Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Will the Yankees pitch to Chase Utley?

There's been a minor amount of hysteria regarding Chase Utley and his HR binge during this year's post season. The Yankees were widely recognized as having the appropriate medicine to neutralize Philadelphia's lefty-heavy power with Sabathia and Pettitte starting, and Marte/Coke relieving. And they've been largely successful:

Howard: 3-19, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 12K, .263 SLG
Ibanez: 5-20, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 0 BB, 9 K, .500 SLG

The exception to the rule is Utley (6-18, 5 HR, 8 RBI, 3BB, 3K, 1.222 SLG). His power numbers not only dwarf the rest of the lineup, but he's raised his game significantly in the post-season (17 career 2-HR games, 2 this season in 162 games, now 2 in 5 games). The other post-season records he's tied/broken are impressive:

- First LH batter to hit 2 HR in a game off a LH pitcher since Ruth did it in 1928
- New NL record for most home runs in a World Series (previously held by 4 different players)
- Tied ML record for most HR in a World Series (with Reggie Jackson)
- Most career WS HR by a second baseman (7)

Joe Girardi tends to overmanage, but at some point you'd think he'd stop pitching to Utley, especially with Howard struggling so mightily. Out of curiousity, how has Utley fared in men-in-scoring-position situations during the World Series? I'll also include the game situation for each of his HR.

HR #1 - Game One, 3rd inning, 0 on, 2 out (Sabathia).
HR #2 - Game One, 6th inning, 0 on, 1 out (Sabathia).
Game One, 8th inning, runners on 1st and 2nd, 0 out (vs Marte): Strikeout Looking.
Game One, 9th inning, runners on 1st and 2nd, 1 out (vs Coke): Flyout to deep RC.

Game Two, 3rd inning, runner on 2nd, 2 out (vs Burnett): Intentional Walk.
Game Two, 8th inning, runners on 1st and 2nd, 1 out (vs Rivera): Double Play.

Game Three, 1st inning, runner on 2nd, 1 out (vs Pettitte): Strikeout Swinging.
Game Three, 2nd inning, runner on 2nd, 2 out (vs Pettitte): Strikeout Looking.

Game Four, 1st inning, runner on 2nd, 1 out (vs Sabathia): Double to RC, RBI.
Game Four, 5th inning, runners on 1st and 2nd, 0 out (vs Sabathia): Popout to short.
HR #3 - Game Four, 7th inning, 0 on, 2 out (Sabathia).

HR #4 - Game Five, 1st inning, runners on 1st and 2nd, 0 out (Burnett).
HR #5 - Game Five, 7th inning, 0 on, 0 out (Coke).

Four of Utley's 5 HR have come with no one on. He's had 9 at bats with a runner in scoring position during the series. Subtracting the intentional walk in Game 2 (after which Howard struck out), the Yankees have held Utley to a 2-8 performance.

I recognize this as a small sample size. Looking at his at bats with runners in scoring position, maybe one other instance (the second inning at bat in Game 3) would have lent itself to intentionally walking Utley, however Pettitte had struck Utley out in his first at bat, so he was allowed to attack Utley the second time around and got a strikeout then too. The Yankees weren't going to walk Utley in Game 5 given the way Howard kills RH pitching, and since it was the first frigging inning. So the Yankees have had success neutralizing Chase Utley with runners in scoring position.

Will the Yankees pitch around Utley tonight? As always, it's possible given the game situation at the time. However, the results through the first 5 games indicate the Yankees have done well against Utley with runners on base, so it would be perfectly understandable if they continued to attack him in those situations during Game 6.

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