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Entries in Chase Utley (5)

Tuesday
Mar122013

Cano's Comps: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Whether he re-signs with the Yankees or takes his talents elsewhere following the 2013 season, Robinson Cano is about to become an absurdly wealthy man. Cano's blend of contact, power and durability, coupled with new TV money swelling owners' pockets, could make him the game's highest paid player this winter.

Is Cano, 30, a good bet to keep producing as he ages? 

To explore that question, I found some players comparable to Cano using Baseball-Reference's Play Index tool and charted their career paths in their thirties. I considered Expansion-Era second basemen who had at least a 110 OPS+, a .280 average and 50+ home runs during their twenties. While you can quibble with those cutoffs, they give us a sample of keystone players who produced at the plate with both contact and power (Cano has a career 123 OPS+ to this point, with a .308 average and 177 homers).

The results are mostly positive, but Cano's comps also include a pair of players who declined dramatically and one active guy who's still great -- when he's capable of taking the field.

Here's the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to Cano's possible post-twenties career path.

The Good

Lou Whitaker 

  • During his 20s: 5,394 PA, 110 OPS+, 37.3 WAR
  • During his 30s: 4,573 PA, 125 OPS+, 34.1 WAR

Sweet Lou was the rare player who was every bit as productive in his thirties as in his twenties. He remained a power threat deep into his thirties, actually hitting far more homers after age 29 (151) than before (93). He also stuck at second base for the duration of his 19-year career with the Tigers, saving a collective 13 runs compared to an average second baseman after age 30, according to Baseball-Reference. Whitaker represents the best-case scenario for Cano: he raked, remained relatively healthy and retained his range.

Ryne Sandberg 

  • During his 20s: 5,385 PA, 112 OPS+, 36 WAR
  • During his 30s: 3,897 PA, 118 OPS+, 28.9 WAR

Ryno emerged as a huge power threat at second base, leading the league with 40 home runs during his age 30 season and finishing with the career home run record among players at the keystone (since broken by Jeff Kent). Sandberg racked up a ton of value from age 30 to 33 (135 OPS+, 24.5 WAR), then got off to a poor start in 1994 and retired. He sat out his age 35 season but returned to the Cubs the following year, producing modestly through age 37.

Roberto Alomar 

  • During his 20s: 6,232 PA, 119 OPS+, 40.9 WAR
  • During his 30s: 4,168 PA, 112 OPS+, 22 WAR

Alomar hit for average during his early Padres years, but he became an offensive dynamo during his mid-twenties as he combined excellent contact skills, a good eye and ample power, all while collecting a cabinet full of Gold Gloves.  He remained a major threat at the dish through age 33, posting a career-best 150 OPS+ and hitting 20 homers during his last year in Cleveland, but his power plummeted upon a trade to the Mets that winter (90 OPS+, 11 HR). He was done as a regular after another sub-par season at age 35 (80 OPS+) and retired after his age 36 season.

Chase Utley 

  • During his 20s: 3,126 PA, 128 OPS+, 33 WAR
  • During his 30s: 2,014 PA, 123 OPS+, 20.3 WAR

Utley was the gold standard among second baseman prior to his injury issues and Cano's ascension as an all-around offensive threat. Now, we're not really sure what to expect. Utley is still darned good when he's on the field, but his knees are held together with Super Glue, Big League Chew and platelet-rich plasma injections from the Philadelphia Phanatic. He could be an MVP candidate in 2013, or he could play 50 games. I placed Utley in the "good" here, but would the Yankees really be pleased if they inked Cano to a megadeal and he provided intermittent, injury-plagued excellence? Thankfully, Cano has been just about the most durable player in the game to this point. But predicting durability can be a fool's errand -- Utley averaged about 675 plate appearances as a full-time player from age 26 to 29.

The Bad

Chuck Knoblauch 

  • During his 20s: 5,279 PA, 112 OPS+, 38.9 WAR
  • During his 30s: 2,108 PA, 91 OPS+, 3.1 WAR

Knoblauch batted nearly .300 during before his 30th birthday, and he ramped up his power production as he reached his mid-to-late twenties (he belted 50 homers and slugged .453 from age 26-29, compared to 10 homers and a .373 slugging percentage from age 22-25). After that, the wheels came off. Knoblauch had a good age 30 season at the plate (118 OPS+), but he fell apart in the field as he struggled to make even the most routine throws to first base. Baseball-Reference estimates that he was 15 runs worse than an average defensive second baseman that year. He was even worse the at age 31 (-10 runs in just a half season's worth of games), and he was a full-time left fielder/DH by age 32. After one wretched season in Kansas City, Knoblauch retiredly

The Ugly

Jose Vidro 

  • During his 20s: 3,895 PA, 113 OPS+, 15.5 WAR
  • During his 30s: 1,813 PA, 96 OPS+, -0.6 WAR

Vidro never reached the heights that Cano has during his career, but his post-20s playing record represents every fear talent evaluators have about second baseman declining sharply coming true. Vidro routinely hit double-digit homers and produced scads of contact, batting .304 with 101 homers through age 29, yet he never topped seven homers and hit a hollow .284 in his 30s. Knee, ankle and hamstring injuries made him a statue at second, and he mostly DHed after being traded to Seattle before his age 32 season. Suffice it to say, his bat didn't play at the position. Vidro was done at age 33.

