There was a time in my life as a Dodger fan where I would have killed to get Chase Utley in Dodger blue. Like, literally killed. Probably. Maybe. Likely. That time would have been between 2005-09, when Utley was averaging nearly 8 WAR per year and was the best non-Albert Pujols player in the game. Since then, age and injuries have taken their toll, and he hasn’t been the same, though it’s worth noting that he was still an above-average player every year from 2010-14, even putting up a quiet 4.5 WAR season last year.
This year, though, it’s been a mess. Utley is 37 in December, missed weeks with a bad ankle, and has been one of the worst players in baseball, putting up an unfathomably low .208/.276/.313 line. He’s largely lost his job to Cesar Hernandez, a decent prospect but hardly a top one. Unsurprisingly, the Phillies are looking to trade Utley, with the Giants, Angels, Cubs, and Yankees popping up the most often. Surprisingly, the Dodgers were mentioned on those lists before Howie Kendrick got hurt. Back to unsurprisingly, they’re appearing more often now that he is.
Second-base ranks by fWAR of teams known to be on Utley: CHC 23rd, LAA 25th, NYY 30th. SF, LAD in top six, but face injuries at position.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 15, 2015
I don’t know if Utley is truly cooked or not. Jeff Sullivan put up a pretty convincing argument that Utley’s terrible season has been entirely due to the ankle, and that after last year’s good season, it’s hard to get this bad this quick by accident, and that there’s reason to dream:
For whatever it’s worth, before going on the DL, Utley had an average batted-ball speed of 88 miles per hour, ranking him in the lower half. Since returning, over that small sample, Utley’s at exactly 95, ranking him 15th, between Evan Longoria and Adrian Gonzalez. So maybe it’s about video *and* numbers. Video backs up what the numbers are saying.
If you want to argue that Utley would be a good veteran addition with postseason experience who could work as a lefty bench compliment to Scott Van Slyke and Alex Guerrero, sure, okay, fine. (Presumably taking Alberto Callaspo‘s roster spot, though that would leave the team thin at third base behind Justin Turner.) But as the regular second baseman? Perhaps we’re underestimating Enrique Hernandez.
Hernandez has started three of the five games at second since Kendrick went down, and with Jose Peraza back in Triple-A, seems likely to get the bulk of the work. You may not have noticed this, but Hernandez has been really, really good, with a .305/.359/.511 line that comes out to a 142 wRC+. Check out this comp from Paul Sporer:
If you’re looking for a comp, I think Kike Hernandez could be like Jung Ho Kang statistically. The high end would be emulating the current Kang that we’re seeing: .296/.371/.459 though he is more likely to be around the Kang projections. ZiPs has Kang for a .252/.323/.412 line, while Steamer says .262/.322/.416 the rest of the way. ZiPS says as much itself with a .259/.310/.410 line for Hernandez, but Steamer is much more pessimistic with both his line and playing time at .230/.279/.353 in just 91 PA.
That seems high on the power, and obviously we’re dealing with small samples and high BABIP. But remember how excited we were to get him in the Dee Gordon trade, calling him a “mini Ben Zobrist.” Remember that Stan Kasten said that “we don’t make that trade without Enrique.” And remember that Kendrick should be back in a few weeks and that Utley, with an eye on 2016 free agency, reportedly doesn’t want to go somewhere where he won’t be assured of regular playing time. You can make the case for Utley on this roster, especially for the playoffs. You can’t really make the case that second base is a problem, though. Hernandez, backed by Peraza or Turner or Callaspo, seems like more than enough of a band-aid until Kendrick returns. Good job, Kikè.