Chase Utley is hitting .235 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in 23 games this season. (Philliedelphia/Kevin Durso)
From 2006 to 2010, Chase Utley and success went hand in hand. Utley was voted to start five straight All-Star Games. He was a part of the first four division-championship Phillies teams on a current five-year streak. He was by far the best second baseman in baseball.
Now, that isn't so much the case. Injuries have derailed the second baseman's career to some degree. He can still play the game, but his level of production has been down in the past two seasons.
Last season, Utley produced career-lows in all three leading offensive categories for production - batting average, home runs and RBIs. But, Utley is quite possibly the best offensive second baseman still in baseball.
Since 2005, Utley has the eighth highest batting average among second baseman with at least 200 plate appearances. He is second only to Dan Uggla in home runs with 177. He is second only to Robinson Cano in RBIs with 629. But Utley's wOBA (weighted on-base average) is the best among second baseman. And it's not even close.
Utley leads the category with a .389 wOBA. He leads by 26 points over Jeff Kent and Dustin Pedroia who tied at .363.
Weighted on-base average measures the value of a hitter by taking everything into account. In other words, a double is worth more than a single in calculated wOBA. But to a batting average, the two hits are worth the same, one hit for one at-bat. This also takes into account times when the player reaches base via walk or hit by pitch.
The best hitters in baseball will usually have a wOBA in the range of .370 to .400. Utley's .389 since 2005 ranks 12th among all players in baseball with at least 2000 plate appearances since 2005. The 11 names in front of Utley: Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, Manny Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, Lance Berkman and Prince Fielder.
One thing all those players have in common: they are all corner infielders, outfielders or designated hitters. There is still no hitting second baseman like Utley.
Now, you might be thinking about Utley of 2011 or 2012. The Utley with two bad knees and an unfortunate injury history that has caused him to miss significant time in each of the last three seasons.
Utley's wOBA since 2010 is .359, still above average. He is tied for third among second baseman with Ian Kinsler and trails only Pedroia and Cano. As far as the National League goes, Utley is still the best hitting second baseman.
Additionally, you've seen Utley make all of the routine plays - and some not so routine ones - in the field and run the bases well.
My argument is that Utley isn't destined to be an American League DH for the rest of his career. What if the Phillies gave him another chance?
A lot of that rides on what happens after 2012. Will the knee problems return for Utley in the offseason or Spring Training, forcing another shortened season?
What we haven't seen out of Utley in the past three years is a full season. He may be on a power outage, but that's to be expected in an injury-riddled year. That's not to say a full season makes Utley healthy. But it is healthy enough to play somewhere along the lines of 140 games or more, which would probably be as close to a full season as Utley would get at this point in his career.
Still, if you figure that Utley puts together some of the best at-bats, works the count, and has one of the best contact swings on the team, it may be worth it to give Utley a shot.
Much like Cole Hamels or Shane Victorino this season, 2013 will be Utley's make-or-break year for a contract. He earned his last contract extension that has him making $15 million a season. If the Phillies are to re-sign him, he has to prove he's worth it.
For a player who gives his all on the field, the effort will most definitely be there. If the numbers that usually follow Utley come with it, he might just end up being a Phillie for life.