Chase Utley Needs (A Lot) More Love

It’s true: Chase Utley, the best all-around second baseman in the game today and one of the best players at any position over the last half-decade, needs more sweet loving.

With the revelation of the 2009 National League Most Valuable Player earlier today, Utley’s underestimation, it appears, still persists to this day. The first indication came when Utley was lazily passed over for a Gold Glove in favor of the guy who won it last year, despite Utley’s clear and unquestionable superiority by the books.

Utley finished eighth in this year’s balloting, receiving 18 votes out of 32 ballots – yes, he was omitted on 14 different ballots – with none awarding him higher than third place. Utley finished behind winner Albert Pujols, teammate Ryan Howard and, among others, Troy Tulowitzki and Andre Ethier.

Over the last four seasons – 2006 through 2009 – Utley has finished eighth, eighth, fifteenth and eighth in MVP voting, respectively, and behind Ryan Howard every single year*.

*Additionally, Utley finished thirteenth in 2005, when Howard won Rookie of the Year. Howard didn’t get any MVP votes for his half-season of production, however.

Utley continues to live in Ryan Howard’s shadow. It’s probably because Howard hits so many home runs and because the RBI is still viewed as a viable offensive statistic, capable of measuring ability. What we really have is a long-standing mistake, one that is costing Chase Utley some hardware that would help his case for a Hall of Fame enshrinement after retirement. As much as the disdain grows for awards like the Gold Gloves, these things are actually perceived by some, if not most, voters in the BBWAA as having pretty significant value.

I’m going to compare Utley with Howard over the last four seasons, starting at the beginning of 2006, to show how slighted he is. This is not to demean Howard; I do that enough in other posts. Rather, this will serve to show how one player can be voted so highly every year, yet be clearly outperformed by a teammate who still finishes beneath in voting. For reference, the point breakdowns for each of the last four years can be found here, and here for 2008.

G AB H 2B HR RBI N-IBB* K
Utley 607 2,366 717 157 118 402 246 435
Howard 625 2,336 649 114 198 572 274 765
AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ UZR WAR 1PV*
Utley 0.303 0.391 0.533 0.924 135 56 30.5 0
Howard 0.278 0.379 0.589 0.967 144 5 19.4 32

*Non-intentional walks and first-place votes

Obviously, it’s not an exact science when you’re comparing a first and second baseman, but it’s fair to note the comparative disparities here:

  • Utley, despite playing 18 fewer games, has 68 more doubles and 40 more non-intentional times on base in just 30 more at-bats, minus HBP.
  • Utley obviously doesn’t have Howard’s power, but only Florida’s Dan Uggla has more HR as a second baseman since 2006 than Utley, and only three more, at that. Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips is third, a solid 30 homers behind Chase.
  • Utley hasn’t hit behind Howard even once, far as I can remember, and with Utley getting on base at a .391 clip over four years, it’s easy to see why Howard gets such an enormous RBI advantage.

Speaking of RBI, Fangraphs recently released an article on how certain players can have their offensive production “overrated,” in a sense, by their RBI totals. Basically, it took a player’s RBI total and divided it by wRC, or wOBA Runs Created, a normalized, “absolute” version of the Runs Created statistic.

Among hitters with at least 90 RBI in 2009, Chase Utley finished 48th out of – you guessed it – 48 players, with Joe Mauer second-to-last. Also, over a period spanning the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons, Utley finished 44th out of 45 players with at least 250 RBI over that span; Ryan Howard finished second.

It’s easy for a lot of writers to trumpet RBI as a banner stat, simply because they see it as a result of the hitter being “clutch” or getting hits when it “matters” more than any other time, or something. In reality, the runners who get on base ahead of the RBI mongers are often forgotten. See that .391 OBP that Utley posted from 2006 through 2009? That’s tied for 15th-best among all hitters over that span with a minimum of 1,500 plate appearances, and tops among second basemen. The closest? Boston’s Dustin Pedroia at .370, a full .021 behind. Howard comes in 30th on that list, ninth among first basemen.

Utley probably got tired of all these shenanigans during the World Series and decided he’d swat a few to remind people that he actually is a superior player. I’m sure this has become more apparent to people in the Philly area, but nationally, it still seems like Utley just can’t escape the shadow of the Big Man, so in 2010, give Chase his due. He’s more than earned it by this point.

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Filed under General Bull, Offseason 2009-10

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