By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
After a horrendous start in the lead-off spot for centerfielder Ben Revere, the Phillies have gone back to Jimmy Rollins in the lead-off role.
Revere, God bless him, was struggling at the spot and was not getting on base enough. So far this season, he has struck out (12) more than he’s walked (4). That’s not good for someone who supposed to set the table. He’s batting .211, but was hitting below .200 in the lead-off spot before going 2-for-3 in Friday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was 0-for-3 with a strike out in Saturday’s game against the Cards.
On one level, Rollins going back to the lead-off spot is not a bad thing because J-Roll has often been the spark for the Phillies offense even though he hasn’t been your classic lead-off hitter over the years in terms of drawing walks and getting on base.
But I have an even better suggestion at the lead-off spot for the Phillies—Chase Utley
Here you have a guy who’s a pretty good judge of the strike zone and has a knack of getting on base. Utley is currently tied for the team lead in walks, he leads in runs scored, runs batted in, and total bases. He also has the highest career stolen-base percentage among active players at 89 percent. In fact, he has been successful in 35 out his last 37 attempts to steal bases.
From 2005-2012, Utley has the highest on-base percentage (.383) among major league second baseman.
From the time he came off the disabled list on June 27, 2012 to the end of the year, Utley led the team in walks (43) and on-base percentage (.365). He also reached base safely in 70-of-81 starts and was tied for the seventh in the National League for getting hit by pitches.
So far this season, Utley has reached base safely in 16-of-18 games this season.
When you look at those numbers, isn’t that what your lead-off guy is supposed to do? Utley has been the one guy on this team who can hit for both average and power. He doesn’t mind taking a walk, he can hit it out of the park and hit for extra bases.
I think Utley might work in the lead-off spot because I think he’s a good hitter who knows how to work the count to the point where he’s going to knock the stuffing out of the ball or he gets on base via the walk. He’s always had the ability to steal bases even though he doesn’t have the speed of guys like Rollins or even Revere.
Like Rollins, Utley is also a threat to knock the ball out of the park from at the top of the top of the order as well.
While the Phillies have good hitters like Rollins, third basemen Michael Young and of course Ryan Howard, what would the Phillies have to lose by putting Utley in the lead-off spot?
Rollins, with his speed and power, could bat at Utley’s spot and still have the ability to score and drive in runs. Once he gets on base, he can still be a threat to steal.
Like Rollins, Utley in the lead-off spot would bring some energy to the team, especially with the way he hustles and runs around the bases. But unlike his teammate, Utley knows how to work the count and knows how to get on base by any means necessary.
If an ideal lead-off hitter is supposed to be good at drawing walks, stealing bases, scoring runs and hitting for a high average—anywhere from .280 to about .300 and be that table setter, I think you can make a case for Utley playing that role.
Utley does all the above-mentioned things to be a good lead-off while batting at the third spot while also having the power to go yard and produce runs.
I asked Charlie Manuel if he would ever consider putting Utley in that role and his answer was a definite, “no.”
“You know I don’t think so because he’s definitely one of our (RBI) guys,” Manuel said.
Oddly enough, Manuel, earlier this month, said the same thing when he was asked why he likes Rollins in the lead-off spot.
“I like Jimmy Rollins leading off basically for a couple of things,” Manuel said back on Mar. 30. “One of them is the runs he produces in the lead-off hole. He’s knocking seventh, eighth and ninth hole hitters and that’s pretty big.
“How he does it? He hits triples, doubles and homers. That’s how he does it.”
Hmm, Couldn’t Utley do the same thing leading off?