Around here, we usually just refer to him as “The Man.”
Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has been tearing the cover off of the ball through the first 10 games of 2014. His .500 batting average, .565 on-base percentage, .875 slugging percentage and 1.440 OPS are all tops in the Majors. He’s on pace to set career highs in doubles and home runs, granted the season is still very young.
For the first time in years, Utley is once again the lifeblood of the Phillies’ lineup. Has he found the fountain of youth? Was he ever mere mortal to begin with?
This time last year, there was quite the debate over whether the organization should even re-sign the five-time All Star. With diminishing production and a set of bad knees that sidelined the 35-year-old for long stretches, to many Utley symbolized yet more clinging to the aging core that last appeared in a World Series in ‘09.
Then the welcome unexpected happened. Not only did Utley’s knees hold up through spring training after costing him the starts of two consecutive seasons. His numbers actually rose to 2010 levels, his last All-Star season.
Granted, it wasn’t ’05-09 Utley. .284/.348/.475/.823 was one of the better lines for a Major League second baseman in ’13 though, and certainly enough to warrant the team-friendly two-year contract extension to keep a fan favorite in red pinstripes.
For what it’s worth, general manager Ruben Amaro always maintained there was never any debate internally. And how is Utley rewarding the franchise’s loyalty?
Only by enjoying one of the most torrid starts to a season in Phillies history.
It’s early. Utley will undoubtedly fall back down to earth at some point soon, because that’s baseball. He’s not going to chase Ted Williams’ .400 (I don’t think). He’s not going to hit the 96 doubles or 48 homers he’s currently on pace for.
His start almost does make you wonder though, even if it’s only that tiny voice in the back of your mind: have we actually seen the best of Chase Utley yet? Or, implausible as it sounds, is the best still to come?
The man is healthy for the first time in years. Nobody in the business works or studies harder. His classic short, compact swing never goes out of style.
Through 10 games, Utley is swinging the bat as if he might have one truly great season left in the tank, maybe more. Even if that’s not the case, it’s been fun watching him pile up numbers like the old Utley these first two weeks.
That alone has been worth the extension.
Utley is proving that just because everybody on the planet agrees a team needed to tear down and begin rebuilding two years ago, there are exceptions. The Phillies weren’t going to find a better example for the young players in their clubhouse, or a more beloved player in the city/better representative for the franchise.
Apparently, they aren’t going to find a better second baseman anytime soon, either.