Give Utley His Gold Glove

I’m not normally one to care too much about end-of-season awards. They make for some nice speculative conversation and it gives me a chance to laugh at people who still think batting average and won-lost records are the holy grail of baseball statistics, but they don’t mean a whole lot in the big picture. When it comes down to it though, it is always nice to see your favorite team’s players earn some accolades. Back on June 18, I explained why Roy Halladay would not be adding a Cy Young award to his mantle this year (don’t cry, ZWR). Now, I would like to focus on something positive — why Chase Utley needs to get a Gold Glove award.

While in the Minors, Utley’s defense was a concern. In fact, they had tried to convert him to a third baseman during the Scott Rolen fiasco but concluded that he lacked the requisite arm strength for the position, choosing to groom him as a second baseman. Always the diligent worker, Utley put in the time to improve and eventually master the position. The following table displays the top-ten single-season UZR/150 scores from all qualified National League second basemen between 2005-09.

Name Team Innings DPR RngR ErrR UZR UZR/150
Chase Utley (’08) PHI 1395 -0.5 19.0 -0.2 18.4 19.3
Chase Utley (’05) PHI 1195 -0.6 16.9 -0.6 15.7 17.4
Brandon Phillips (’07) CIN 1371 1.2 12.1 3.2 16.5 17.2
Chase Utley (’07) PHI 1167 -1.5 12.8 1.3 12.6 14.9
Luis Castillo (’05) FLA 1012 2.0 5.9 2.6 10.5 13.7
Brandon Phillips (’08) CIN 1237 -0.8 9.7 3.3 12.2 13.0
Chase Utley (’09) PHI 1357 0.1 10.9 0.2 11.2 12.2
Mark Grudzielanek (’05) STL 1158 2.8 2.0 4.3 9.0 9.2
Craig Counsell (’05) ARI 1244 -1.2 4.9 3.9 7.6 8.4
Chase Utley (’06) PHI 1367 1.4 7.6 -1.9 7.1 7.6

Glossary: DPR – Double Play Runs; RngR – Range Runs; ErrR – Error Runs

Single-season UZR isn’t totally reliable, but even if we go over the past three calendar years, Utley is still far and away the best defender at second base in baseball.

Name Team Innings DPR RngR ErrR UZR UZR/150
Chase Utley PHI 3339 0.6 37.3 -1.2 37.0 16.4
Mark Ellis OAK 2213 1.4 9.7 5.2 16.0 10.3
Dustin Pedroia BOS 3370 4.1 14.3 4.8 23.0 9.6
Brandon Phillips CIN 3208 -0.6 10.7 8.4 19.0 7.8
Placido Polanco - – - 2510 -2.4 8.4 7.2 13.0 7.4
Freddy Sanchez - – - 2361 -1.1 2.3 7.7 8.9 5.6
Ian Kinsler TEX 2750 2.2 10.6 -5.6 7.2 3.1

Utley has been the best defender at second base in four out of five seasons from ’05-09. That means he should have four Gold Glove awards, right? Wrong. The award was won by Luis Castillo in ’05; Orlando Hudson in ’06 and ’07; Brandon Phillips in ’08; and Hudson again in ’09. We are, after all, talking about an award that was given to Rafael Palmeiro in 1999 when he logged 28 games at first base and 135 games as a designated hitter. There is a long, frustrating history of the Gold Glove award being assigned based on reputation and, even worse, hitting prowess.

Could this be the year Utley finally wins a Gold Glove? There is no doubting that he deserves it as he once again leads the National League in UZR/150.

Numbers accurate prior to games on Friday, June 20 (when this article was written).

Name Team Innings DPR RngR ErrR UZR UZR/150
Chase Utley PHI 587 1.0 7.4 -1.2 7.2 17.8
David Eckstein SDP 561 0.2 2.8 3.3 6.2 16.2
Brandon Phillips CIN 638 0.0 -0.1 2.4 2.3 5.1
Martin Prado ATL 590 -0.8 -0.4 1.9 0.7 3.1
Dan Uggla FLA 627 -0.9 0.4 0.1 -0.3 0.5
Kelly Johnson ARI 575 -0.7 -0.1 0.5 -0.3 0.2

Appropriate sample size caveats apply, as usual. Given that Eckstein doesn’t have a history of being a plus-defender whether at second base (a relatively new position for him) or shortstop, it seems reasonable to expect him to drop off as the season progresses. On the other hand, given Utley’s extensive history of well above-average defense, it is not unreasonable to expect him to finish at or near his current 17.8 UZR/150.

The best we can do is close our eyes, cross our fingers, and hope that Utley gets his due accolades.