One More Note on Chase Utley

So, this happened earlier today. It’s a live chat with Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News. As I’m not a regular consumer of PDN material, I had forgotten that Hayes existed, but he put himself back on the map — not for the right reasons. Let’s highlight a few of his greatest hits from the chat:

[Comment From PhilliesPhan] Even though it will not happen phillies should consider trading Utley as he is a liability in the field and in the next 2 years he will need a new position such as first base because in the long run he will not be a second baseman. This money could be used as money to sign Werth, and maybe even trade victorino and move Werth to center and Brown to RF. [Hayes] Yes. But Utley has a [limited] no-trade [clause].

I would have gone with “No, Utley is awesome. Why would you trade him?” personally. I would have also dropped the banhammer, but that’s just me.

[Comment From Greg] What do you think about moving Utley to Left field after the ibanez deal is done? I’m worried about his Knoblauch yips. [Hayes] They tried him in the OF. He’s worse there. He’s a good first baseman, and that’s it.

I heard he’s also an elite second baseman.

[Comment From PhilliesPhan] It is funny that over the years Rollins and Howard get crucified in this city but Big Baby Utley gets nothing…… [Hayes] Yes. It is interesting. Except Utley is white. And he likes to curse in public. Imagine if Jimmy had done that?

*cough* Jayson Werth *cough* link

[Comment From Guest] the arrogance of jimmy and howard contribute to people being critical of them. they are the first to accept praise. chase does not look for attention so he does not get a lot of bad attention [Hayes] Chase hides from criticism. He hides from everything. Some leader.
[Comment From Guest] I love when journalists make claims with no proof. Offer any evidence? [Hayes] Are you blind, pal? You have two MVPs in town who get nothing but ripped. Rollins is worth more to this team hitting .250 than Utley hitting .300 with 30 dongs, simply because he can catch. And what have Howard or Rollins done that was remotely as vulgar and offensive as what Utley did after the parade? Evidence? World Bleeping Champions? Come on.

It goes on. For about five more comments or so, but I’d recommend stopping here since you’re probably hemorrhaging brain cells. Although you would miss some pretty entertaining race-baiting. Entertaining theater, for sure!

If you missed it, I wrote a lengthy defense of Utley earlier today. I thought I hit most of the important bases in terms of stats, but when I was farting around Baseball Reference’s Play Index, I came across this jaw-dropper: Since 2000, 13 Phillies have finished a season with five or more Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Chase Utley is responsible for five of them, including four of the top-five seasons.

Rk Player WAR/pos Year Age BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Chase Utley 7.7 2009 30 .282 .397 .508 .905
2 Bobby Abreu 7.1 2003 29 .300 .409 .468 .877
3 Chase Utley 6.6 2008 29 .292 .380 .535 .915
4 Chase Utley 6.6 2007 28 .332 .410 .566 .976
5 Chase Utley 6.2 2005 26 .291 .376 .540 .915
6 Jimmy Rollins 6.1 2007 28 .296 .344 .531 .875
7 Jim Thome 5.9 2003 32 .266 .385 .573 .958
8 Ryan Howard 5.8 2006 26 .313 .425 .659 1.084
9 Scott Rolen 5.8 2001 26 .289 .378 .498 .876
10 Bobby Abreu 5.8 2000 26 .316 .416 .554 .970
11 Chase Utley 5.7 2006 27 .309 .379 .527 .906
12 Jayson Werth 5.2 2010 31 .296 .388 .532 .921
13 Bobby Abreu 5.2 2002 28 .308 .413 .521 .934
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/26/2010.

Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard‘s MVP seasons made the list, but both finished ahead of only one of Utley’s seasons (2006).

In my article earlier today, I wrote:

I’m overreacting to one madman, but I’ve seen the way irrational sentiment can sweep through Philadelphia and it is not pretty.

I may have underestimated the power of ignorance in the mainstream media. After all, Christine O’Donnell is a legitimate candidate to hold office.

Utley is really freaking good at baseball. To say otherwise is to deny a basic truth, like saying that grass is not green and that the sky is not blue.

Chase Utley: Public Enemy Number One

For a long time, Chase Utley has been beloved in Philadelphia. Although he’s not much of a talker, he’s had quite a few iconic moments as a Phillie for what he’s said and done, baseball talent aside. Remember the 2008 All-Star Game where he was booed by New York fans? Or his great speech in Citizens Bank Park during the team’s victory parade? Utley may have been Harry Kalas’ favorite player this side of Michael Jack Schmidt, once exclaimingChase Utley, you are the man!” when he scored on an infield single. How about Utley’s historically great defensive play to nail Jason Bartlett at home plate in Game 5 of the ’08 World Series? Or his flipping the ball back with understated attitude, causing the benches to clear, after Jonathan Sanchez hit him with a pitch in Game Six of the NLCS?

