When Chase Utley was re-signed early in the offseason, some folks were confused by it. Not just because Howie Kendrick was still around after being given a qualifying offer, Jose Peraza existed and Enrique Hernandez was coming off a strong 2015, but also because Ultey was going into his age-37 season, coming off a bad year statistically and because it cost the Dodgers $7 million.
Side note: Utley has already been worth $7.2 million of production, if your’e into FanGraphs value category.
“Utley’s 34 games with the Dodgers left a lot to be desired. He had just an 84 wRC+ and .291 on-base percentage. He was still able to post a 0.5 WAR because he played good defense, but he has always been known as a bat-first player. If he is in a true platoon role, he might be a more productive player (ala Andre Ethier). He had 25 of his 31 extra base hits against right-handers and struck out about 4 percent less against righties than lefties. Take into account he played most of the season with an ankle injury he sustained in January. Once he returned from a DL stint, he hit well (148 wRC+ in August). He still has a little left in the tank, and that little bit could be reached if he’s used correctly.”
So far, the signing looks great. Utley has been better than anyone could have expected. He owns a .286/.388/.440 with a 128 wRC+ and a great 11.2 BB%/15.3 K% atop the Dodgers’ lineup. He’s benefiting from a .338 batting average on balls in play (would be his highest since 2007, .362), so there might be some correction coming his way. But Utley isn’t really hitting the ball much harder this season (88.9) than he did last season (88.7 MPH), so perhaps the correction won’t be as drastic as it might be for other players who have more extreme numbers in these respective categories. This is all helped by a fantastic approach at the plate. Let’s look at some of his plate discipline numbers.
- 14.5 O-Swing%, 5th-lowest in MLB
- 5.2 SwStr%, 18th-lowest in MLB
- 92.1 Z-Contact%, 42nd-best in MLB (out of 196 qualified hitters)
He isn’t swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, isn’t missing pitches much and is hitting balls when they are in the strike zone. He’s also walking at a great rate, so despite his advanced baseball age, he’s doing great as the team’s leadoff hitter.
Utley has been a sort of glue for the Dodgers. He’s filled in as the team’s leadoff hitter, is playing solid defense (even if his range and arm aren’t what they used to be) and not executing any really dirty “slides.” There really isn’t much more the Dodgers could ask him to do to this point. He’ll benefit from some more days off going forward. That could coincide with Kendrick and Hernandez picking up their production — and I wrote about them both this week.
This commitment probably doesn’t go beyond this season, so the Dodgers would be wise to maximize the value Utley provides at this stage of his career. So far, so good.