Phillies

The case for Chase Utley as the most important Phillie from 2007-11

The case for Chase Utley as the most important Phillie from 2007-11

There is no wrong answer to this topic, but in the coming days at NBC Sports Philadelphia we will look at the individual cases for Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins as the most important player of the Phillies' most successful run in franchise history.

First up: Utley

There's no right answer. But there is a best answer. That's how I feel when asked to compare Howard, Rollins and Utley. Put any one of that trio on a different team and the golden era of Phillies baseball doesn't happen. It's as simple as that. Yet, there is a first among equals in that holy trinity of the infield and it's Utley.

The passage of time can leave a haze, especially when it comes to recalling the value of athletes. It's natural to remember only the extremes, a player at his apex or his nadir. 
A decade removed from their collective primes, it's tempting to think that Rollins and Howard played to an MVP level every season because they each have one of those trophies on their respective mantles. But that just wasn't the case. Utley, on the other hand, did sustain a level of excellence over an extended period of time.

There's something to be said that baseball stats can be twisted any way one wants in the interest of making an argument. But there is one statistical piece of information that clearly demonstrates Utley's superior value relative to Rollins and Howard. 

Here's a look at each player's combined WAR (per Baseball-Reference) from the 2007-11 seasons, the entirety of the Phils' NL East dominance:

Utley: 34.6
Rollins: 18.1
Howard: 10.9

That is just a staggering disparity. Would it be fair to say that Utley was twice the player Rollins was and three times the player Howard was? No. But it clearly demonstrates the gap in total value that existed between Utley and his infield mates. 

Put more simply, Rollins was just a good player after 2008. Howard was just slightly above average in 2010 and 2011. But Utley played at an All-Star level in every season from 2007 to 2011. 
    
Also for consideration, Utley was headed to the 2007 NL MVP that Rollins won before the Nationals' John Lannan broke his hand on July 26th of that year.

Here's a comparison to that point in the 2007 season:

Utley: .336 batting average, .996 OPS, 17 home runs, 82 RBI, 7 stolen bases

Rollins: .287 batting average, .858 OPS, 20 home runs, 60 RBI, 17 stolen bases

It is fair to wonder if there would even be a conversation between these three if Utley didn't get hurt in 2007.

Another means of comparing the Phillies' Big 3 would be to look at All-Star appearances. Utley made six National League All-Star teams during his tenure in Philadelphia. Rollins and Howard combined to make that many in their careers (three each).

Further in the anecdotal category, I cannot shake the 2009 World Series. With the Phillies having a chance to state their case as an all-time team, one that could repeat as champions while defeating the Yankees of all teams, Utley was the only one of the Phillies' three hitting stars to shine. The UCLA product tied a World Series record with 5 home runs while posting a 1.448 OPS. 

Rollins, on the other hand, failed in his chance to measure up with legendary Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Over six games, Rollins accounted for five hits and a .562 OPS. Howard posted a meager .631 OPS in the 2009 Fall Classic.

As if that weren't enough, Utley served as the conscience for that championship era of Phillies baseball. Whereas Rollins brought the swagger that the franchise needed, Utley allowed his approach to set the tone for how the Phillies were going to play. All-out and unapologetic for as long as it took to go home with a win. There's a reason Roy Halladay held Utley in the highest esteem of any teammate he ever played alongside.

Rollins and Howard will rightly be remembered as franchise greats. But only one can be the man. That's Utley.

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Jake Arrieta confident in 'strict' protocols, sees unique opportunity for 'something special'

Jake Arrieta confident in 'strict' protocols, sees unique opportunity for 'something special'

A number of high-profile major-league players have opted out of the shortened 2020 season because of concerns about coronavirus. San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was the latest.

The opt outs, coupled with spikes in the virus in several states that have big-league teams, have fueled doubts that the season, due to start in 12 days, will even get off the ground.

Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta is not one of those doubters. 

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t execute a full season,” Arrieta said Saturday. “The protocols and safety guidelines we’re following here in Philadelphia are strict and for good reason. We have to take it upon ourselves to be safe. Limit interactions away from the field. We need to wear masks outside or in the clubhouse. That’s just what we need to do, be respectful and courteous to those around us.

