Player spotlight: Chase Utley

I’ve gotten a few questions about Chase Utley after posting my introductory article on True Home Runs the other day. True Home Runs didn’t think Utley was as good as he looked in 2006, and his HR/FB regressed in 2007. This year, however, it has skyrocketed. Given these questions, I thought Utley would be a great first player to spotlight using True Home Runs.

Contact
+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+--------+-------+--------+-------+-----+
| YEAR | LAST  | FIRST | BA    | tBA   | CT%    | BABIP | mBABIP | LD%   | tHR |
+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+--------+-------+--------+-------+-----+
| 2005 | Utley | Chase | 0.291 | 0.279 | 79.93  | 0.320 |  0.304 | 23.18 |   0 |
| 2006 | Utley | Chase | 0.309 | 0.283 | 79.94  | 0.346 |  0.328 | 19.54 |  24 |
| 2007 | Utley | Chase | 0.332 | 0.321 | 83.21  | 0.368 |  0.344 | 19.64 |  26 |
| 2008 | Utley | Chase | 0.294 | 0.289 | 83.71  | 0.291 |  0.310 | 23.91 |  18 |
+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+--------+-------+--------+-------+-----+

You probably see a few columns you’re not familiar with, and I realize all these new stats are a lot take in. You have my apologies, but they are pretty intuitive and should give us a much clearer picture of a player’s true talent.

mBABIP stands for Marcels BABIP, and tBA stands for True Batting Average. mBABIP is the BABIP Marcels projects from this point until the end of the season (for previous seasons, it was what Marcels predicted after the season was complete). A big thanks to fellow THTer Sal Baxamusa for his help with this.

tBA uses the player’s actual contact rate, mBABIP, tHR and actual fly ball rate to calculate what we should expect his batting average to be. I talked about how these three stats interact in this article. As a side note, for 2005 (before we had HitTracker and True Home Runs), actual home runs were used to calculate tBA.

Introductions to these stats out of the way, let’s look at today’s subject: Chase Utley. Utley’s contact rate sat just below 80 percent in 2005 and 2006, but jumped to 83 percent in 2007. This year, we see that he has improved it to 84 percent, so we can say with pretty good confidence that this is his new level of production.

His BABIP has been all over the place but always solid, and his current mBABIP stands at .310 since his 2008 actual BABIP is the lowest of his career. Given this fact, his 23 percent line drive rate, and his excellent 2006 and 2007 BABIPs, there is definitely some upside here.

We’ll talk more about his True Home Runs in the next section, but his tHR/FB is up some from previous years and has a positive impact on his tBA. All of this results in a final .289 True Batting Average, not far removed from his actual .294 average. His 2008 contact skills are very much for real, though I don’t think there was much of a question here. Those hoping he would jump back up to his 2007 or even his 2006 level could be disappointed, however this is a possibility given the BABIP upside previously noted.

Power
+------+-------+-------+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+------+--------+----------+
| YEAR | LAST  | FIRST | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | RAW  | OF FB% | LW POWER |
+------+-------+-------+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+------+--------+----------+
| 2005 | Utley | Chase | 28 |   0 | 16.87 |   0.00 |   0.00 | 0.00 |  37.73 |    17.33 |
| 2006 | Utley | Chase | 32 |  24 | 16.33 |  12.24 |  11.22 | 2.55 |  37.19 |    15.21 |
| 2007 | Utley | Chase | 22 |  26 | 12.36 |  14.61 |  14.61 | 3.93 |  39.73 |    16.60 |
| 2008 | Utley | Chase | 25 |  18 | 21.19 |  15.25 |  14.41 | 5.93 |  39.73 |    19.32 |
+------+-------+-------+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+------+--------+----------+

Now for what you’ve been waiting for: Utley’s power. If you missed the introductory article to True Home Runs, you can read about these stats here, or a quick explanation here:

Every homer is run through HitTracker in two environments: a league average park with league average weather and the hitter’s home park with average weather for that park. The homers that are given a No Doubt label are counted up and then put into a proportion using the league average percentage of No Doubters. This is done for both environments and we take the average of the two to arrive at a final True Home Run total.

Neutralized Home Runs or Neutralized Power (nHR and nHR/FB)… is simply the number of home runs that would be hit in the league average environment.

Raw Power (RAW)… is a measure of a hitter’s, well, raw power independent of the number of fly balls hit or direction it is hit. It is simply a count of the number of balls hit past 420 feet (roughly the league average distance for No Doubt home runs) in 70-degree weather with no wind per 100 fly balls.

We see that his HR/FB (Home run per Outfield fly, actually), is up nearly nine points from last year and is nearly five points above his previous career high. He already has 25 homers, and many are predicting he’ll hit 40 when all is said and done.

