In Which Rational Philadelphians Headdesk

It’s Chase Utley overkill here at Crashburn Alley. But the “Utley sucks” meme has continued to spread and it must be stopped. Jack McCaffery shot the most recent salvo of stupid, titling his article “It’s time for Phillies to move Chase Utley to the outfield”. Take a minute to let that soak in. Really immerse yourself in the aura of that statement; respect the courage it took to actually send that to his editor; respect his editor for not returning the file back to McCaffery with “LOL” next to it.

I’m worried about beating a dead horse, as Utley has been covered fairly substantially here since the Phillies were eliminated from the playoffs. However, Twitter seemed to be in agreement that this article needed a good fisking, so here we are. You know the drill: his statements will be posted in bold; mine will follow in normal typeface.

Chase Utley has been haunted by one injury after the next.

In an article that will very clearly disparage Utley, this statement implies that the injuries indicate a flaw — something that is Utley’s fault. Utley landed on the 15-day disabled list twice in his career (broken hand in 2007, torn thumb ligament earlier this season). He’s never been on the 60-day DL. Since 2004, he’s missed a total of eight days for “day-to-day” woes.

I don’t think there’s any question that Utley plays hurt a lot, but he is not a medical case fit for an episode of House.

His defense at second base has gone from acceptable to poor.

Yes, if by “acceptable to poor” McCaffery means “elite to elite”. As this article detailed, there has been no better defensive second baseman in baseball since 2005 than Utley.

Even if you are skeptical of UZR, you can’t deny that ALL reliable defensive metrics are in agreement that Utley plays a mean second base. As mentioned in this article:

[Utley] 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.

And no, errors are not reliable. Oftentimes, defenders who have more range make more errors. If I play second base, my range is going to be super small because I’m unathletic and thus I will get to fewer balls. Therefore, I will have substantially fewer opportunities to make errors than someone like Utley. Utley has tremendous range. In terms of runs over the past three seasons, Utley leads all qualified second basemen with over 39 range runs. The runners-up are Mark Ellis and Brandon Phillips with 15.4 range runs.

His offensive production is deteriorating at troubling speed.

This “deterioration” has come at “troubling speed”? McCaffery’s next thesis: “Day turns into night way too fast”.

Despite his injury, Utley still finished the 2010 season tied in wOBA with Hanley Ramirez and Joe Mauer at .373. That’s pretty good company, no?

So exactly what was so outrageous again about the notion of moving Utley to the outfield earlier in his career?

1. He’s super good defensively at second base.

2. The Phillies had/have a glut of outfielders, including a top prospect in Domonic Brown they had sitting on the bench for two months last season because they had nowhere to put him.

3. Moving Utley to the outfield cuts into his value, much like moving Joe Mauer to first base. In calculating WAR, a second baseman is credited one-fourth of a win while a corner outfielder is debited three-fourth’s of a win, for a total of one full win.

Loosely based on the Alfonso Soriano-Robin Yount model, the idea was to provide full protection of Utley as a power hitter by minimizing his inning-to-inning physical stress.

Clearly, Utley wears down as the season progresses from his balls-to-the-wall style of play. The solution isn’t panicking and moving Utley to a corner outfield position; it’s giving him more days off during the season.

And even if his injury history cannot be directly linked to where he plays on defense, heightened physical wear is an accepted cost of middle-infield work.

Said another way, “And even if the facts go against my argument, I am going to restate my argument emphatically nevertheless.”

Now, McCaffery just randomly veers off into a tangent about Cliff Lee. How it’s related to Utley is not clear.

Here’s the deal, take it or leave it. This will be the last blast of the Cliff Lee trade. The topic may arise again in context, but this will be the last 15-yard-penalty pile-on.

Nonetheless, here it comes: From the moment that disaster struck the Phillies, the apologists hid behind one hope. None of it will matter, they kept saying, if the Phillies go to or win the World Series. Well, the Phillies didn’t do any of the above, and instead watched Joe Blanton go less than five innings of a pivotal NLCS loss.

Joe Blanton would have started Game Four of the NLCS even if the Phillies had kept Lee. If the Phillies went into the season with a rotation of Roy Halladay, Lee, and Cole Hamels, then GM Ruben Amaro never trades for Roy Oswalt.

By the way:

  • Oswalt, 2010 regular season: 2.76 ERA
  • Lee, 2010 regular season: 3.18 ERA
  • Oswalt, 2010 playoffs: 2.75 ERA (2.37 excluding his stint as a reliever in the NLCS)
  • Lee, 2010 playoffs: 2.51 ERA

If a World Series was supposed to make people forget Lee, then the lack of a World Series by rule had to supply the opposite effect.

