In the short-term, Phillies can survive without Utley

Wilson Valdez isn't Chase Utley, but the Phils wouldn't suffer much if rest of the lineup picked up the slack.
Wilson Valdez isn't Chase Utley, but the Phils wouldn't suffer much if rest of the lineup picked up the slack.
Posted: March 11, 2011

AT THE RISK of losing an appendage or two to the terrible swift sabermetric sword, the task on a rainy day was this: to try to figure out just how much the Phillies miss Chase Utley when he is out of their lineup.

At least, that's how it began. Then the task grew into a consideration of the rest of the players in the Phillies' lineup, and how much their absence affected team performance in 2010.

The numbers are a little bit rough. This is more about starting a conversation than it is about splitting the atom. This is not meant to start a war about WAR.

With that, a list: the team's winning percentage when each of these regular players was in the starting lineup in 2010. (The winning percentage for the entire season was .599.)

Top to bottom:

Placido Polanco. . . .646

Carlos Ruiz. . . .642

Raul Ibanez. . . .630

Jimmy Rollins. . . .628

Shane Victorino. . . .599

Chase Utley. . . .596

Jayson Werth. . . .593

Ryan Howard. . . .585

Next comes the opposite side of the same question. Here is the team's winning percentage in 2010 when each of these players was out of the starting lineup.

Again, top to bottom:

Ryan Howard. . . .700

Jayson Werth. . . .667

Chase Utley. . . .604

Shane Victorino. . . .600

Jimmy Rollins. . . .566

Carlos Ruiz. . . .509

Placido Polanco. . . .406

Raul Ibanez. . . .313

Before you start screaming, a few acknowledgements. The first list is stacked in such a way that most of the players who started the most games are nearer to the bottom. This makes sense because the more you play, the more your numbers will mimic the team's in this measure.

Still, Polanco did start 130 games and Ibanez started 146. It isn't as if either of them was being overly protected by the manager.

As for the second list, you are talking about some pretty small sample sizes in several cases, which can tilt the numbers either way based upon whimsy. Still, they do stack up in pretty much the reverse order of the first list - which does kind of catch your eye.

Again, this is a discussion of teams, not of individuals. What it suggests, as we fixate upon Utley and his ongoing knee mystery, is that the whole thing will not fall to pieces because of his absence - especially if we're talking weeks or a month or so.

Last year, this was a team that could play around .600 baseball because it had a core of players with .600 ability. It is this layering of that kind of talent that makes the Phillies what they are, and it shows over the longer stretches. That much is obvious.

Over shorter stretches, though - even a month or 2 - the loss of one (or maybe two) of these core players is survivable. They have done it in the past. Nobody is saying that Wilson Valdez can be Chase Utley, because he can't, but he can be good enough if the rest of the lineup can pick it up a bit.

That isn't practical for a whole season, but it does happen over shorter periods of time, this picking-it-up. We have all seen it. It is the nature of the game, the streakiness of it - and one very hot player or several hotter-than-usual players can make up for another top player's absence, at least for a while.

When Utley was out for his 43-game injury sojourn last summer following thumb surgery, the team's winning percentage improved slightly and its overall run scoring was down about 4 percent. Polanco hit .320 when Utley was out. Ibanez had an .829 OPS in that stretch and Werth had a .910 OPS and Howard had a .924 OPS before he also got hurt.

The Phillies' offensive line of demarcation is four runs. Last year, they played .839 baseball when they scored at least four and only .320 baseball when they didn't. And, well, they scored four runs 51 percent of the time when Utley was in the lineup and 60 percent of the time when he wasn't.

Is this sustainable over an entire season? No.

But for a month or 2? Yes.

It happened last year. It is what good teams do - again, at least over the short-to-medium term. Assuming that is what we are talking about with Utley, this is not the end of the world.

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