
Utley has had success against the D-Backs as well. He has a career .325 AVG/.927 OPS against the D-Backs’ current starting rotation and bullpen. If Utley can extend his past success against the Giants and D-Backs into this season, he will play a critical role in what will likely be a fourth NL West pennant for the Dodgers, and perhaps a deeper run into the post-season.