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By Jon Weisman
On Monday, MLB.com Statcast analyst and Dodger Insider magazine contributor Mike Petriello wrote about a key reason general managers might be interested in Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, who has for most of 2015 been having the worst season of his career.
Forget the .213 batting average, this chart shows why teams are still interested in Chase Utley. pic.twitter.com/odK2Qt24L6
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) August 17, 2015
“Utley’s average exit velocity jumped more than five full mph (since returning from the disabled list),” wrote Petriello, “and his average batted-ball distance increased more than 25 feet. In 28 plate appearances since returning, he’s got 13 hits, including six extra-base hits. To put that into context, Utley has just 18 extra-base hits all year long; a full one-third of them have come in the last week.”
Combine that with Utley’s long-term track record in regular-season and postseason play, and the never-ending desire to upgrade the active roster, and you have an inkling why the Dodgers traded minor leaguers Darnell Sweeney and John Richy to the Phillies today for Utley and cash considerations.
Utley’s presence will supplement the Dodgers off the bench and in the infield, especially while second baseman Howie Kendrick remains injured, freeing Kiké Hernandez to roam the diamond more. The Dodgers have not announced who will vacate the 25-man roster to make room for Utley.
Drafted by the Dodgers in 1997, Utley chose instead to attend UCLA, as this 2008 Times story by Bill Shaikin relates. After signing as a first-round pick with the Phillies in 2000 and making his MLB debut in 2003, Utley would go on to have a .366 on-base percentage and .481 slugging percentage in 6,617 plate appearances.
In 2014, had a .339 OBP and slugged .407, before falling to .257/.275 this year until he went on the DL on June 22. In his return, he is 15 for 31 with a 1.227 OPS.
Sweeney, a 24-year-old infielder-outfielder taken in the 13th round of the 2012 draft, has a .332 on-base percentage and .409 slugging percentage for Triple-A Oklahoma City. He leads the Pacific Coast League with 32 steals (in 45 attempts).
The 23-year-old Richy, a third-round selection in last year’s draft, has a 4.20 ERA in 124 1/3 innings this year for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga with 105 strikeouts against 181 baserunners.
Today’s acquisition, of course, reunites Utley with his longtime double-play partner in Philadelphia, shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Both players will be free agents after this season. The last pitch Utley saw as a Dodger opponent was the final pitch of Josh Beckett’s no-hitter on May 25, 2014.
It was only two Augusts ago that the Dodgers acquired another 36-year-old infielder from Philadelphia: Michael Young. The long-time Ranger, short-time National Leaguer hit .314 with the Dodgers in 53 plate appearances, though with only one walk and three extra-base hits. Young then went 1 for 10 in the playoffs.
In August 2006, the Dodgers had unqualified success with another former Phillies infielder, Marlon Anderson. Coming over from the Nationals at age 32, Anderson hit .375/.431/.813 in 73 plate appearances, including his 5-for-5, two-homer extravaganza in the 4+1 game.
And continuing with the NL East in August theme, there was Ronnie Belliard in 2008. Another National expatriate, the 34-year-old Belliard hit .351/.398/.636 to finish the regular season, then batted .300 with hits in all eight Dodger playoff games, including the tying RBI in the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ National League Division Series Game 2 comeback win.
The two minor-leaguers sent by the Dodgers to Philadelphia for Rollins have nearly completed their first seasons for Double-A Reading. Starting pitcher Zach Eflin, a 21-year-old righty, has a 3.43 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 4.5 K/9 in 107 2/3 innings, while 23-year-old lefty Tom Windle has a 4.47 ERA, 1.51 WHIP and 5.9 K/9 in 90 2/3 innings. Windle was moved to the bullpen June 30 after starting his first 14 games.