Monday, May 12, 2014


About 2 1/2 years back we wrote a piece looking at late-blooming hitters and their prospects for the Hall of Fame. You can go back and read it here at your leisure. As you'll see, we didn't talk much about those chances as they related to Chase Utley and Kevin Youkilis: instead, we tried to use a group of late-bloomers to provide perspective on how these two players would age.

A picture such as THIS is probably not going to enhance
Chase Utley's prospects for the HoF...
As is usually the case, things become clearer when they actually happen. When evaluating the future prospects of Utley and Youkilis, we didn't quite take into enough account the warning signs in Youkilis' injury-riddled downturn over the second half of 2011. We saw more warning signs in Utley's downturn, in part because Chase was able to play more games.

Oddly, though, Utley's injury-riddled 2012 actually suggested that there was more of a second act available to him that what seemed to be the case previously. He struggled mightily against left-handers upon his return, bottoming out at around .160 vs. them in early August; he seemed to have stamina issues as well, hitting a woeful .125 in late innings over his first fifty games.

By the end of 2012, Utley was on his way to righting the ship, and despite another injury in May 2013 that knocked him out for a month, he regained his power and put himself in position for a second wind in his career.

Howard Megdal suggests in his Sports on Earth article that Chase is already in the running for the Hall of Fame thanks to his five superlative peak seasons from 2005-9. That's probably an overstatement right now, however: Utley has played less than 1400 games and will need to at least get very close to 2000 to earn a push through Cooperstown's front door.

Youkilis had a rocky start (2-for-20) in '12, and had played himself out of Boston by late June (though many, including us, still figured he had something left in the tank). And, at first, he rallied after his trade to the Chicago White Sox: his first 18 games looked a great deal like the Youk of old. He even staged a triumphant return to Fenway in mid-July, going 5-for-12 and slamming a three-run homer off Jon Lester.

Yep, always wanted to know how to spell "Kevin Youkilis" in Japanese...
But he then endured a 5-for-41 stretch through to the end of the month, and followed later with a 9-for-68 skein over the first three months of September. The former "Greek God of Walks" (who, in fact, wasn't Greek at all...) stopped drawing them (only one BB in his final 14 games with the Pale Hose).

2013 made it clear that injuries were just too likely to disrupt what by now was a highly fragile "offensive ecosystem" for Youk. Excess weight created a chronic back problem. Over his last 16 games before going on the DL for the rest of the year, he hit just .119.

In 2014, Youkilis has Andruw Jones for a teammate--with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League. Jones has 12 HRs thus far; Youk has one. He's played in about half of the Eagles' games thus far.

Late bloomers have a tough time--particularly in terms of the HoF. Ask David Ortiz (whose Cooperstown credentials are continually met with skepticism) and Edgar Martinez (like Papi, mercilessly downplayed due to being primarily a DH). Chase gets a big break that these two won't get due to playing a tough defensive position, and playing it well. Our spit-in-the-wind estimate is that Utley has about a 30% chance of making it, down a bit from 35% entering 2012; Youkilis, on the other hand, has gone from 10% in 2010 to 0% in 2014.