Dodgers: Chris Taylor and Chase Utley’s Value to the Team
By Evan Shin
Chris Taylor is having a career year and has solidified his spot atop the Dodgers’ loaded lineup. He ironically replaces the other guy this article’s about, Chase Utley, but it doesn’t mean the Silver Fox is any less valuable.
There’s been a lot of attention on the “C&C Boys,” Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. The 2016 Rookie of the Year and the most-likely 2017 ROY have formed a powerful tandem sandwiching the NL leader in hitting, Justin Turner. However, the guy who leads it off for the Dodgers needs to get some attention too. After all, he’s the one who sets the tone.
Chris Taylor is making Andrew Friedman, and Farhan Zaidi look like they can predict the future. No one blinked when they traded Zach Lee for him. But now, people blink when they don’t see Taylor’s name in the leadoff spot.
How did he get here? First, he worked with Justin Turner to lower his hands and shorten his swing in the offseason. He’s been able to generate solid contact more consistently with that adjustment. He had a tremendous Spring but still didn’t make the big league roster. After the Dodgers got marred with injuries, including starting left-fielder Andrew Toles, he got the call up he deserved.
Since then, all he’s done is hit over .300, slug 12 home runs and drive in 49. He’s come up with some key late-inning hits, including a walk off against division rivals, the Diamondbacks. He’s also one of the team leaders in runs created per 27 outs, and for some reason hits a grand slam every time he comes up with the bases loaded.
Other than his pure statistical production, Taylor came in just when the Dodgers needed him the most. When Toles went down, the Dodgers also lost a potential leadoff hitter candidate.
Utley did everything he could for his age, but for a team chasing a championship, it wasn’t enough. Logan Forsythe was brought in to up the production and increase pitches per plate appearance. He upheld the second, but his production was worse than Utley’s.
Toles was the next-best choice, but he didn’t see enough pitches to be an effective leadoff hitter. Taylor fit the mold perfectly. Not only is he productive, but he averages over four pitches per plate appearance.
The spotlight, if there is one, has been focused on Taylor’s offense. However, his defensive versatility is another factor he brings to the team. Taylor is a natural shortstop but was listed as a second baseman before the season began. He also played third base, and now can add center and left field to his baseball card. He isn’t the most gifted defender, but he gets the job done.
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He struggled when he first moved out to center field but quickly adapted to left field. His nimble speed and handy note card he keeps in his back pocket provided him the tools to become a solid left fielder. At times, he ran incorrect routes or was positioned wrong, but his sheer speed and ability to adjust produced some circus catches.
Chris Taylor’s speed on the base paths also gives an overall slow Dodgers team an extra edge. Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts will be the first to tell you how much speed kills in the playoffs. In last night’s game against Atlanta, Taylor stole a run for the Dodgers using only his legs. He led off the fourth by getting hit by a pitch and stole second easily. He then snuck into third under Brandon Phillips’ tag and dashed home on a ground out to first, even with the infield drawn in. Now that is speed.
Speaking of speed, let’s talk about Chase Utley. The Silver Fox has set a new standard for agile 38-year-olds. For example, he single-handedly ran his way to a crucial run to tie the game at one a piece against the Giants on Sunday. Dodger Stadium was a mosaic of pleasantly perplexed faces, and a cacophony of awe as Utley beat out a slow dribbler to third. He looked faster than when he was young. Everyone thought he would stay put after using up all the gas in the tank. Everyone except Utley.
He knew he had to get to second before the at-bat was over. He also knew Sam Dyson took an eternity to deliver the pitch to the plate. Before anyone could see his enormous lead and heavy lean towards second, he was already at second. Did he get a break? No. Just a few pitches later, he had to put on the wheels again and score on Yasiel Puig’s single.
That was just the most recent example of how Utley’s grit and intelligence helped the Dodgers squeeze out a victory. He’s also done unnoticeable things like lean into pitches and purposely drop infield pop-ups to erase a faster lead runner.
Utley has great baseball instincts, but his most valuable attribute is his attitude. It was evident when he arrived in late 2015 that the dynamic of the ball club changed. The Dodgers were no longer baseball superstars lost in the bright lights and night life of Hollywood. The Dodgers became baseball players, grinders, gym rats and students dedicated to the game. The comeback wins over the last two seasons aren’t a coincidence. It’s Utley’s never-die attitude that spreads to every roster spot.
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Utley and Taylor may not grab all the headlines, and understandably so. After all, with Bellinger hitting 30 home runs as a rookie and Turner hitting in the .350s, there isn’t enough time to talk about everyone on the team, especially since everyone is contributing. But Taylor and Utley bring things to the team that shouldn’t go completely unnoticed because they can be just as valuable.