Let Mac from the TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia sum up the love for Utley:

Unfortunately, the Phillies lost the NLCS to the Giants in six games, thanks in part to Utley’s .182/.333/.227 triple-slash line and multiple defensive miscues. Combine that with a career-low offensive output in the regular season which included a thumb injury that caused him to spend 49 days on the disabled list, the love for Utley is starting to dissipate.

The recency effect and Utley’s understated personality are causing people to forget about his elite production both offensively and defensively. Earlier this year, I made the case that Utley is, by far, the best defensive second baseman in baseball. Even factoring in his poor defensive showing in the post-season, I stand by that.

The various Sabermetric defensive stats tend to disagree with each other much more frequently than their offensive counterparts, but the one thing they do agree on is that Utley is an elite defender. Over the last three seasons, no one has a higher UZR/150 than Utley. He is second to Mark Ellis in Revised Zone Rating (RZR) .862 to .842, has made the most Out Of Zone plays (OOZ) with 137, and racked up the most Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), nearly doubling the second-highest total of Ellis, 60 to 33.

Offensively, over the past three seasons, Utley has the highest wOBA at .391, 18 points ahead of runner-up Dustin Pedroia. He has the third-highest speed score at 6.0, trailing Ian Kinsler and Brian Roberts.

Despite Utley’s place atop baseball as the best second baseman and arguably the second-most valuable player at any position, he is being bandied about in trade rumors. His down year in 2010 is being used as evidence of decline, the small sample of at-bats and defensive opportunities in the post-season as reason for the Phillies to shake things up, change the culture, and get back to the organization’s winning ways.

Leading the charge is radio host Mike Missanelli of 97.5 The Fanatic. You may remember Missanelli from his shouting match with Keith Law when the two were debating the merits of the large Ryan Howard contract extension. While I’m confident that he was trying to drive up the station’s listenership based on his previous actions and his reputation, his words do have a ripple effect in the baseball community. Some people actually view him as an authority in baseball analysis and will take his thoughts seriously.

I want to stifle the “trade Utley” crowd before it ever becomes a crowd. I’m overreacting to one madman, but I’ve seen the way irrational sentiment can sweep through Philadelphia and it is not pretty. It is ludicrous to consider trading Utley for a multitude of reasons, just as it was ludicrous to hand Howard a $125 million contract extension. As mentioned above, Utley is a rare breed of player, arguably the second-most valuable player in baseball. If Utley’s gone, who replaces him? Do you move Placido Polanco to second and sign a free agent third baseman like Adrian Beltre?

The Phillies have Utley under contract for three more years at $15 million apiece, decidedly below market value. Polanco will be in town for two more seasons and possibly a third if the Phillies are content with his level of production at the time. How much would it take to sign Beltre? Multiple years, and considering the type of season he had with the Boston Red Sox in 2010, the Phillies should probably expect to shell out upwards of $30 million. And that’s assuming that the Phillies can sign Beltre — they’ll have competition for the third baseman’s services, of course.

Additionally, the Phillies would be buying high on Beltre and selling low on Utley, two things that should be avoided in any walk of life. It would make more sense to trade Utley after, say, his 2008 season when he had a .915 OPS and had won a World Series. While Utley’s actual value may not have been drastically different, the perception of his value would have been. How much value would the Phillies be able to get out of Utley following a career-worst offensive season in which he was injured and ineffective in the post-season? And from whom could they get that value? While any team should jump at the chance to acquire Utley, the remaining $45 million on his contract is a burden on some teams, thus reducing his trade value even further. Other teams already have second basemen, and other teams consider themselves too out-of-the-picture to jump in the conversation.

Are the Phillies going to trade Utley? No. Absolutely not. But this wasn’t a response to the possibility of the trade, but to the environment that allows these ridiculous rumors to propagate. Philadelphia has run some athletes out of town and scared off potential free agent signings (Yankees fans may prevent a Cliff Lee signing, by the way). During the depression circa 1995-2002, that was somewhat understandable. On the heels of four consecutive NL East titles and one world championship, there is no need to be so irrational and reactionary.

The Phillies, and Chase, are fine.

The Resurgence of Pat Burrell

At the Baseball Analytics blog, I looked at the resurgence of former Phillie Pat Burrell. The results may surprise you.

It appears to be that, in 2009, he was simply unable to hit soft pitches. As a Phillie, he had always been known for his ability to turn on an inside fastball. On the other hand, he was known for a “butt jut” on inside breaking balls. When he read the spin of an inside breaking ball, his feet would remain planted, but he would arch his back so that he almost looked like a backwards C at home plate.

In 2010, he regained his ability — or timing, most likely — to hit the soft stuff.

Pretty heat maps follow.