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.

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21 comments

  1. Nick B.

    June 28, 2010 09:52 AM

    I still haven’t gotten over Abreu’s gold glove in 2005.

  2. mratfink

    June 28, 2010 10:16 AM

    The crazy thing about Utley not having a Gold Glove is that he is the best hitting second baseman in the game and good hitters are usually rewarded with Gold Gloves. Yet somehow this hasn’t happened in Utley’s case. I wonder if the old stigma that second-baseman are fielders first and can’t hit is somehow hurting Utley’s gold glove chances because there is an assumption that because he is a good hitter he is basically playing out of position adn therefore isn’t a good fielding second baseman.
    The only reason I care about it is that I could see it influencing the Hall of Fame case I think Utley is building, but hopefully we’ll have more enlightened HOF voters by that time (not exactly holding my breath here though).

  3. LarryM

    June 28, 2010 11:06 AM

    “The only reason I care about it is that I could see it influencing the Hall of Fame case I think Utley is building”

    I think that’s (unfortunately) quite a legitimate concern. Assuming a normal aging pattern, Utley is far from a sure thing in terms of the HOF, but IMO certainly on the right side of the line. But a large part of the reason for that is his plus plus defense. Take that away, and his case takes a big hit. If he continues to be (incorrectly) perceived as an average or only slightly above defender, he’s going to need an unussually favorable aging pattern to make it.

  4. Mark

    June 28, 2010 01:44 PM

    The voters are increasingly using UZR and other sabermetrics to vote on these awards as time goes along. That’s why Lincecum won the Cy Young Award last season and the Cardinals pitchers did not. Still though, I wonder how much Utley’s reputation coming up looms in terms of thinking of him as “the best” at his position.

  5. Dave

    June 28, 2010 02:41 PM

    Who said utley is the best hitting 2nd baseman int he league? I would say 2nd best behind Cano who does just about everything utley does…include playingt he field….a little bit better. What a self serving Phillies article this is. Utley couldn’t hold Brandon Phillips jock in the field. hellt he rookie for the mets is better defensively then utley is right now. the guy needs a new hip…..

  6. mratfink

    June 28, 2010 02:59 PM

    Dave, Cano is having a tremendous year this year no doubt, and he is outplaying Utley this year, but part of the primary thrust of this article is to shine a spotlight on the fact that Utley has not won a Gold Glove despite being the best fielding over the past 5 years. This past 5 year period is the same period over which he was the best hitting second baseman in the league. So yes Cano is having a better year this year, but not the 5 previous years.

  7. Aaron H

    June 28, 2010 03:18 PM

    Also Dave, you should read a little more into the gold glove award-it’s given out to an AL and an NL player, so no need to bring in poor Robinson Cano into this discussion. So if Utley couldn’t hold anyone in the AL’s jockstrap (Cano’s included), but still is the best fielder in the awful, can’t hit/can’t pitch, quadruple A NL, then he probably should get that piece of hardware trophy case, as worthless as any NL award can be.

  8. E

    June 28, 2010 04:27 PM

    if Mark Ellis doesn’t get one, either should Utley :).

  9. John

    June 28, 2010 04:35 PM

    Dave, you do realize this is a Phillies blog correct? I am pretty sure Yankees blogs are pretty self serving too along with other team blogs. I will reiterate what others have said, over the past 5 years UTLEY has been the best overall. Cano has been good offensively but has sucked defensively until this year. Get some facts before you start saying mindless stuff.

  10. Duane

    June 28, 2010 06:27 PM

    Not gonna harp on Dave, he obviously just said that to rile us up. Or because he is a Yankees fan which says alot about how much baseball a person actually watches. But definately Chase deserves to win this award atleast once, or twice if Orlando Hudson won it twice. I think the AP usually give the awards, moreso, to people whom they want to encourage based on their performance, not necessarily who is MOST DESERVING. That said, maybe deep deep down somewhere Chase feels slighted, but I doubt he’d admit to it, and I’m pretty sure he’d much rather play in the All Star Game than actually win the award(I know Bill, its my armchair psychanalysis again). I do, however, feel some way about Brandon Phillips being compared to Chase Utley. Brandon Phillips is a good player, fields his position very well, and OK at the plate. He is no Chase Utley though. Chase has more Errors I think, but Brandon Phillips’ Offensive numbers don’t compare(very well), and his Defensive numbers are similar but not as good as Bill’s graphs so obviously show. The fact that Brandon Phillips’ name was thrown out, as though he were leagues ahead of Utley, is just insulting and ridiculous.

  11. Dan

    June 29, 2010 06:45 AM

    Again, I completely agree. I like the love Utley is getting here. I’ve been arguing with my friends and other fans this very case for years now. They just can’t accept that Utley is a good defensive second baseman.

    Ironically, a lot of the arguments I hear are “if he was such a good fielder, why doesn’t he have a gold glove?” or “if he was such a good fielder he would be known for that instead of hitting.” He is essentially being punished for being a complete player. Frustrating.

  12. Matt

    June 29, 2010 09:21 AM

    i’m all for UZR, but what about Uts 10 errors this year. on pace for 21. that’s an un-golden number.

  13. Aaron H

    June 29, 2010 09:34 AM

    That’s true, and I’m sure the voters would look at his fielding percentage as a way to take him out of the running again. But I’m not sure how indicative errors are of a strong fielding performance, since they’re based only on plays a player has a chance to make. If you have a statue playing in the field (think back to the days of Pat Burrell in LF) that doesn’t get to any balls, then technically they won’t have any errors that season, since they’ll never have a chance to get to the ball in the first place.

  14. Bill

    June 29, 2010 10:00 AM

    Errors are about as good as measuring fielder performance as wins are for measuring pitcher perfomance. That is to say, not good.

  15. Matt

    June 29, 2010 02:02 PM

    that’s fine, and i don’t completely disagree. i’ll chalk up the increase in error rate to flukability. still, if he ends up w/ 20+ errors i’ll conclude that the errors were a problem this year.

  16. 17843

    August 20, 2010 11:22 AM

    I have this argument with my friends all the time, but do you think there’s any credence to the idea that a systematic bias within UZR is making Utley look better than he may be? Utley has played under many of the same conditions for the past six years (90%+ games played with Howard at 1B and Rollins at 2B, all home games at CBP).

  17. Marc

    November 09, 2010 04:13 PM

    I can’t help but feel that his mistakes in the playoffs, irrelevant to the regular season as they are, will affect his standing. The DL-stint won’t help, either.

  18. Rich

    November 09, 2010 04:53 PM

    Marc, they vote on the awards prior to the start of the postseason

  19. Marc

    November 09, 2010 08:45 PM

    You’re right, that slipped my mind. My mistake.

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