Where Have You Gone Chase Utley, Our City Turns Its Lonely Eyes To You
If you listen to sports talk radio, you know people have been very quick to say Chase Utley has lost it and his career is over. Hosts have said this and callers have said this. I can’t necessarily blame them, but when you just focus on one stat, such as batting average, it may be a bit misleading. I recall some in the media saying the same thing about Jim Thome, who went on to have productive years after his time in Philadelphia, including 2006 when his OPS was over 1.000.
Now, I am not going to sit here and tell you that Chase Utley is having a good year or that if he plays next year he is going to rebound and be an all-star. However, if you dig a little deeper into the stats, there are some things that may suggesthe will rebound at some point, which may not be until nex year (if there is a next year in Philly for him). I am not a major advanced-metrics stats guy, but there is value in them, although as I’ve said before, it can be overdone.
The first stat I want to cover is BABIP, which is short for Batting Average on Balls In Play. Basically, it is a player’s batting average for all the balls he puts into play. The idea behind this is to show how “lucky” a player is. We all know that you can hit a ball really hard, but right at somebody or, hit a little dribbler that finds the hole. That is not reflected in traditional batting average, but it is in BABIP. The average BABIP is supposed to be .300 and, in fact, the average for all players last year was .299. The lower a player’s BABIP is, the lower his traditional average will probably be, and vice versa. One issue I have with BABIP is that it doesn’t take into account how hard a player hits the ball. For example, a player may have a lower BABIP not necessarily because he is “unlucky”, but because he is just not hitting the ball hard. The harder you hit the ball, the better chance you have for it to be a hit. Not always, but it improves the odds of getting past a fielder. For this reason, I think it is important to also take a look at a player’s line-drive percentage and “hard-hit” percentage in conjunction with the BABIP.
So, let’s take a look at Chase Utley through his career and then this season. Utley’s career number in BABIP is .299. The year he hit with his highest batting average, .332 in 2007, he also had his highest BABIP number at .362. The other year in which he hit over .300, .309 in 2009, he had his second highest BABIP at .343. What’s also interesting is that when his BABIP was around .300, his batting average was around .280-.290 for those year. From this we can infer that his career batting average should be around that mark, which it is at .281.