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:
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...
...Dipped to about league average in '10...
...And was ice cold against high stuff in '11...
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
|Year||Swing Pct.||Miss Pct.||Slug Pct.|
|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.