- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
The Philadelphia Phillies have been terrible so far, winning just 14 of 32 games despite facing what appeared to be the National League's easiest schedule in the first quarter of the season.
But how much of a difference will the injury-plagued Utley, at 33 years old, actually make?
Last season, Utley played in 103 games, and he was much less of an offensive force than he had been in the past, hitting .259 with 11 homers in 398 at-bats. His on-base percentage was .344, or 43 points lower than in 2010 and 66 points lower than in 2011, when Utley was the preeminent second baseman in the game.
Utley treats his medical information like military secrets -- which is his prerogative - so there's really no telling if he's feeling better or worse than last year. When Utley comes back, he will supplant rookie Freddy Galvis, who is a spectacular defensive player but who struggles at the plate.
If you assume Utley's offensive production would be close to what it was last year, this is what the Phillies have lost, according to Justin Havens of ESPN Research:
- Galvis' WAR (wins above replacement) is currently minus-0.1. He's receiving a significant amount of credit for his D, but his offensive production is bad.
- Utley was worth 3.7 WAR in 103 games last season. If you prorate Utley's 2011 contribution over 31 games (the number Galvis has played entering today) you get a gap of about one win. In other words, assuming Utley was to repeat his performance from last year, the Phillies have lost one win through the first 30-plus games by having Galvis over Utley.
So maybe Utley shouldn't necessarily be viewed as the cavalry riding in to save Philadelphia's season.
• Magic Johnson can veto the Frank McCourt parking lots, writes Bill Shaikin.
• Brandon Morrow tried for years to throw a changeup, and Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell had an interesting theory in spring training about why he struggled with it. "Because of the way his hand pronates," Farrell said.
He then extended his arm as if to throw a baseball, and at the end of his imaginary delivery -- as he released the imaginary baseball -- Farrell showed how Morrow's hand turned naturally, through the physiology of his body.
So Morrow went into spring training looking to use other offspeed pitches. He increased the use of his curveball, from about 5 percent of his total pitches to 7 percent, and he has introduced a version of a splitter, which he's throwing about 10 percent of the time. The results have been spectacular: Morrow has allowed just two earned runs in his last 25 innings.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how Morrow won:
A) He recorded a season-high 10 strikeouts, a career-high five of which were looking. All five of his called strikeouts came on fastballs, but only two of them were actually strikes, according to the PITCHf/x zone.
B) He dialed up his fastball to put hitters away, averaging 92 mph in non-two strike counts but 94.2 mph with two strikes. That differential of 2.2 mph is Morrow's second-highest this season. Hitters were 1-for-10 with eight strikeouts Wednesday in two-strike at-bats ending with a Morrow fastball.
C) He continues to mix in his split-change, a pitch he added in the offseason. Of the 12 he threw Wednesday, 10 were within the first three pitches of the at-bat, helping keep hitters from sitting on his fastball. All three splitters he threw in a 1-1 count either retired the hitter or moved the count to 1-2, where he would retire the hitter on the next pitch.
As Ken Fidlin mentions within this piece, the Jays are going through some changes: Adam Lind has been dropped from the cleanup spot and Francisco Cordero has lost the closer's role. The Blue Jays lead the AL in blown saves, writes Brendan Kennedy.
His fastball averaged a season-high 91.1 mph and his slider 85, up from 83.4 entering Wednesday. He also was able to hold his velocity at 90-plus mph for more innings than usual, as you can see in the chart to the right.
• For 15 years, the New York Yankees were like no other team in the ninth inning, and now, they are like every other team. David Robertson is terrifically talented and has been among the best set-up men in the majors, but he is learning first-hand what he certainly already realized: That pitching on the ninth-inning ledge is very different than working in the seventh or the eighth inning.
After laboring through a 23-pitch save Tuesday, in his first home opportunity since Mariano Rivera got hurt, Robertson allowed four runs in the ninth and blew a save Wednesday. Robertson hadn't allowed a run since last August and had allowed only one homer in his previous 98 appearances.
