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Chase Utley is back, baby (maybe)

After an abysmal April, the Phillies legend is finally coming around.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When I initially told my editor that I wanted to write about Chase Utley today, I intended to say that Chase Utley needed to be benched, both for his own good and the good of the Phillies. As somebody who feels like Chase Utley has been criminally underrated in his career, that was a hard position to come around to. And, as it turned out, it was the wrong one.

Let's be clear, Chase Utley has not been good overall in 2015. Utley is hitting just .207/.281/.329. He has hit more ground balls than ever before, and Fangraphs's batted ball data suggests that he simply has not hit the ball hard enough to be effective, which explains his awful .209 BABIP through the season's first two months. Utley is 36 and brittle, and his defense doesn't seem quite as steady as it did even last year.

Plus, Utley has a truly unique contract situation. Before the 2014 season, Utley signed a two-year extension, with options for 2016-2018 that vest if he reaches 500 plate appearances during the previous season. He reached that plateau in 2013 and 2014, and is on pace to do it again. Frankly, given his poor performance, I was truly shocked that the Phillies hadn't come to the conclusion not to risk triggering it and begun spelling Utley more often with Carlos Hernandez.

After all, they aren't going anywhere in 2015 and it would be difficult to argue that Chase Utley will be starting at second base for the next good Phillies team. They are actively looking for someone to take on Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Howard, and Ben Revere while they break in young players like Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, and Cody Asche. This is a club that, by the admission of Ruben Amaro, has thrown in the towel on 2015.

Those things are all completely true. At the same time, they don't even begin to tell the whole story of Chase Utley's Jekyll and Hyde 2015. We are finally starting to see glimpses of that Chase Utley again in 2015. Indeed, after reaching perhaps the lowest point of his career in early May, Utley has bounced back.

Now, as they say, even a dead cat bounces a little, but this at least appears to be something different. Over his last 15 games, Utley has hit .392/.466/.569 thanks to an insane BABIP of .432. Last night, he hit his first home run in more than a month. Meanwhile, his walk and strikeout rates remain right on his career and three-year averages respectfully.

Now, a cynic (which I typically am) would look at those numbers and whine that they were not sustainable. A cynic would say, yes, he homered last night, but dude...that was his only homer in over a month. I get that. And if we were talking about a typical player here, I would agree. But Utley is not a typical player.

How good is (and was) Chase Utley?

He is one of the best second basemen in Major League history. Utley was worth around 45 wins over the course of his six-year peak, and bookended that with another five seasons of excellent production. A veteran-obsessed Larry Bowa and Ed Wade conspired to prevent him from starting his career in earnest until he was 25, but at that point, he reeled off one of the great runs in baseball history.

In fact, from 2005-2010, Utley enjoyed one of the ten best six-year stretch of any infielder (with the exception of first basemen) since the end of World War II:

Name

Pos

Years

WAR

Career WAR

Joe Morgan

2B

1972-1977

53.5

100.3

Alex Rodriguez

SS and 3B

2000-2005

52.8

117.4

Ron Santo

3B

1963-1968

48.3

70.4

Mike Schmidt

3B

1974-1979

48.2

106.5

Wade Boggs

3B

1983-1988

47.6

91.1

Jackie Robinson

2B

1948-1953

47.5

61.5

Chase Utley

2B

2005-2010

45.3

61.3

George Brett

3B

1975-1980

44.3

88.4

Eddie Matthews

3B

1953-1958

43

96.4

Robinson Cano

2B

2009-2014

40.8

51.7

That's a pretty intimidating list. That, and the rest of his solid production should, in a fair and just world, earn him a trip to Cooperstown five years after he retires. It means that Utley is the kind of player that you give extra rope to before you make any rash decisions or make snarky comments about him being done.

Here's what all that means for the Phillies

Frankly, as cold and robotic as we internet nerds are accused of being (and sometimes are proud that we are), it's impossible not to look at Utley and feel like he has earned the right to be out there until he absolutely proves he can't hack it anymore. After all, the Phillies have Cliff Lee coming off of the books next year. Hamels will almost certainly be dealt, and perhaps even Papelbon as well. That's probably between $55-60 million in those three players alone.

They may even find someone dumb enough to take on a small part of Howard's contract. The Phillies will have the money to pay Utley next year without sacrificing in any of their offseason plans, and they don't have anyone on the club this year worth dumping the legend for.

So play on, Chase Utley. Play on until they peel that uniform off of you. And I hope you don't ever have another month like April again. Keep proving me wrong.