Olney: Howard, Not Utley, Is Irreplaceable

If you have Insider access at ESPN.com, you can see Buster Olney’s list of baseball’s most irreplaceable players. Standard list of a bunch of great players: Albert Pujols, Ubaldo Jimenez, Evan Longoria, etc. But what grabbed my attention was Olney’s nominee for the Phillies’ irreplaceable player: Ryan Howard. I’ve railed on Howard before, particularly because he was the beneficiary of a ludicrous $125 million contract extension, but there is no doubting that he currently provides a lot of value.

However, there is just no replacing Chase Utley no matter how you slice it. Howard plays a non-premium position; Utley plays a premium position. Howard plays average defense; Utley has been the best defensive second baseman since 2005 (I will go into detail on that tomorrow). Even offensively, Utley has been better than Howard dating back to 2007.

Don’t take my word for it though, check out the data from FanGraphs.

Click the image to view a larger version.

Weighted on-base average (wOBA):

Wins Above Replacement (WAR):

Even going forward, Utley projects as the far superior player. Using the tenyear PECOTA forecasts (using WARP; essentially WAR with an extra letter) from Baseball Prospectus:

A reasonable argument could be made that Utley is one of the three most valuable players in all of baseball. Meanwhile, you would be hard-pressed to successfully argue that Howard belongs in the top-30. Needless to say, I respectfully disagree with Olney’s nominee and I think this once again proves that Utley is still somehow one of baseball’s chronically underrated players.