Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
The Philadelphia Phillies can be identified by a number of key traits.
1) Just as the name suggests, they play their home games in Philadelphia (no-brainer)
2) Pat Burrell once played for them, which is awesome
3) They're not having a particularly strong season as evidenced by their 21-26 record
And last but not least ...
4) Most of their players are way too old to still be playing major league baseball
It's bullet point No. 4 that I've chosen to elaborate on. The Phillies are crazy old. Ronald Reagan was in his first term as president when some of these guys were in Little League. And the wild thing is, they're actually getting older. Philadelphia's biggest free agent signings last winter were Carlos Ruiz (35), Marlon Byrd (36), A.J. Burnett (37) and Roberto Hernandez (33 ... maybe).
So what's the plan here? Are we recreating the plot of Last Vegas or something?
Come on, even the Phillies' young guys are old. Darin Ruf was a rookie last year. He's almost 28. I'm starting to think Tony Gwynn Jr. (31) is older than Tony Gwynn Sr.
Old doesn't mean ineffective though. In fact, Chase Utley at age 35 is having his best season in years. Let's talk about it.
Utley entered today with the third-highest batting average in major league baseball at .333. That's quite an achievement considering Utley hasn't hit above .290 since 2008. He's also on pace for 196 hits, which would be his most since 2006 when he had 203 base knocks in 658 at bats.
These are all very good things. Not that Utley had been stinking up the joint before this. Last season his 18 homers were fourth-most among big league second basemen. His .284 batting average was sixth-best at the position.
This year Utley has pounded 20 doubles, the highest total in MLB. His .948 OPS is over 100 points higher than the next-best second baseman (.840 for Ian Kinsler). That's MVP-level production from a guy who was drafted before Google even existed.
Utley's formula for success is pretty simple: stay healthy and hit the bejesus out of the ball. As any Utley disciple would know, staying healthy is the hardest part. Between 2010 and 2013, injuries limited the five-time All-Star to 432 of a possible 648 games. So far he's only had to miss two games in 2014.
In recent seasons, Utley has looked a bit passive at the plate. For example, out of all the pitches Utley saw during the 2012 campaign, he swung only 39.1 percent of the time. This year, he's bumped that rate up to 42.9 percent while maintaining a similar contact rate (86.0 percent) to the one he posted two years earlier (87.3). Being more aggressive doesn't always lead to better results but that's certainly been the case for Utley in 2014.
In 2012, which was arguably the lowest point of Utley's career, he had a really hard time hitting against left-handed pitching. Because of the unique arm angle lefties use, all left-handed hitters struggle with this to some degree. But that didn't excuse Utley's wildly unimpressive .215 average in 121 at bats.
Since then, he's gotten much better. Utley still doesn't light it up against lefties but at .267 in 60 at bats this season, at least he isn't a total liability.
What stands out is Utley's consistency. With the exception of a brief dry spell in early May when his average dipped into the low .320s, Utley has managed to stay relatively slump-free. He opened the season on an 11-game hitting streak and followed it up by hitting safely in ten of his next 12 contests.
Utley owners waiting for the other shoe to drop don't have to. After belting a 370-foot rocket shot to right field Saturday off Dan Haren, it's clear Utley isn't running out of steam. The question is, will the RBI opportunities still be there?
That's fair to ask because Ben Revere is no Shane Victorino and even Jimmy Rollins, though still productive, isn't as dangerous as he once was. Utley seems pretty comfortable in the three spot and he's done a nice job with runners on base (.353, 22 RBI). Utley's current pace calls for 83 RBI. That's not vintage Utley (he averaged 103.5 RBI from 2005-08) but it would be a nice improvement from last season when Utley generated 69 RBI in 131 appearances.
Assuming Utley has a sense of history, he should be plenty motivated to keep swinging for the fences. He's quickly rising up the all-time home run list, needing just four more blasts to move into the top-ten all-time among second basemen. Utley has a bit more ground to make up in the RBI department (30th among second basemen with 832 runs driven in) but is still within striking range of the top-20.
Utley might be old but he isn't playing like it. Fantasy owners can feel safe with Chase.