People forgetting about Lee isn’t relevant. What is relevant is whether the trade was the correct move at the time. Many people have strong opinions veering on both sides, but a fair decision can’t be reached until we see the fates of the prospects (Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and J.C. Ramirez).

Although the prospects didn’t appear to pan out in 2010, they still have plenty of room to grow. And at the very least, the Phillies ended up getting a half-season out of a very good starter in Oswalt, who is under contract for at least one more season for $9 million. If the Phillies think he’s worth it in 2012, they have a $16 million club option they can pick up, or buy him out for $2 million.

What would have happened is the Phillies would have either felt too out of the picture and traded Lee at the trading deadline, or they would have let him walk in free agency as a Type A free agent and recouped one first round draft pick. For an easy comparison, here’s what the Phillies have and would have had in each scenario following the 2010 season:

  • Kept Lee: Halladay-Hamels-Blanton-?-? rotation in 2011; one compensatory pick (likely at the end of the first round, negating its value immensely)
  • Traded Lee: Halladay-Oswalt-Hamels-Blanton-? rotation in 2011; Oswalt under contract for a cheap price well below market value; Aumont, Gillies, and Ramirez; one compensatory pick when Oswalt walks after the 2011 or ’12 season

I don’t think you can make an argument that Lee would have been significantly better than Oswalt and kept the Phillies alive in the post-season. There’s the whole chaos theory thing, but also that Oswalt pitched just as well and arguably better both in the regular season and in the post-season.

It’s just one more reason why trading the dominant left-handed pitcher of his time for three minor-league nobodies is the worst big-league sports trade in Philadelphia history.

What a gross exaggeration.

  • January 27, 1982: Ryne Sandberg traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Larry Bowa to the Chicago Cubs for Ivan De Jesus. As a Cub, Sandberg compiled nearly 58 WAR in a Hall of Fame career. In three seasons with the Phillies, de Jesus put up 2.7 WAR.
  • July 30, 2006: Traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Cory Lidle to the New York Yankees for C.J. Henry (minors), Jesus Sanchez (minors), Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith. Henry was a bust. Sanchez put up decent numbers last year in Clearwater. Monasterios is now a Dodger, having done nothing as a prospect in the Phillies’ system. Smith was a decent LOOGY for nine innings in 2006 but hasn’t been in professional baseball since 2008. Abreu, meanwhile, was worth 17.3 WAR since departing from Philadelphia. Yes, the trade was a salary dump more than anything, but it still is one of the most damaging trades in Phillies history.

You can add the Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, and Ferguson Jenkins trades in there as well. The Lee trade is easily defensible and comes nowhere near the “worst big-league sports trade in Philadelphia history”. But whatever helps you sell newspapers, Jack.

Now, Lee rant aside, McCaffery spent a lot of time at the beginning of his column whining about Utley’s injuries, hypothesizing ways to cure his ailments. McCaffery wraps up his article contradicting everything he said.

Somehow, Brett Favre ignored a severe ankle injury and started his 292nd consecutive game Sunday. He’s 41.

So what does that say? It says that too many other pro (and college) athletes miss too much time with similar injuries because they’d rather be babied, talked about and massaged. That’s what.

Wouldn’t moving Utley to the outfield because of his injuries fall under the “babied” and “massaged” categories?

Furthermore, playing while hurt is exactly why Utley appears to have hurt the Phillies this year. There’s something to be said for machismo and pain tolerance, but to a point. Playing while hurt to the detriment of a team is dumb and the problem shouldn’t be exacerbated by sportswriters looking to place athletes in neat groups, like “babied” and “gritty”.

I would prefer Utley to admit when he’s not feeling 100%. I would prefer Charlie Manuel to recognize this even if Utley doesn’t say anything, and to give Utley more regular days off during the season. I would prefer that Ruben Amaro mandate extra days off for Utley. And I would prefer the media not to pat athletes on their (aching, sore) backs for refusing to take days off. I would appreciate it even more if those same sportswriters wouldn’t place those athletes in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t so long as the team doesn’t win a championship” quandary.

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28 comments

  1. Heather

    November 01, 2010 09:40 AM

    Bill, would it have made you feel better if McCaffrey had claimed the Lee trade was “one of the worst” trades in Philadelphia history? You’ve come up with five trades that were worse in your opinion. That still argues the Lee trade was pretty bad.

    Really, you rip McCaffrey a new one on this…for what, exactly? It’s an opinion piece and it’s not like his opinion on this diverges wildly from yours. So you think the Schilling trade, for example, was (arguably) worse, and he thinks the Lee trade was.

    Angels, meet the head of the pin.

  2. Scott G

    November 01, 2010 09:45 AM

    I think you meant to reveal Bobby Abreu’s name a little earlier in the post. Nice post, Bill.

