Chase Utley is Hitting the Ball Hard, Right into Gloves

Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Utley is batting .118 this season and only .222 over the last calendar year. That’s bad. It’s also very sad. But it’s not just that he’s playing poorly. It’s also that he’s unlucky. And playing very, very poorly.

According to FiveThirtyEight, using numbers from Statcast (MLB’s ball-tracking camera system), Chase it hitting the ball hard, it’s just not resulting in hits. As Rob Arthur says, “all else being equal, pitches that are struck harder tend to become hits more often and are more likely to fall for extra-base hits.”

For Utley, however, that’s not the case.

On average, “each additional mile per hour of batted ball velocity equates to an 18-point increase in OPS (on-base plus slugging).” But Utley is bucking the trend:

batted velocity

That’s what led Arthur to call Utley the “unluckiest man in baseball.” He’s quick to point out, however, that the tech here is still young and “there are hidden problems to be worked out.” But the problem doesn’t seem to be how hard Utley is hitting the ball, it’s where it goes once it leaves his bat. So what does this all mean? “If the commentators and traditional data sources are correct, Utley is headed toward a premature retirement,” Arthur writes. “If Statcast is right, Utley has an about average bat, one that should recover.” We don’t know right now which one it is, but the Phillies are probably gonna stick with him long enough for us to figure it out.

Kyle: His BABIP (batting average on balls put in play) is insanely low – .110 – and, improbably, even lower than his average, which is .118. [This is crazy: He has so few hits that his three home runs, which, along with strikeouts obviously, aren’t counted in BABIP, represent almost 25% of his hits.] A BABIP should be around .300, which again means Utley is at least somewhat unlucky. That said, I’m a big believer that there’s been enough of a sample size here that Utley’s struggles aren’t purely due to him being unlucky. It seems like a good blending of advanced stats and the good ol’ eye test are needed here.

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11 Responses

  1. CHASE IS BAD. CHASE IS SAD. CAT IN THE HAT. JIM ADAIR.

    “Chase Utley is batting .118 this season and only .222 over the last calendar year. That’s bad. It’s also very sad. But it’s not just that he’s playing poorly. It’s also that he’s unlucky. And playing very, very poorly.”

  2. And this is where the fun goes out of baseball…when statisticians are calculating the speed of hit balls is calculated into your OPS. Fuck me, so damn sad that my eyes had to read this shit.

  3. I don’t really see how you can continue to say he’s playing “very, very poorly.”

    He’s hitting the ball hard. It’s hard enough to hit major league pitching so being able to direct where the ball is going (at a fielder or 10 feet to the left or right of him) is so insanely difficult that only the greatest hitters ever could MAYBE do it SOMETIMES.

    Is Chase the Chase of 6 years ago? Of course not. But he IS still a major league player, as evidenced by these numbers. He’s so incredibly, awfully unlucky it’s crazy.

    Kyle, I don’t know what your eye test is telling you (other than ‘Chase make out, this bad’) and you pretty much admit to hardly ever watching games. Chase isn’t having bad at bats. He’s not striking out any more than his career rate (within ~0.5%). He’s very obviously hitting the ball hard. My eye test tells me Chase has been crazy unlucky… and the numbers bear that out as well.

    But that just doesn’t suit your “pile as much on the Phillies as possible!!!!!” angle you’ll work all season, so I don’t know what I expected.

    1. You might just want to admit that Chase Utley can’t play baseball anymore. At this point, they might as well substitute “automatic out” for him on the lineup card. Good ol’ Chase might lead the league in “hard-hit balls” and “good at-bats that don’t result in getting on base,” but unfortunately that doesn’t help your team win baseball games. Know what does? Getting hits. Know who the worst player in all of Major League Baseball is at getting hits? Chase Utley. Know what my eye test tells me? Every at-bat he has ends up with him stiff-legging it back to the dugout.

      Don’t get me wrong – I feel bad for the guy. Not because he’s unlucky, but because it’s embarrassing to watch him be so horrendously bad. He’s dead last in all of baseball in average. Dead last in on-base percentage. Slugging percentage and OPS: second to last. He’s batting at least 60 POINTS below the lowest acceptable threshold for a Major League starter. But by all means, keep repeating this “poor Chase is just unlucky” mantra.

      1. Look who is three for his last six with 2 doubles, raising his batting average 20 points in the process. Maybe don’t take a sample size where six at bats can swing an average 20 points as gospel to say whether someone can play anymore.

        Chase isn’t the player he used to be, everyone knows that. But he’s not the worst hitter in the league like his- yes, UNLUCKY- primary stats to start the year would say. Look deeper, bro. The guys who help their team the most gets hits by consistently hitting the ball hard which leads to more hits. It may not over a month or two, but these things do even out over the course of a season. In September I looked forward to saying saying told you so to all these people who see two ability-independent stats and judge a player based off them.

  4. Chase should donate some of his loot to the Clinton’s.

    They’ll hook him up in Haiti with one of Slick Willy’s voodoo hoes.

  5. BABIP does tell some of the story, but watching him at the plate, he seems to be unsure about what to swing at and when to do it. Lots of failed checked swings and whatnot, off balance, etc.. He’ll be ok, I think.

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