FYI:

I excluded Alfonso Soriano because he was moved off the position at 30 and sent to Wrigley's outfield.

Tuesday
Mar202012

Utley Upstairs

Doc, Hamels and Lee, and pray for three (runs)? The Phillies, tied for sixth among NL clubs with a 95 OPS+ in 2011 and already down Ryan Howard for a few months in 2012, received more ominous news on Monday. Second baseman Chase Utley has left camp to meet with a specialist due to chronic pain in both knees, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki reports:

The Phillies started Monday with the following statement from general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.: "Chase's rehab process has come to a bit of a plateau. He has made some strides, but not enough to take the field."

Utley, 33, hasn't appeared in a game this spring. The bum left knee is the latest in a series of ailments including offseason hip surgery after the 2008 season, right thumb surgery in 2010 and a right knee injury that sidelined him this past year and continues to bother him. He played in 115 games in '10 and just 103 in 2011. As the former perennial MVP candidate's body has betrayed him, Utley's OPS+ has dipped from 137 in '09 to 123 in '10 and 109 in '11. Much of that decline can be traced to Utley being bullied when pitches challenge him upstairs.

First, take a look at the average in-play slugging percentage for lefty hitters on pitches thrown in the upper third of the strike zone since 2009:

Average in-play slugging percentage by LHB on high pitches, 2009-11

Overall, lefty hitters slugged .408 on pitches thrown high from 2009-11. Now, look at Utley's in-play slugging percentage on high pitches since 2009.

He came back strong from hip surgery in '09... 

Utley's in-play slugging percentage vs. high pitches, 2009

 ...Dipped to about league average in '10...

Utley's in-play slugging percentage vs. high pitches, 2010...And was ice cold against high stuff in '11... 

Utley's in-play slugging percentage vs. high pitches, 2011

Utley is swinging at more high pitches and making more contact, but the injury-riddled second baseman isn't driving the ball at all:

Utley vs. High Pitches, 2009-11

YearSwing Pct.Miss Pct.Slug Pct.
2009 28 15.5 .518
2010 33.6 14 .403
2011 35.8 7.2 .230
Avg. for LHB 38.8 19.5 .408

 

Utley didn't record a single extra-base hit on a pitch thrown high in the zone in 2011. And pitchers seemed to take note of his troubles against high stuff, throwing 21.8% of their offerings high after doing so about 20% the previous two years.

While Utley is clearly in decline, Philly must hope for quick progress in his rehab if its offense is going to avoid falling into the bottom half of the NL. Prospect Freddy Galvis (projected for a 261/.299/.359 line by ZiPS) is expected to take over for Utley (.265/.362/.448 ZiPS projection). Galvis is considered a plus fielder, but the difference between the two at the plate according to ZiPS is roughly a quarter of a run per game. Over 600 plate appearances, it's about 36 runs. Even if it's diminished, the Phillies need Utley's bat.

Friday
Aug052011

Leaning In

Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies and Carlos Quentin of the Chicago White Sox lead the majors in hit by pitches since the start of the 2008 season.  Utley leads with 77 and Quentin is close with 75, but there is a big fall off to Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers with 50.  Utley and Quentin do a great job of leaning in so they are closer to the strike zone.

Chase Utley hit by pitch (left) vs. all MLB LHB (right), 2008-2011.Utley comes very close to getting hit in the strike zone, which would be strikes.  He also manages to take a pitch on the foot more often than most left-handed batters.

Carlos Quentin hit by pitch (left) vs. all MLB RHB (right), 2008-2011.Carlos does not lean in as much as Utley, with the highest concentration of hit by pitches very much inside. The difference between Quentin and most right-handed batters, is he lacks the big fall off as the pitches get closer to the plate.  Maybe he's just better at getting out of the way of the border-line strikes than Utley, as he seldom gets hit low.

This is not a trival stat.  Hit by pitches add over 20 points to Utley's and Quentin's OBP in this time frame.  Avoiding outs is a hugh part of offense, and these two players found a painful way to help out their teams.