  3. Scott G

    November 01, 2010 09:55 AM

    Assuming that the Phillies operate with a bottomless wallet (which is nearly true in my opinion), the Lee trade was bad. It had nothing to do with getting Halladay (the better pitcher) to Philly. They could have had both, but the Phillies management decided it would be too much money.

    However, looking at the trade in retrospect it definitely opened the doors to a better opportunity: getting Roy Oswalt. Oswalt is a comparable pitcher with a better track record. He is signed here through at least 2011.

    I would say trading Lee resulted in a better outcome for the Phillies.

    Who knows? Maybe RAJ knew about the Oswalt possibilities before 2010. I’m sure he knew the contract situation, and while he couldn’t be sure, he knew it was a possibility.

    He rips McCaffrey because the man starts by defaming Chase Utley. The man has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to this issue (or any other probably). He then throws in an argument about Cliff Lee from LF. Referencing Utley’s new position? Yea. Yes, that must be the tie-in. Now it makes sense…?

  4. Heather

    November 01, 2010 10:00 AM

    FWIW, in case it’s not clear, I agree (more or less) with the rest of your refutation as regards Utley.

    I just disagree with the defense of the Lee trade…and you can’t really believe this statement either: “but a fair decision can’t be reached until we see the fates of the prospects”. So what you’re saying is that we can’t judge a decision until we see its results?

    So if we traded Chase Utley for R. A. Dickey tomorrow, and Chase Utley suffered a career ending injury for the Mets on opening day, and Dickey went on to have a lucrative 10 year career with the Phillies, then that was a good trade, because we can’t judge trades until we see the results?

    I’d point you to some of Dave Cameron’s articles for how bad the Lee trade was perceived at the time from Philadelphia’s perspective if you don’t agree with me.

    www.ussmariner.com/2009/12/14/the-deal-as-we-know-it/

    Money quote: “This is, quite frankly, a heist. The Mariners are getting a Cy Young caliber pitcher for some decent-but-not-great prospects.”

    I don’t want to rehash the trade again, because I’ve already made peace with how terrible it was, but I don’t think we’ve ever all agreed the trade was possibly defensible or the correct move at the time.

  5. Phillygirl17

    November 01, 2010 10:14 AM

    Spot on!

  6. Bill Baer

    November 01, 2010 10:16 AM

    I think people are prematurely judging the trade based on sub-par years by the prospects. Many have already given up on them.

    If you want to say the Lee trade was bad regardless of what the prospects did in a small sample size of one season, that’s perfectly defensible. You can absolutely make a solid case.

  7. hk

    November 01, 2010 10:57 AM

    Bill,

    I would say the Lee trade was bad because the Mariners turned those three prospects into 13 starts from Lee and better prospects (at least according to the likes of Keith Law and Jim Callis), not to mention that they apparently turned down an even better prospect (Montero) than the best one that they received (Smoak). Of course, time will tell whether Montero > Smoak > Aumont + Gillies + Ramirez, but what we know at this time seems to imply that the Phillies sold low on a guy who was awesome in the 2009 post-season and had a reasonable $9M salary for 2010.

  8. hk

    November 01, 2010 10:59 AM

    P.S. I agree with all of your FJM’ing of McCaffrey’s piece as it pertains to Utley.

  9. Jake

    November 01, 2010 11:25 AM

    A) What does Utley have do with trading Cliff Lee? Does Cliff Lee play second base on his off days to give chase more rest? This makes no sense.

    B) Having Lee here doesn’t beat that Giants. Does he hit with RISP? Does he hit with 2 outs? Also…as for his stupid comment re-blanton. Umm Blanton left with the lead and the bullpen blew that game. So yea jack…where does that fit into the equation.

    Terrible article and well done Bill.

  10. burritodawg

    November 01, 2010 11:47 AM

    For the love of Pete, people…GET OVER THE CLIFF LEE TRADE. You all do realize that if Lee was here, Oswalt would not be, right? And that Lee would be here for only 2010, not 2011 (and possibly 2012) like Oswalt, right? And finally, you realize that Oswalt has had better numbers since the trade than Lee has since his trade to the Rangers, right?

    A rotation of Lee, Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt was NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. And is some of you would take 1 year of Lee-Halladay-Hamels as opposed to 2-3 years of Halladay-Hamels-Oswalt, then you are just downright stubborn and unable to see the big picture.

    As for Bill referencing Cliff Lee, go read the article again: McCaffery brought it up.

    Keep up the good work, Bill…and let’s go Phillies!

  11. Phylan

    November 01, 2010 11:53 AM

    Thanks for the billionth boring “GET OVER IT JEEZ” rant but on baseball blogs we typically talk about, you know, baseball. The Lee trade was just bad. Yes, the Oswalt acquisition remedied it, particularly because, unlike Lee, he’s under contract for 1-2 more years. But if you’re thinking about the moves your GM made, you should be looking at the context when it was made, not the outcome after the fact.

