2011 Fantasy Outlook: What to make of Chase Utley’s knee

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Man, Chase Utley has become a yearly case study for fantasy owners, hasn’t he?

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley waits on a pitch against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on September 2, 2010 in Denver. The Phillies lead the NL Wild Card race. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Two years ago Utley was coming off offseason hip surgery and owners were afraid to draft him, even at a thin second base position. Last year, he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained thumb at the end of June and for the first time in five years he failed to score at least 90 runs.

Now there are reports that the patellar tendonitis that he’s been battling in his knee may be worse than the Phillies initially thought. He recently received a cortisone injection and even GM Ruben Amaro said the knee hasn’t responded as the club hoped it would. The second baseman took batting practice over the weekend, but there’s no timetable for his participation in spring games and therefore, fantasy owners are left with yet another Chase Utley conundrum.

Assuming you were planning on targeting him before the knee injury became an even bigger concern, do you still draft him in the second round (which is what his ADP is in a 12-team league)? Do you pass on him altogether and target the next best options in Dustin Pedroia, Dan Uggla or Ian Kinsler? Do you hope he falls and then scoop him up later when he represents more value?

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2011 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Second Basemen

New York Yankees Robinson Cano hits a solo homer in the third inning against the Texas Rangers in game 5 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium in New York City on October 20, 2010. UPI/John Angelillo

All 2011 Fantasy Articles | 2011 Position Rankings

We try to give our readers a basic strategy when it comes to our rankings and our strategy for second base is rather simple: Nab one of the top seven guys in the first 1-5 rounds or good luck sifting through the garbage later.

Can you acquire value in guys like Ben Zobrist, Aaron Hill, Brian Roberts and Gordan Beckham later in your draft? Of course, but why not invest one of your first five picks in a top-7 player and not worry about trying to address a thin position later?

If it’s your strategy to fill your 2B spot in Rounds 11-12, then great: We don’t begrudge anyone else’s strategy. But we prefer to nab one of the top 7 players in the early rounds and call it a day. Below are the top 7 in 2011.

Robinson Cano, Yankees
Cano was one of fantasy baseball’s most reliable offensive players in 2010 and it appears as though his down year in ’08 is in the rearview mirror. He finished among the top 3 at his position in batting average, home runs, RBIs and runs scored and is easily the No. 1 fantasy second baseman heading into 2011. Expect numbers similar to last season: .319 BA/103 R/29 HR/109 RBI/3 SB.

Chase Utley, Phillies
Considering he’s already banged up, Utley may scare some owners away on draft day. But he’ll still go in the second round so if you want him, don’t wait. Utley’s best days are probably behind him but he’s still a top-five option at a thin position, so don’t talk yourself out of taking him just because he’s been banged up this spring. (He did rebound nicely after coming back last year, so you don’t want to be the fool that passed on him because of his present injuries only to watch him mash later.)

Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
Pedroia is now completely healthy after having foot surgery last season and while he might not steal a ton of bases early in the year as he gets back into game shape, he should finish with double-digit swipes when it’s all said and done. You can probably expect 100-plus runs, 15-18 dingers and a .300 average out of the BoSox second baseman in 2011.

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Giants making the right decision to start Jonathan Sanchez in Game 2

San Francisco Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez delivers a pitch to the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of their MLB National League Division Series baseball playoff game in Atlanta, Georgia October 10, 2010.  REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATESSPORT - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Every manager would love to have the problem Bruce Bochy currently has. He has to set his rotation for the NLCS (which starts this Saturday in Philadelphia) and even though Matt Cain is arguably the Giants’ second best pitcher, he won’t be starting in Game 2.

That responsibility falls on Jonathan Sanchez, one of two lefties San Francisco will throw at the Phillies’ struggling lineup in the best-of-seven-game series. (Rookie Madison Bumgarner is the other.) Sanchez will get the nod over Cain because Bochy prefers to go righty (Tim Lincecum), lefty (Sanchez), righty (Cain), lefty (Bumgarner), when laying out his rotation.

It’s the right move given the Phillies’ lineup and the ballpark they play in. Chase Utley is a left-handed hitter, as is Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. All three of them can hit for power and given the Little League stadium that they play in, they can do some damage against a hard-throwing pitcher like Cain who relies on his fastball.

But Sanchez’s go-to pitch is his slider, which is much harder to hit out of the ballpark than a fastball. In other words, he’s the better pitcher to throw at Citizens Bank Park (where Game 2 will be played) and considering he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Braves in Atlanta on Sunday, he obviously doesn’t have any qualms about pitching on the road in a pressure situation. (Although that certainly wasn’t the case earlier in his career when he was an emotional roller coaster in every start.)

The Giants have a huge mountain to climb if they want to reach the World Series. The Phillies have the best collection of talent of all of the remaining teams and their pitching staff is expected to put the clamps down on San Fran’s offense, just as the Braves’ starters were able to do in the NLDS. That means the Giants’ spectacular pitching staff will have to be even more spectacular (maybe even perfect) if this club hopes to move on.

But Bochy can only put his players in the best position to win and then trust that they’ll execute. There’s a possibility that Sanchez could get destroyed in Philadelphia and then Cain blows it in Game 3. However, in setting his rotation the way he is, he’s arguably giving the Giants their best chance to win. Now they just have to go out and execute.

What has happened to the Phillies’ offense?

There’s simply no excuse for a lineup that consists of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino to score only 13 runs in 10 games. Yet somehow, it has.

In their last 14 games, the Phillies have scored three or fewer runs 12 times. Howard went deep on Tuesday night in a 7-3 loss to the Braves, but that was the first home run that Philadelphia has hit in 68 innings.

So what’s the problem?

Hitting coach Milt Thompson’s resume speaks for itself. In his first five seasons with the Phillies, the club led the National League in home runs, RBI, runs scored, total bases, and extra-base hits. He suddenly hasn’t forgotten how to coach, yet the Phillies have suddenly forgotten how to hit.

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2010 MLB Preview: NL East

In order to help get you ready for the MLB season, we’re doing division-by-division rankings with quick overviews on how each club could fair in 2010. Next to each team, you’ll also find a corresponding number written in parenthesis, which indicates where we believe that club falls in a league-wide power ranking. Be sure to check back throughout the next two weeks leading up to the season, as we will be updating our content daily. Enjoy.

All 2010 MLB Preview Content | AL East Preview | AL Central Preview | AL West Preview | NL East | NL Central | NL West

Next up is the NL East.

1. Philadelphia Phillies (2)
Much like the Yankees in the American League, it’s hard to find bad things to say about the Phillies. They’re the three-time defending NL East champions and considering they’re ready to bring back the same core of players that got them to the World Series the past two years, there’s no reason to doubt them. Oh, and they added Roy Halladay. Roy, I’m going to dominate your face for nine innings, Halladay. If Cole Hamels rebounds and J.A. Happ’s 2009 wasn’t a fluke, the Phillies won’t suffer a setback this season. In fact, the pitching doesn’t even have to be that great with the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez taking up the first six spots in the order. The problem, however, is that Hamels might not bounce back and Happ’s ’09 season may have been a fluke. There’s also that nagging Brad Lidge closer issue that could haunt this club as well. That said, odds are that the Fighting Phils will be right back at the top of the NL East again this season. They’re too good, too talented and too experienced to fold and they have a great chance to reclaim their title back from the Yankees.

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