Sunday, October 18, 2009

Utley’s errors: random mistakes or prelude to his future?




  Chase Utley is the 4 time All Star second baseman for the Phillies, he’s displayed awesome talent for the team year in and year out for the Phillies and into the Playoffs in 2009. This is his 7th season in the MLB, all of those years he been a Phillie.

Chase has made only 12 errors in all of the regular season this year, that is about average of the amount of errors he has every season. He played 155 games this season, and had 354 Putouts in this season. What is a putout? Here’s the wikipedia definition of a putout:

In baseball statistics, a putout (denoted by PO or fly ball when appropriate) is given to a defensive player who records an out by one of the following methods:

     Tagging a runner with the ball when they are not touching a base

  • Catching a batted or thrown ball and tagging a base to put out a batter or runner
  • Catching a thrown ball and tagging a base to record an out on an appeal play
  • Catching a third strike
  • Catching a batted ball on the fly
  • Being positioned closest to a runner called out for interference


       The two errors that Chase Utley had in the NLCS of games 1 and 2 were very unlike him. He’s turned the double play hundreds of times before without issue. He’s almost become automatic at it. Just looking at the errors on a replay of them give you some clues that these may not be random errors of forcing a throw or a bad grip on the ball. As the first play developed in Game 2, it was a sharply hit ground ball to third which Pedro Feliz cleanly fielded and threw over to Utley who had plenty of time to throw as Juan Pierre had a least two more strides to make before sliding. Phillies announcer, Larry Anderson, said it best as the play happened he described what he saw on the radio broadcast of the game, “That was an easy double play…you know what, we’ve been watching Utley lately really having problems throwing the ball even on routine ground balls, and this one was an easy double play, he just threw it no where near the bag.”


      There is an explanation that possibly Utley is hurt and it looked as if his shoulder wasn’t all that fluid on the throw. There was just no logical explanation for these errors happening now and that leads to the speculation that maybe something more is at play with Utley if it isn’t an injury.


      In Game 1, there was a late relay of the ball from Jimmy Rollins that could have been the reason for the error that Chase had in this game. Despite the late relay, there was a strange movement by Utley who spun around after he airmailed the throw to Ryan Howard. I’ve never seen Utley make this ‘spin move’ after completing a throw before. It almost looked as if he was in practice and the throw wasn’t important at all and he just flung it. It just looked as if Chase is injured and not throwing the ball well at all. He’s done this before, playing injured and not letting too many people know about it. What we’ve seen here though so far from him is a clue that he is indeed injured in some manner.


     The other possible scenario is that Chase is suffering from what a few second basemen have suffered over the past 25 years in baseball. The “Yips” is what it is called. You lose your ability that you’ve had time and time again in throwing the ball to first base or any base for that matter. We’ve seen it from Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch in recent years, and here’s some more wikipedia about Sax who was said to have acquired “Steve Blass Disease” which is documented here in Wikipedia:


Though never regarded as one of the top fielding second baseman in the league, Steve Sax inexplicably became incapable of making routine throws to first base in 1983, committing 30 errors that season. This is referred to in baseball terminology as "Steve Blass disease", named after the Pirates pitcher who suffered a similar breakdown of basic mechanics. As his accuracy suffered, fans sitting behind the first base dugout began wearing batting helmets as mock protection. (Teammate Pedro Guerrero, an outfielder pressed into service at third base in 1983, once reportedly stated that his first thought whenever he was in the field was "I hope they don't hit it to me," while his second thought was "I hope they don't hit it to Sax.") By 1989, however, Sax seemed to be completely "cured", leading the American League in both fielding percentage and double plays.

      So you can see that Sax recovered from what he was suffering from by 1989 and it could be that it was just mechanical with him. What is happening to Utley now is a mystery. It could be just isolated, but I don’t think it is. 


        Both errors made by Utley were very key, I don’t think the error in Game 2 should be pinned on Utley as to why the Phillies lost the game though. The Phillies offense didn’t rise to the occasion in this game, only scoring one run and that just wasn’t going to win this game. We’ll see what happens as the series continues on, it is supposed to continue tonight, but it’s still raining and very cold and damp in Philadelphia as of 10:30 am on Game 3 Sunday.

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