“I don’t mean to be pessimistic. I feel like it will happen. It was scary to see Scotty (Kingery) get it and (Atlanta’s) Freddie Freeman get hit really hard the way he did. If it can happen to them, it can happen to any of us.

“There’s a lot on the line and we have an opportunity to do something special in a very strange year if we follow the protocols and I think everyone here is willing to do that.”

Arrieta was the Phillies’ pitcher the day the game was shut down by the pandemic back on March 12. He spent nearly four months at home in Austin, Texas with his wife and young son and daughter. His son, Cooper, teared up when dad left for the airport last week, but it was time to go back to work. Arrieta, 34, threw consistently during the shutdown. He got back on the mound with his teammates in Saturday’s intrasquad game.

Arrieta got 10 outs on 48 pitches. Half of the outs came on ground balls. He struck out one and walked one.

“Today was nice, very efficient,” Arrieta said. “The sinker was good. I threw some great cutters. Got a strikeout on a changeup.”

If Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler stay healthy and on track — Wheeler has the extra variable of a baby being due to arrive in a couple of weeks — Arrieta is likely to slot in third in the Phillies’ rotation. He is 18-19 with a 4.26 ERA in 55 starts over two seasons with the Phillies. He is healthy after having elbow surgery late last season. If you’re looking for X factors, or players who need to stand and deliver for this team to have success, Arrieta is right up there with Rhys Hoskins and others.
 
A good two-month run by Arrieta would help the Phillies’ chances greatly and springboard him into free agency this winter. 

The shutdown has hurt the sport’s revenues and that could soften the market for players like Arrieta next winter. 

For now, Arrieta is not concerned about that.

“If you look at (Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick) Mahomes’ deal, it shows that sports, and baseball is no different, will generate a tremendous amount of revenue regardless of what’s going on right now. We’ve seen certain TV deals be signed. Every free-agent class has obstacles. We can’t predict the future.

“We just have to play it out and see. There will be a lot of guys in the same boat as I am. I’ll handle that when time approaches.

“First and foremost, I’m concerned about the health and safety of our players and coaches and the people who provide everything they do for us, and trying to win some games.”

Arrieta will look to jump to 65 or so pitches in his next outing. He believes he will be ready to push 85 pitches in his first outing of the regular season. That could be as soon as two weeks from Sunday.

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After COVID-19 battle, Scott Kingery rejoins Phillies teammates

After COVID-19 battle, Scott Kingery rejoins Phillies teammates

Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery, who was hit hard by coronavirus, rejoined his teammates and went through a workout at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday.

Kingery took batting practice and did some fielding and throwing drills. He did not play in the team’s intrasquad game.

“I feel good physically,” Kingery said. “I’ll keep easing into things for a couple of days. I hope to get some live at-bats soon then get into a (intrasquad) game.”

It remains to be seen if Kingery will be ready to play when the season opens in 12 days. He believes he can be.

“I’m in pretty good baseball shape,” he said. “I’m just going to need to get into a live game and feel it out a little bit.”

Manager Joe Girardi said it was too early to tell whether Kingery would be ready for the opener. He said he would have a better idea where Kingery stood in a few days.

"I don't want him to end up on the injured list if his legs aren't ready," Girardi said.

The Phils have a number of veterans -- Josh Harrison, Logan Forsythe, Phil Gosselin and Neil Walker -- who can all play second base if Kingery isn't ready.

Kingery’s battle with coronavirus started on June 11. He has been healthy for more than two weeks but could not travel from his hometown of Phoenix to Philadelphia until he tested negative for the virus twice. His second negative test came back Wednesday afternoon and he took a red eye to Philadelphia that night. He arrived early Thursday morning.

Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia, Kingery was checked out by doctors. His exam included an EKG.

“They wanted to look at my heart and see if anything got messed up from COVID,” Kingery said.

All was good.

“It’s been a month-long process to get back on the field,” Kingery said. “I’m glad to be back.”

Kingery, who experienced shortness of breath when he was ill, experimented wearing a mask during drills in the field. He found it a little difficult to breathe with the mask. He’s not sure if he will continue to wear one in the field, but definitely will in the clubhouse and when around others.

Kingery knows how rugged coronavirus can be. He’s committed to following protocols.

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