The Phils second baseman is the hottest hitter in baseball and has a shot at .400

By Art Beitchman

Utley will chase Williams, who hit .406 in 1941.

Utley will chase Williams, who hit .406 in 1941.

Why on earth would I suggest that Chase Utley, the Phillies’ 35-year old second baseman with recent knee problems can flirt with hitting .400 this season?

Apart, that is, from the fact that the last time a .400 season was achieved was in Philly’s Shibe Park, at 21st and Lehigh, the precursor to Connie Mack Stadium. On September 28, 1941, the last day of that season,  Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox played a doubleheader against the A’s, and he was on the borderline of the magic number. His manager, Joe Cronin, suggested .3999 would round off to .400, but Williams would have none of that:  “If I’m going to be a .400 hitter, I want more than my toenails on the line.”

Williams went 6-for-8 in the twin bill, ending up at .406.

Utley isn’t the hitter the great Williams was — no one in history was — but Utley entered his 12th major league season as hot as Las Vegas in July. Even after the Phils’ 12-1 loss to the Rockies on April 18, Utley’s stats are amazing:

In 14 games, he leads the National League with a .429 average with 14 hits in 56 at-bats, seven doubles, three homers and 10 RBIs, a .484 on base percentage and a slugging average of .714 for an OPS of 1,198!

Even I don’t expect Utley to maintain that pace, but he is a lifetime .289 hitter with a lifetime OPS of .875, so he has proven that he is a fine hitter. In fact, his 162-game averages are even better:

105 runs, 174 hits,  37 doubles, 5 triples, 27 home runs, and 99 RBIs.

So the key to Utley’s .400 chances is his health. He missed great parts of the 2011 and 2012 season with knee problems, which seem to be a thing of the past. He’s trained and strengthened his lower body to the point where he can generate all kinds of power with that quick and short stroke. Utley will be 36 this December, so his ability to stay on the field and stay out of prolonged slumps will be important, but I feel Utley is the kind of hitter who can make a run at .400.

Of course, Utley will need help from the No.2  hitter, Jimmy Rollins, and the No. 4 hitter, Ryan Howard. If both  have good years, it will make it less likely for the opposition to pitch around Utley, who hits in the No. 3 hole.

All three need productive batting averages for Utley to have a chance, but if the universe were to align just right, Utley could enter the season-ending series with the Braves at Citizens Bank Park with a chance to be the first player since 1941 to hit .400.