Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Chase Utley

Reid Contini - RotoBaller

Utley Home RunIt wasn’t long ago that we all loved Chase Utley. After all, what wasn’t to like? The guy was a lockdown early-round pick year-in and year-out. But that was then, and this is now. Chase Utley hasn’t been an impact fantasy player since 2009, and in the past three seasons he’s missed 47, 59 and 79 games, respectively. He’s entering his age-34 season on a Phillies team whose window has all but closed, and the most significant offensive additions around him are a decaying 3B, a punchless CF, and a RF who is the sabermetric Antichrist. Still, the league-wide lack of depth at 2B combined with his reputation means Utley gets one more fantasy draft where an owner might consider reaching for him once the top half-dozen or so names at the position are off the board.

Optimists might point out that Utley, who has battled chronic knee issues the past two years, played in 83 of the season’s final 86 games in 2012. They would mention a new offseason program that saw him abstain from rest and instead participate in regular baseball activities, something that has led Utley to proclaim that he feels “pretty (darn) good” at spring training. Optimists would like his still ultra-efficient base-stealing, how he always rakes at Citizens Bank Park, and the fact that he’s in a contract year. They’d also like the fact that despite the huge chunks of missed time and underperformance of the past two seasons, Utley was still top-5 in ISO and OBP.

Pessimists, however, would tell you that Utley also said he felt great at Spring Training in 2012, and then proceeded to miss the entire exhibition slate - as well as the season’s first seven weeks. They’d point out that unless you’re playing fantasy baseball with Daniel Okrent, stolen bases (at least the amount Utley most likely will provide you) just aren’t that big of a deal in this case (his 90% career success rate notwithstanding, he’s stolen more than 16 in a season just once). And they’d also point out that while Utley still provides elite production at his home ballpark, unfortunately that’s the only production he seems to provide these days - a fact to which his three-year home triple slash (.290 AVG /.392 OBP /.506 SLG) and road splits (.238/.340/.360) clearly attest.

Further compounding the situation are Utley’s platoon splits, which have fallen precipitously. When Utley first entered the majors, his biggest problem was an inability to hit LHP; by 2006 he
had conquered that, and he continued mashing against lefties all the way through 2010. But the past
two campaigns have seen him regress to his 2004-2005 levels of production, a time in Utley’s career
when he saw nearly 78% of his plate appearances against righties (as opposed to an unregulated
65.5% from 2006-2012). In 2011 he hit .187/.298/.308 against southpaws and in 2012 he “improved”
to .215/.324/.355 against them-- unless he’s been drinking "milkshakes" with David Ortiz and Melky Cabrera, RotoBaller thinks that a rebound in that department at this point in his career is unlikely.
Net Net:

There’s no doubt that Utley has some fantasy upside in 2013, and can still hit the ball off his shoe-tops (against a right-hander, preferably at Citizens Bank Park) with the best of them. Even with the missed time, Utley's performance these past two seasons has actually been quite decent relative to the 2B position. He’s maintained an overall strong plate approach, pretty good on-base skills, and his two-year dip in batting average correlates with two straight years of low BABIP. But be advised that in the best-case scenario even a healthy Utley will probably be an exceptionally streaky option, as extended road-trips or scoring periods heavy on LH SPs could be problematic. Despite his upside and hitting abilities, fantasy consistency may potentially be a season-long difficulty. Considering the very significant injury concerns, in addition to underwhelming lineup support, it’s fairly prudent to rank Utley as a mid-to-lower-end option at 2B. He's certainly worthy of a flier if he falls low enough on draft day, and could even end up surprising with some decent return on the draft day price. We certainly wouldn't blame you for taking a chance on him in the later rounds of your draft. But if you do end up with Utley, also be ready with a viable replacement on hand rather than subjecting yourself to the horrors of the 2B waiver wire at an inopportune time.

For more analysis on 2B this year, be sure to check out RotoBaller's full fantasy baseball 2B rankings.