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 ten-year 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.

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10 comments

  1. Dan

    June 27, 2010 10:50 AM

    Completely agree. I love Howard, but Utley will forever be my favorite position player of the modern age. Not only is he a superb player, but he has the mindset of a champion, and a great work ethic.

    It’s hard to find people, and especially players, like that. Even Roy Halladay complimented Utley on his work ethic. That’s saying something.

  2. E

    June 27, 2010 02:43 PM

    Howard is a borderline top 10 1b. i could probaly could come up with 15 or so ‘ replaceable” players.

    Utley.. well. Cano( small sample size)?

    That’s about it.

    Howard’s defense has taken a HUGE hit this year as well.
    He’s quite average of an all around ball player.

  3. kmart

    June 27, 2010 04:16 PM

    Utley is one of the greatest second basemen of all time. There’s just no replacement for a guy like him.

  4. Ben

    June 27, 2010 06:02 PM

    I think both are irreplaceable on this team. Utley may be better long term, but you can’t argue with the statistics this season. Utley leads Howard in OBP, but AVG Utley is in a season-long slump. He is only helped by his walks (and occasional HBP). Howard will always be a threat at the plate, even when his career is ending, he will be a threat. Just some Howard defense…not that he needs it with that contract.

  5. Phatti

    June 28, 2010 11:08 AM

    Although I’m a frequent Howard defender, I think it’s obvious that Utley is much more valuable. They’re roughly equal as offensive players, but Chase plays a key defensive position and plays it well, while Ryan clearly does neither. It’s a little surprising that Olney doesn’t get that, but his misvaluation pretty clearly demonstrates why Howard got the contract.

  6. ZWR

    June 28, 2010 05:27 PM

    dude we’re so screwed in 2019

  7. Jack Dwight

    July 01, 2010 07:05 PM

    I think it’s hilarious when people try to find a way to spin it so that Utley has been better than Howard. Howard’s accomplishments have been mentioned with some of the greats of baseball history. Utley’s are always compared to second basemen. Howard has finished in the top 5 in mvp voting in every full season, while Chase has never finished in the top 5. Moreover, the mumbo jumbo cited about his defensive prowess fools only those who want to believe. Certainly Utley will never win a gold glove. He is very mechanical in the field, and has a very slow release on the DP. His throwing motion is flawed, especially on relay throws from the outfield. That being said, he is an outstanding player, but in no way has produced to the level of Howard. But then he does have the complexion for the connection to get the protection. :)

  8. PhillyFriar

    July 02, 2010 07:04 AM

    Mr. Dwight, what you have just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

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