Will Utley Make the Hall?

I was thinking about Chase Utley’s chances to make the Hall of Fame recently. As you are likely aware, he got a late start to his career, earning a regular starting job in 2005 when Placido Polanco was traded to the Detroit Tigers (for Ugueth Urbina and Ramon Martinez).

While we are certainly enjoying Utley’s everyday presence in the lineup and on the diamond, his late start would seem to hamper his Hall of Fame chances. Still, I was curious as to how Utley stacks up against baseball’s greats.

As Utley has only completed five full seasons, I used projected rates of decline from Baseball Prospectus to forecast Utley’s future production. Projected rates of decline were selected as opposed to raw WAR projections because BP’s WAR totals differ from those on Baseball Projection, which was utilized to find data for inactive players.

To get an idea as to how far he has to go to really earn a shot, I decided to first compare Utley to Hall of Fame Phillies Mike Schmidt, Richie Ashburn, and Chuck Klein. The following line graph plots each player’s WAR totals in order of best to worst. The graph also contains the average Hall of Famer’s WAR and the “replacement level” Hall of Famer’s WAR.

Click the image below to view a larger version.

Utley is slightly behind the path of Richie Ashburn, who was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1995 by the Veteran’s Committee. Simply based on this, it’s very hard to make a serious argument in favor of Utley.

Maybe there is an argument to be found if we compare him to other second basemen who have made the Hall of Fame, such as Jackie Robinson, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan, and Rod Carew.

Note: Rod Carew played a lot of first base towards the end of his career.

That doesn’t help any. But then again, it is Jackie Robinson, Rogers Hornsby, et. al. The cream of the crop. How does Utley compare against other, less impressive Hall of Fame second basemen? We’ll look at Red Schoendiest, Bid McPhee, Bill Mazeroski, and Nellie Fox this time.

Despite looking considerably more favorable, Utley’s worst seasons still don’t match up. It really has hurt Utley that he missed the first half of his 20’s. It should be noted that there is no guarantee that Utley would have been as productive if the Phillies hadn’t used Polanco at second base. The extra Minor League seasoning may have been a critical factor in his Major League success (plate discipline, for example).

In order to make the Hall of Fame, Utley will have to age like fine wine. He’ll have to beat the projections year in and year out. Among other necessities, his defense can’t suffer, he can’t get injured, and his swing mechanics will have to stay relatively flawless. That’s a lot to ask, even of a player of Utley’s caliber. As good as Utley is — one of the ten most valuable players in Major League Baseball — his Hall of Fame chances are slim.

Hat tip to Beyond the Box Score for the inspiration behind this “study”.

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5 comments

  1. hk

    November 28, 2009 08:21 AM

    Assuming Utley ages like fine wine, his best hope is for the turnover in the BBWAA to continue going from the old school guys to new schoolers like Keith Law and Rob Neyer. The old school guys will look at how relatively poorly Utley’s done in MVP and Gold Glove voting while the new school guys appreciate his greatness in the field and at bat.

  2. PhillyFriar

    November 28, 2009 02:02 PM

    An interesting look here. Agreed with hk that an influx of guys who “get it” would be extremely beneficial to Utley’s chances, because the mainstream media still vastly underrates him.

    Jay Jaffe has said that second basemen don’t age particularly well, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Utley. The one thing that plays in his favor is that it seems like superior, franchise cornerstone players generally hold their skill sets later than average players. He’ll lose speed as he gets older, but he shouldn’t have to move off second for awhile, and his patience and power style at the plate should serve him well going forward.

    A final question: how reliable is WAR data in the pre-UZR era? I believe it uses range factor, but it seems like the certainty with which we measure Jackie Robinson’s WAR may be a bit misguided.

  3. Bill Baer

    November 28, 2009 02:07 PM

    Even UZR isn’t to be trusted highly. While it has the same year-to-year consistency as wOBA, it is still a long ways away from being reliable. As a result, I would be even more skeptical of defensive data prior to the UZR era.

  4. Doc | bss.com

    December 07, 2009 10:01 AM

    Coming to this discussion a bit late, but it seems to me that voters will give Utley a lot of credit for his character and playing style, which might put him over the hump. What will be interesting is if Utley makes an eventual move to first base, similar to Carew, and how that will factor into the analysis.

    The numbers aren’t working in his favor, but geez, it just seems like he has to get in, no?

  5. John

    December 09, 2009 07:22 AM

    I think a good comparison would be to Ryan Sandberg, as he was the last 2B voted to the Hall by the writers.

    Sandberg has a career 61.8 WAR which in my mind would seem to put Utley with at least having an above average shot if he plays the next 5-6 seasons at a good level and then pads the stats in his late 30s.

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