The Phillies have their pitching staff under control, but the issues that plague the infield right now are making fantasy owners nervous before the season even starts. While Ryan Howard and his Achilles is one piece to the puzzle, there are greater concerns surrounding Chase Utley. His past would make him seem to be a safe bet as a top-ten option at Second Base. Unfortunately, even healthy, things may not always be as they seem. That is why we need to put Utley on bust watch.
The easiest place to start is with the health issues. Utley has missed 107 games over the last two seasons. Already the Phillies are indicating that he will not be ready for Opening Day as the knee injury that kept him on the sidelines last season has not sufficiently healed for him to get on the field this Spring.
Of even greater concern is the fact it is not the right knee is not the only one with issues. His plans to play this week are on hold as Utley will be seeing a specialist for further evaluation. Obviously, he has not healed as planned. The option for surgery could still be on the table as the rehab solution has not worked to this point. A red flag that needs to be of concern to potential owners.
The numbers are of concern as well. It might not be fair to look at aggregate statistics like runs and RBI, but the ratio marks would have just as many owners getting antsy. Utley has provideed speed in addition to power. Even when healthy in 2011, he did not attempt a steal virtually all of August and September. The knees play a factor here, but if Utley is going to be on the field and this part of his game is unavailable owners need to adjust. Sure the numbers are down, but the lack of attempts needs to be addressed. Additionally we have seen a reduction in the infielder’s BABIP levels every year since 2007. Both his ISO and OPS have seen the similar drops year over year.
The manner in which he has made contact is worth noting. The five-time All Star is hitting more balls on the ground than he has at any point in his career. His fly ball rate is remarkably constant overall but fewer went over the wall last year than in the past. It could all be related to his legs and the inability to get enough drive to power the ball up or it could be coincidence. There is likely at least some return to a better HR/FB rate but maybe not all the way until he is 100 percent. Perhaps the one bit of good news is that he has not seen a change in the number of strikeouts.
Stars like Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Ian Kinsler are going to be the earliest off the board at Second Base. With a second tier that is just as deep with All-Star type players and young stars like Jason Kipnis and Dustin Ackley on the rise, where Utley fits in was already a decent question. Though a healthy Utley could produce better than 85 runs to go with 85 RBI and nearly 20 home runs, his ability to stay on the field and the long-term effects of the injury overall are hard to measure. The risk is great and the reward limited. It is why the man holding down Second Base in Philadelphia needs to be looked at as a potential major bust.