Scouting Report: Chase Utley
Latest in a series of scouting reports provided to SI.com by the network of former scouts, players, coaches and executives at the Baseline Group. See below for past reports.
Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Position: Second baseman
Body Type: Average size, athletic body, durable frame
Elite: top player at his position (Joe Morgan)
Premium: top five at his position (Robbie Alomar)
Good: top 10 at his position; occasional All-Star (Ian Kinsler)
Average: everyday position player
Key role: part-time or platoon player (Akinori Iwamura)
Utley Current Categorization: Premium
Utley Projected Categorization: Premium/Elite
Chase Utley is good -- really good.
How's that for a scouting report? Can we stop now?
Sometimes you know what to expect from a player. There's no big change in his performance, no major holes to be exploited and no predicted demise -- just consistent excellence. And that pretty much describes Utley.
We consider Utley to be a PREMIUM player. This is his fourth straight year producing at an ELITE level, and with another year of such production, we'll feel comfortable categorizing him as ELITE. Just like Hall of Fame election demands dominance over an extended period of time (or at least it should), ELITE status requires elite production over time -- usually four to five years. Here are some of Utley's key stats from 2005 on:
Though his batting average is down, Utley is having his most productive year yet. Entering this week, Utley's National League ranks were:
5th in Slugging (.610)
5th in OPS (.994)
3rd (tied) in Runs (60)
2nd in Total Bases (191)
4th in RBIs (65)
1st (tied) in Home Runs (23)
What makes Utley even more valuable to the Phillies is the fact that he plays second base -- traditionally home to weaker offensive players. Only one other middle infielder ranks in the top ten in OPS+ in either league, and that's Florida second baseman Dan Uggla (165). Teams that get great offensive production from the middle infield without significantly sacrificing defense have a big advantage, and it's not a coincidence that Philadelphia and Florida are atop the National League East standings.
Utley continues to do what he's done for the past three years. He's consistently producing at the plate and more than fits the profile of a second baseman and a middle of the line-up guy on a championship team. He's a big time competitor who has been able to get the most out of his tools, which rate at above average, because of his work ethic and mental toughness. He makes few mental errors and is always prepared.
Utley hasn't changed his swing much over the years. He's always been slightly open and has always been able to use the entire field. The biggest difference in his approach is the ability to split the plate in half. In other words, when he thinks about pulling the ball, he is disciplined and sees the ball longer, enabling him to make a better decision and swing at balls on the inner half. In the past, he's tried to pull everything and as a result ended up rolling over too many to the second baseman.
Utley has made a deliberate attempt to be more relaxed with his upper body via a rocking motion with his hips and legs, with his hands lower than their normal position. But as the pitcher decides to release the ball, Utley's weight is back and his hands are higher.
Utley continues to be consistent in his approach in every game. Good games, bad games, errors, strikeouts, or home runs -- Utley doesn't change.
Utley wasn't a good second baseman when he came to the major leagues. He has put in a lot of time prior to games and during the off-season to hone his glove work. While Utley will never be a Gold Glove second baseman -- he simply doesn't have the footwork -- he has improved a great deal. He is one of the game's most consistent and dependable second baseman.
Second baseman who can hit in the middle of a championship team line-up
Great work ethic
Represents his team and the city of Philadelphia well
We're being picky, but...
Utley still strikes out too much. He could be a little more patient at the plate. He might take the first pitch he sees, but after that, he's swinging. He has a hole up in the strike zone, and though he gets better plate coverage than most, he rarely drives a high fastball thrown over 90 mph.
Successful Pitching Plan
A successful pitching plan against Utley requires that a pitcher have access to extensive advance scouting. Utley has the ability to change his approach and swing, and a pitcher needs to understand the potential adjustments. For a pitcher facing him for the first time, it's best to attack early with a power arm. Utley generates the most power in the lower half of the zone, so being careful with the use of low fastballs and sliders is important.
A hard sinking fastball or a changeup moving away from Utley from a right-handed pitcher would be more difficult for him to hit out of the park. From a left-hander, sliders to the outer third of the plate should limit him to singles. When Utley is hitting home runs to the opposite field, it may be best to walk him "unintentionally."
Unsuccessful Pitching Plan
Utley is not the kind of hitter you want to attempt to trick. He is very smart and usually understands the plan against him. For example, he knows the majority of pitchers pitching from the first base side of the rubber are unable to throw strikes consistently to the outer half of the plate. So, he waits for the inside fastball. He will also attempt to understand the opposing pitching coach and pitcher to gauge their plan of attack against him. Utley is one of the most prepared hitters in the game and any pitcher thinking they will continually get him out with the same pitching pattern will not fare well.
Previous Scouting Reports
Mike Pagliarulo's Baseline Report is dedicated to providing objective, collaborative information on baseball players and processes. Check out Pags' social media website for aspiring baseball writers at dugoutcentral.com.
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