That's a clown soul patch, bro.
You might have heard that Chase Utley is back playing second base for the Philadelphia Phillies. When you are a 33-year-old man rolling a soul patch out, it sure helps if you are professional baseball player. That thing looks absurd.
Regardless, in this interminable, hot, and mostly dull first half of the 2012 season, there has not been much to be excited about. Utley's return is at least that. Phillies fans are looking for a big second half from Utley, and his reputation is that of a player who rises to the occasion as the games become more meaningful. So can Chase Utley have a "vintage" second half?
It probably depends on how you define "vintage."
Even as a young player (here in 2004,) never a big smile kind of guy.
Pre-All-Star Break (ASB): 39 games, 7 HRs, 30 RBIs, 17 runs, 1 SB, .265 BA, .790 OPS
Post-ASB: 55 games, 6 HRs, 27 RBIs, 19 run, 3 SBs, .267 BA, .762 OPS
Utley did play in 43 games in 2003, but 2004 was the first year that the Phillies realized what they actually had: a second baseman with some pop. In 94 games in 2004, or just more than half a full season, Utley's numbers were remarkably consistent on either side of the All-Star Break. They may not seem like much of a measuring stick out of context, but read on.
Running toward a very bright future, in 2005.
Pre-ASB: 75 games, 11 HRs, 40 RBIs, 40 runs, 8 SBs, .303 BA, .894 OPS
Post-ASB: 72 games, 17 HRs, 65 RBIs, 53 runs, 8 SBs, .280 BA, .934 OPS
Utley was not named an All-Star in 2005. There was probably no quarrel to be had with Jeff Kent, but Luis Castillo's inclusion in the proceedings over Utley was definitely debatable. Utley's Triple Crown line in 2005 was 28/105/.291. Here was the season where the Legend of the "Vintage Chase Utley Second Half" was born--increases in home runs, runs batted in (25 more), runs scored and OPS. At the time it seemed like he was just one of those players who perhaps needed the weather to heat up to post big numbers. Looking back now, though, Utley's 2005 second half was probably just his ascension to what would become his level of play for the next four seasons.
Full extension at the 2006 All-Star Game.
Pre-ASB: 86 games, 16 HRs, 53 RBIs, 71 runs, 9 SBs, .312 BA, .904 OPS
Post-ASB: 74 games, 16 HRs, 49 RBIs, 60 runs, 6 SBs, .304 BA, .909 OPS
This was Utley's first All-Star season and the first year he was awarded the Silver Slugger, for good reason. Utley's second half in 2006 was in fact excellent, but you would be hard-pressed to call it better in any significant way than his first half had been. Utley was not a great second-half player in 2006--he was just a great player, period.
The first, gone-too-soon playoff run, in 2007.
Pre-ASB: 87 games, 15 HR, 68 RBI, 64 R, 6 SB, .325 BA, .972 OPS
Post-ASB: 45 games, 7 HR, 35 RBI, 40 R, 3 SB, .346 BA, .985 OPS
You will remember 2007 as the first year Utley missed any significant time. At the time it was fairly easy to explain away: he was hit by a John Lannan fastball (via Washington Post) and lost a month of that season. He did not miss a beat on his return, though, and his numbers after the All-Star Break continued to be spectacular for a second baseman (for any position player, really.)
Utley ramped things up for the Phillies as they secured their first playoff berth since 1993. Again, his numbers were better in the second half, but not so much better that you would call him a "second half" guy...he had 112 hits before the break, after all.
"World ----ing Champions."
Pre-ASB: 94 games, 25 HR, 69 RBI, 68 R, 10 SB, .291 BA, .955 OPS
Post-ASB: 65 games, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 45 R, 4 SB, .292 BA, .855 OPS
As the Phillies were on their way to that World Series title in 2008 -- a crown that for many Phillies fans was to be the first of, if not many, at least more than one -- the Vintage Chase Utley Second Half myth was starting to lose credibility. Even accounting for 29 fewer games, the drop-offs in home runs, runs batted in and runs scored were all significant. The Phillies did again chase down the New York Mets (via New York Daily News) to win the division in 2008, but that time you could not say Utley was a big reason why.
The 2009 World Series may have been Utley's finest hour, even in a losing cause.
Pre-ASB: 84 games, 20 HR, 61 RBI, 62 R, 9 SB, .313 BA, 1.004 OPS
Post-ASB: 72 games, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 50 R, 14 SB, .246 BA, .790 OPS
You are seeing the pattern, right? Two seasons in a row, the home runs are way down, the runs batted in are way down...and now a sixty-seven point drop in batting average. Certainly you will take the fifty runs and the fourteen steals, but the rest of it just does not scream "second half phenomenon."
Some of you still see this image at night one would imagine.
Pre-ASB: 72 games, 11 HR, 37 RBI, 49 R, 5 SB, .277 BA, .849 OPS
Post-ASB: 43 games, 5 HR, 28 RBI, 26 R, 8 SB, .273 BA, .805 OPS
2010 was the first year that Utley's knees became a concern, and the grind of the regular season showed it as he missed the equivalent of another month and saw his power numbers dip a bit. The point, though, is whether it was an injury or just the continuation of a trend, 2010 marked the third consecutive season where Utley's numbers after the All-Star Break did not measure up to what he had been in the first half.
Caught stealing down one at home in an elimination playoff game? Oh, no....
Pre-ASB: 41 games, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 22 R, 8 SB, .280 BA, .810 OPS
Post-ASB: 62 games, 7 HR, 26 RBI, 32 R, 6 SB, .245 BA, .742 OPS
And thus, here is the trouble with hoping for a "Vintage Chase Utley Second Half" -- maybe, just maybe, his body will not let him be the player he was from 2005-2009 again, like, ever. Phillies fans were thankful that he did not miss any time in the second half last season, but not one of those counting stats are noteworthy, and the .742 OPS is the lowest of any OPS number cited in this entire slideshow.
In other words, this or something like it is probably what Utley is now.
Back again, but for how long and to what effect?
Pre-ASB: 6 games, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R, 0 SB, .273 BA, .850 OPS
Post-ASB: To be determined
Utley has been back a week, and any reasonable Phillies fan would have to say "so far, so good." He has not totally lost his bat speed, he is making the plays in the field. And by any set of metrics you care to apply, he is an improvement over Freddy Galvis or Michael Martinez.
So can he have a "Vintage Chase Utley Second Half" in 2012? Again, it depends on how you define "vintage." Can he hit somewhere between .245 and .273 with somewhere between 5-11 home runs, 26-32 runs batted in and 32-50 runs scored? His baseball card says yes; soon enough you will know what his knees say.
But is he going to carry the team out of the cellar on his back? Don't bet on it.