Instant Feedback: Chase Utley

03/09/2011 12:35 PM -  Jeremy Tiermini

It appears as if the second base position just got a little more difficult to predict, as the Phillies have just released the following information (from MLB.com) via their team physician:

Anatomy of the Knee

“Chase has had mild patellar tendinitis and chondromalacia in the past that have previously resolved quickly. His symptoms returned during his off-season workouts, and he developed some anterior knee pain consistent with his prior history. When he reported to spring training this year, his knee was treated as it had been in the past, however his symptoms continued. An MRI was obtained that demonstrated his prior tendinitis, chondromalacia, and bone inflammation. His chondromalacia symptoms persisted in spite of focused non-operative care, including a cortisone injection. A subsequent cartilage-specific MRI was obtained confirming the initial diagnosis. Continued non-operative treatment is being carried out and additional opinions will be obtained.”

So what does this mean? Let me use my athletic training experience and try to break it down for you.  The tendinitis part is easy to explain, as it is just an inflammation of the tendon that anchors his quadriceps muscles, found on the front of the thigh, to the shin bone, which is called the tibia. The patella (knee cap) is embedded within this tendon and the patellar tendon is the specific portion that connects the bottom edge of the kneecap to the tibia.

When the athlete is in motion and the knee is flexing and extending the patella, which has two small grooves on its under-surface, rides along on the corresponding grooves of the lower thigh bone, called the femur.  The areas on the bones where the gliding occurs is covered with cartilage, as are all of our bony surfaces where joints are formed.  When the patella does not “ride” in the grooves properly the cartilage on its under-surface gets irritated and inflamed and, in some cases, worn away; overuse, which can occur over a 162-game baseball season, can also be a cause. This is where the term chondromalacia, or “soft cartilage”, comes into play.  An additional concern, in Utley’s case, is the inflammation of the bone, which generally means that the cartilage has completely worn away in spots and Utley’s knee now has portions where bone is rubbing directly on bone, which is a main cause of arthritis.

Fantasy owners that draft Utley will have this same expression on their faces for most fo 2011.

The fact that Chase Utley has had both tendininitis and chondromalacia before are very concerning because this early onset during Spring Training basically indicates he had not healed from previous bouts of these injuries. Since the rest and cortisone have not helped the two next options appear to be 1) prolonged rest or 2) surgery; neither of these options is good news for fantasy baseball players.

From a fantasy perspective, Utley is a player I am staying away from this year. If he avoids the surgical route he will need an extended period of rest and then frequent breaks during the season.  I really do not envision him being able to play in more than 100 games this season; the Phillies are also concerned enough, as reports indicate they have started to look for other 2B options.  Come draft day, I am going to let someone else take a gamble on Utley, along with fellow knee-injury players Grady Sizemore and Carlos Beltran.  At one time I built my fantasy line-ups around each of these members of the “Three Knee-migos”. Now they are on the downside of their careers and I believe they will be labeled as injury risks for as long as they play.


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