Despite popular belief, Chase Utley’s career isn’t over

Photo: Stacie Wheeler

Remember when Chase Utley was 1 for his first 29 at-bats and everyone wanted him gone? Well, it turns out the reports of his baseball death were highly premature. Since that time (April 24), Utley is slashing .333/.418/.577 with a 166 wRC+. Yes, it’s a case of arbitrary end points and small sample size, but it’s clear Utley still has a little production remaining in that 38-year-old tank.

Baseball Dad had three hits on Tuesday in St. Louis that helped key a Dodger comeback. While other players have stepped up this month (Cody Bellinger, Yasmani Grandal, Chris Taylor), Utley’s production was quite welcome because Logan Forsythe was out for a majority of the month, which paved the way for Utley to get more consistent playing time. On the season, Utley has a 112 wRC+ and a .178 ISO (.140 is league-average). No one could have expected this level of production, especially since he finished last season in such a slump.

Even I wasn’t sure how much Utley still had left to contribute. I didn’t think his career was over when he was hitting .034, but I also didn’t expect him to be this good over the course of a month. I wrote about Utley’s struggles — specifically with strikeouts looking — earlier in the month.

“In 2017, he has just 54 plate appearances. The 47.1 looking strike percentage is the highest of his career by more than 10 percent (36.7 in 2009). The 81.8 strikeout looking percentage is abnormally high as he has never struck out looking more than 33 percent of the time in a season (2005, 629 plate appearances). But that’s what happens when a player doesn’t swing at pitches in the strike zone (39.8 Z-Swing%).”

Utley’s looking strike percentage has fallen to 39.8 percent and he’s doing a better job of covering the outer-third of the plate, as you’ll see below.

Through May 4:

Through yesterday:

That’s a massive improvement. He has also added almost 2 MPH in exit velocity on his batted balls. That doesn’t hurt in hopes of being a better, more successful hitter.

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Utley’s going to cool off. That’s a given. But there’s a reason the Dodgers brought him back into the fold, and it isn’t just because he’s a good clubhouse presence. The Old Man can still play a little bit. When Justin Turner and/or Joc Pederson come back, Utley will probably see his playing time decrease. That’ll be a good thing because you don’t want him to get exposed by playing too much (like in 2016). By that time, Forsythe should be doing the things the Dodgers thought he would do when they traded for him (he’s heating up), and here’s hoping Taylor can continue to be the magical player he has been so far.

Utley’s resurgent has been just what the Dodgers needed. This is how deep teams weather injuries — by having quality players to step in for a limited time. This is a theme and will continue to be a theme throughout the season. And that’s OK.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He does contracts and depth charts for FanGraphs and is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a one-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, California, and has yet to be shot.