    Bill, I can’t hate on your wait-and-see attitude with regard to the prospects, but they’ve never been highly regarded at all by scouts outside of Ramirez, and Aumont’s pure stuff, which always comes with the caveat that he can’t throw it for too long and stay healthy. Usually that’s not a crop that turns out too well.

  12. burritodawg

    November 01, 2010 12:04 PM

    Phylan, I get it, you talk about baseball. But the hand-wringing over the Lee trade has to stop at some point. Really, move on to a new topic instead of dwelling on the 2009 off-season.

  13. Bill Baer

    November 01, 2010 12:04 PM

    I wasn’t thrilled with the haul either. I wanted Michael Saunders as a starting point. But it’s better than one late first-round draft pick, if you ask me.

  14. Drew

    November 01, 2010 12:49 PM

    Nice job Bill. I’ve limited myself to reading this blog and phuture phillies for phillies info until sanity returns to the Philadelphia media.

    Would it be possible to get an article on the RF situation? I’d like to hear your thoughts on the best option, assuming the Phils don’t resign Werth. I think Brown/Ibanez/Fransico platoon in RF and LF would be pretty good but I don’t have any numbers to back it up. Just a suggestion. Keep up the good work!

  15. Larry

    November 01, 2010 01:24 PM

    Nice article Bill. I’m sure you’ve already seen but more defense of Utley. He just won the fielding bible award for best second basemen. Time to move him to DH and of the team!

  16. dizzydean17

    November 01, 2010 01:27 PM

    and i beleive utley got the Fielding Bible’s awaard as best 2B in all of baseball today. perfect timing for jack’s article to move ut to the outfield

  17. Neil

    November 01, 2010 02:08 PM

    As far as bad trades don’t forget the Freddy Garcia for Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd deal.

  18. Phils

    November 01, 2010 04:10 PM

    Bill, you keep referring to one compensatory pick, but with a Type A free agent you get both a sandwich pick (between rounds 1 and 2) and the signing team’s protected pick (first round if its 15 or later otherwise a 2nd rounder, and depending on how good the Free Agent is with his score and how many type A free agents were signed — ie the Yanks signing Teixeira, Burnett and CC meant that the Angels, Blue Jays, and Brewers got a 1 2 and 3).

    Also, without the Lee trade people all remember that we would not have Oswalt, which is fair. But we also would have Happ, who despite metrics seems to outperform them consistently (as does someone like Matt Cain, who I am comparing Happ to only to point out that these metrics are not the definition of a good player and that while they are better than ERA or W-L, they are still very flawed). So you would get Lee and Happ for all of 2010 and then quite a few years of a cheap Happ and possibly have the money to re-sign Werth instead of having Oswalt, plus 2 picks (which are worth about $6 million to the drafting team).

    The Lee trade, while everyone is sick of talking about it, is all there is to talk about with this team because this offseason is going to be very very slow.

    The Utley stuff from the article is obviously garbage and not worth talking about.

  19. The Dude

    November 01, 2010 06:24 PM

    Yea, well that’s just like your opinion man.

  20. Dan

    November 01, 2010 07:31 PM

    Don’t feed the trolls…

  21. Rob

    November 01, 2010 08:26 PM

    McCaffery forgot to add that Wilson Valdez is a better 2b anyway — he’s already told us why Valdez is a better shortstop than Rollins..

  22. Rob

    November 01, 2010 08:41 PM

    Also, I second drew’s comment above. crashburn alley and phuture phillies have the market on thoughtful phillies analysis pretty much cornered.

  23. E

    November 01, 2010 10:35 PM

    Utley won the award from the Fielding Bible at 2b.

    dude can’t catch!!!!

  24. pounded clown

    November 02, 2010 07:46 AM

    This is becoming the journalistic equivalent of throwing oneself on a grenade. Utley is an exellent player who had a rough post season. Big deal. If other people can’t see that then who cares; it baseball, not an election. Is this some sort of over compensating for the national image of the unappreciative Philly fanbase? I don’t get it. Also calling out some jackass who thinks Utley should be in the outfield is pretty easy. How about some Winter Stove stuff now that the Edgar Renteria Series is over.

  25. Bill Baer

    November 02, 2010 08:00 AM

    If other people can’t see that then who cares; it baseball, not an election.

    Personally, baseball > political elections.

  26. Phylan

    November 02, 2010 01:16 PM

    Cain has a much more extensive record of outperforming his peripherals than Happ. It’s way too early to dub Happ a magical DIPS defier.

  27. KH

    November 03, 2010 02:55 PM

    Jack McCaffery is pretty much a well known idiot.

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