From David Waldstein's story:
- After the game, Robertson passed one test of being a closer. He appeared at his locker, and in calm, analytical tones, accepted responsibility for the loss without excuses or rancor. There was no evidence of broken water coolers or smashed walls.
- "You're going to lose games," he said. "It's the worst feeling in the world. Mo does it, he comes back the next day and he's the same guy. He goes out, takes the mound and does his thing. I'm going to have to do that tomorrow."
• Rivera revealed the so-called complication was a blood clot, and he is grateful it was found.
Hamilton addressed his contract situation before the game.
• And the hits just keep on coming for the Boston Red Sox: Before their ugly loss at Kansas City, it was reported that Josh Beckett played golf after being scratched from his start. Bobby Valentine could have dismissed the issue as a non-story, and he did not.
Valentine said on WEEI, "Again, I don't know the specifics of this situation. I don't know if he was out in a charity match and just putting or if he was wailing away or if he felt that might have loosened him up. I have no idea what the situation actually is, so it's hard for me to comment on it. If that was the case (and Beckett was exerting himself fully), I would say that was less than the best thing to do on the day off."
Valentine also said that Beckett wouldn't put the team in jeopardy. But Beckett has a lot to address tonight; he must explain the golf outing after he pitches tonight, writes Michael Silverman.
Valentine wasn't happy after the loss, ripping into an umpire for not getting help.
Moves, deals and decisions
4. The Royals recalled a second baseman, as Bob Dutton writes.
Dings and dents
From ESPN Stats and Info, how he shut down the Cleveland Indians:
A) He got Indians to expand their strike zone, something they've done less often than any team in baseball this season (21.7 percent). The Indians swung at 23 of Peavy's 56 pitches out of the zone (41.1 percent), their highest chase percentage against any starter this season.
B) Peavy got the Indians to chase 62 percent of his two-strike pitches, also the highest against Peavy this season. He recorded a season-high seven outs on pitches out of the zone with two strikes, including three strikeouts.
C) Peavy went up with his fastball, throwing 29 of his 42 fastballs up in the zone (69 percent), his highest percentage in 58 starts since 2009. Eight of the nine fastballs the Indians chased were up.
5. The Pirates' bullpen rode to the rescue, as Bill Brink writes.
From Elias: It's the first Mets road sweep of three or more games when they trailed in each game at one point or another since 1987.
7. The Reds won a thriller.
11. The Indians got blasted.
15. The Marlins' winning streak ended.
18. The D-backs' frustration is mounting.
20. The Padres lost, and they are having shortstop issues.
By The Numbers, from ESPN Stats and Info:
4: Runs allowed by David Robertson on Wednesday, matching his total in his previous 46 appearances (0.79 ERA).
18: Consecutive wins by the Brewers in home games started by Zack Greinke, snapped Wednesday.
50: Hits Derek Jeter has this season, the most ever by a Yankees player in the team's first 30 games, per Elias.
• There is sad news about Boston PA announcer Carl Beane.
• A couple of young Arizona pitchers are doing well in Double-A.
• Rocky Colavito remembered his four-homer night, as Bill Lubinger writes.
• Kevin Sherrington bets that Josh Hamilton will be with the Yankees next year. Just my opinion: I think there's no chance the Yankees sign Hamilton, because they have looming negotiations with Robinson Cano, and they already have huge payroll obligations.
• Hanley Ramirez's defense won some raves.
• Two weeks ago, leukemia returned to Amelia Lincoln, my sister, and so she has started down the road of recovery again, with the help of some great folks at Dartmouth. She and James Patterson, her husband, helped with this piece through the first round of their battle.
And take a moment to think of a young man named Ryan Kennedy.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney writes that the Philadelphia Phillies are struggling, and the return of Chase Utley won't necessarily be the boost that they desperately need. Given the status of Utley's knees, what he can actually contribute remains unclear.