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:
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.