His True Home Run numbers, however, should give us some pause. His tHR/FB is definitely on the rise (as is his nHR/FB and Raw Power), but his 21 percent actual HR/FB definitely looks inflated.

We’ve begun to see some regression already, as Utley has posted just a 13.6 percent HR/FB (that includes infield flies, however, and excluding them might put him around 15 percent) since the beginning of June. That is right around what True Home Runs says he should be doing, and this is right about the level we should expect him to perform at for the rest of the year.

Those in keeper leagues, take note. Utley is 29 years old now, and while that doesn’t exactly make him an old man, I don’t know if we’ll be seeing too much more improvement in his power skills. Our big three stats (tHR/FB, nHR/FB, RAW) have increased or stayed the same every year since 2006, but at this age he should begin regressing a little, possibly as soon as next year. Given his excellent performance thus far this year, I’d see what I could get for him on the open market (though his recent falloff hasn’t gone unnoticed, and owners might not be willing to pay what they would have a month ago).

I promised to give you some context for Raw Power in my last article, so here it is for those interested. League average Raw Power for 2006 and 2007 was 2.40. In addition, here is the top 25 leaderboard for 2007 (minimum 300 at-bats). Pretty ironic who’s at the top, huh? And by quite the margin.

+-----------+-----------+-------+
| LAST      | FIRST     | RAW   |
+-----------+-----------+-------+
| Bonds     | Barry     | 14.15 |
| Fielder   | Prince G  | 11.46 |
| Pena      | Carlos    | 10.34 |
| Dunn      | Adam      |  9.33 |
| Berkman   | Lance     |  8.45 |
| Howard    | Ryan J    |  8.28 |
| Duncan    | Chris E   |  8.16 |
| Thome     | Jim       |  8.04 |
| Upton     | B.J.      |  8.04 |
| Rodriguez | Alex      |  8.00 |
| Fields    | Josh      |  7.29 |
| Stairs    | Matt      |  7.02 |
| Buck      | John R    |  6.93 |
| Jones     | Chipper   |  6.92 |
| Delgado   | Carlos    |  6.71 |
| Reynolds  | Mark A    |  6.67 |
| Martin    | Russell N |  5.80 |
| Hafner    | Travis    |  5.67 |
| Sosa      | Sammy     |  5.43 |
| Pujols    | Albert    |  5.35 |
| Cust      | Jack      |  5.06 |
| Weeks     | Rickie    |  5.00 |
| Gonzalez  | Adrian    |  4.78 |
| Ordonez   | Magglio   |  4.69 |
| Jenkins   | Geoff     |  4.63 |
+-----------+-----------+-------+

So while Utley’s Raw Power this year (5.93) isn’t among the absolute elite in the game, he is definitely up there. His score would have ranked 17th in baseball last year and second among second basemen. He is well above league average, a huge jump up from 2006 when his Raw Power was right around league average. As I said, though, I wouldn’t expect him to gain much more power as he is passing his physical peak.

Speed
+------+-------+-------+----+-----+-------+-------+--------+
| YEAR | LAST  | FIRST | SB | SBA | SBO%  | SBA%  | SB%    |
+------+-------+-------+----+-----+-------+-------+--------+
| 2005 | Utley | Chase | 16 |  19 | 0.260 | 11.66 |  84.21 |
| 2006 | Utley | Chase | 15 |  19 | 0.276 |  9.31 |  78.95 |
| 2007 | Utley | Chase |  9 |  10 | 0.287 |  5.68 |  90.00 |
| 2008 | Utley | Chase |  9 |   9 | 0.289 |  8.91 | 100.00 |
+------+-------+-------+----+-----+-------+-------+--------+

Utley’s speed is more of a second thought, but he is on a pace that could see him eclipse his career high in stolen bases. He’s reached first base (SBO%) at the greatest percentage of his career (which is incredible given all his extra-base hits) and has been successful on all nine of his attempts (SB%). He’s stealing, when he has the opportunity (SBA%), more often than he did last year, though not as much as he did in 2005 or 2006.

Utley won’t keep up the 100 percent success rate, but he could definitely grab another five or six steals the rest of the way.

Concluding thoughts

Utley is (obviously) a very good player and has very good power, though he is hitting more home runs than he should be. His batting average is for real, and there is a good deal of upside in that area. He’s been successful so far on the basepaths as well and should be expected to get at least a handful of steals the rest of the way.

I hope this covers all the Utley questions, and as I said in the introductory article to True Home Runs, if you have any requests for players to spotlight, feel free to send me an e-mail.

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