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A Closer Look: Phillies Second Baseman Chase Utley

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I was talking with a colleague at work yesterday who is a Phillies fan and he was telling me that the Philly sports radio stations are really coming down on Chase Utley this year. They are curious why he isn't hitting like he has in the past, and are wondering if he is hurt.

Let's take a look at how Utley is hitting this season, as he was everyone's top second baseman in fantasy leagues, and more than likely was a first round pick in most mixed league drafts and all NL-only league drafts in 2010.

Utley is currently hitting .260-.377-.457 with 10 HRs and just 26 RBIs.He has scored 41 runs but has just 3 SBs on the season. Most fantasy owners expected a better BA and more RBIs and SBs. The Phillies have struggled to score runs over the past month and Utley's RBI total certainly reflects that.

So, can Utley return to the Utley who hits for power, drives in runs and steals some bags? Looking at his peripheral stats, one would say yes, as long as he isn't playing hurt. Utley did have hip surgery in the 2009 offseason, and Alex Rodriguez is currently experiencing issues with his hip, so maybe he is playing hurt.

Utley is currently walking more than in 2009 with a 13.4% vs 12.8% walk rate, and striking out less-15.2% vs 19.3% in 2009. His BABIP of .265 is lower than his career average of .314, and lower than his .300 BABIP in 2009, so one would expect him to be more lucky going forward, thus increasing his BA.

A couple negatives fantasy owners should be aware of is that his ISO is below .200 for the first time since 2003 where he has only 152 at bats. Another is that he is hitting a ton more ground balls as he is hitting 42% of his batted balls on the ground vs 34% last season. As a result, his FB% is much lower sitting at 40% vs 48% in 2009.

One other negative is that his plate discipline is dropping. He is swinging at 26% of pitches outside the zone, vs just 19% in 2009. That could explain the lower BA and RBIs this season as he is probably not making solid contact on those swings.

Will Utley return to the first round pick we all thought he was on draft day? I think he will, as long as he isn't playing hurt.

And now this from ESPN's Buster Olney in today's blogpost:

If you polled some of the scouts who do the divisional coverage and ask them which player they respect the most, a lot of votes would go to Chase Utley, because the scouts are convinced that he plays through injuries as much as anybody in the game -- without complaining, without talking about his ailments, without making excuses.

And right now, a lot of those evaluators are convinced that he is not close to being 100 percent physically.

Two years ago, one scout noticed in June that Utley did not seem right, and at season's end, Utley had hip surgery. And the same scout is seeing a lot of the same things this season. "The tell-tale sign for me is how he is not getting to pitches in the lower half of the strike zone, which makes me wonder if his (perceived injury) might be affecting his balance at the plate," said the scout. "He's a guy who has always thrived on balls in the lower half of the strike zone -- he murders them -- and he's just not getting to them these days."

Said a rival executive: "He just does not look right to me at all."