Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said it would “definitely be a possibility” that Utley would start.
We’ll find out when the lineups arrive in a few hours. For now? There’s a lot that goes into it.
- Because Utley has six hits in 21 plate appearances (.333/.429/.556), including a homer, against Matt Harvey. Howie Kendrick has one hit in six tries. This is, of course, a very, very bad reason, because pitcher-vs-hitter stats are awful, particularly with what’s happened to Utley & Harvey over the last few seasons. 15 of those plate appearances came in 2012-13, when Utley was still a superstar and Harvey was just breaking in. Do they matter now? They shouldn’t, but you know that they will.
- Because you might get Harvey out of the game early. I’m not sure how the umpires will approach this mess. Issuing warnings to both sides before the game feels possible. They may give Harvey some leeway to throw behind Utley to send the message, so long as he moves on. With how much heat this crew took after the Ruben Tejada injury, they are simply not going to allow this to get out of hand tonight. An early-game plate appearance in a low-leverage situation might be when Harvey feels most comfortable proving himself; it might also get him tossed out.
- Because Utley isn’t as good as Kendrick. Utley was awful with the Phillies (64 wRC+), and has been only somewhat better as a Dodger (.202/.291/.363, 84 wRC+). Clearly, Don Mattingly hasn’t worried about platoon matchups against righties Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, and Harvey has no platoon split (.257 wOBA vs. LH career, .256 vs. RH). Choosing Utley would be almost entirely due to his numbers against Harvey.
- Because it benefits the Dodgers to be able to pick and choose Utley’s insertion strategically… If you call for Utley in a tie game in the 8th, with men on, and every pitch of vital importance, you put the Mets in a bad spot. Fans will be calling for blood. The pitcher will want to back up his teammates. Either he’ll give in to that and give the Dodgers a free base that would arguably be more important than it would be in the earlier innings, or he’ll at least have something in his head to take some focus away from the job at hand.
- …and because it may keep Utley safer. If he’s up in the second inning in a low-leverage spot, everyone in the world knows what’s going to happen. If he’s in a situation where the Mets have to think twice about the consequences, it may prevent an ugly situation.
I think the game theory questions are fascinating, and I lean towards not starting Utley. Mostly, I worry that the choice is going to come down to his stats against Harvey, which I just despise.