If you tuned in to MLB Network on Monday, you may have overheard some crazy talk coming from former Philadelphia Phillies closer Mitch Williams. Following a discussion of the National League MVP award, the panel discussed the possibility of someone other than Josh Hamilton taking home the American League hardware. Miguel Cabrera was mentioned, as was Robinson Cano.
After a quick review of some basic statistics, Williams proceeded to call Cano the best player in baseball. This, following a discussion that included Albert Pujols on the NL side of things. Now, to clarify, Williams did not qualify his statement with “…in a few years” or with any if-statements. Right now, Cano is the best player in Major League Baseball in Williams’ eyes.
The problem is that Cano isn’t even the best player at his own position. That honor belongs to Chase Utley.
Cano’s 2010 season is ostensibly his peak. .389 wOBA, -0.9 UZR/150, -1.3 EQBRR, 6.4 WAR. That’s about as good as it’s going to get for Robbie.
Now consider Utley’s career lows since becoming a regular in 2005: .373 wOBA (2010), 7.6 UZR/150 (’06), 0.5 EQBRR (’05), 5.2 WAR (’10). At his worst, Utley is still comparable to Cano.
What about Utley’s best? .420 wOBA (’07), 19.3 UZR/150 (’08), 8.8 EQBRR (’09), 8.1 WAR (’08). Utley grades out much better than Cano by comparison.
It could very well be true that Cano is a better player in aggregate going forward especially since he is four years younger, but as of right now, Utley is the best player at his position and arguably the most valuable player in all of baseball. He is still on the good side of 30 (32 to be exact) and will have plenty of time to recuperate from a thumb injury that sidelined him for two months and completely sapped his power when he returned from the disabled list.
Bill James projects a .380 wOBA for Utley and .371 for Cano in 2011 (note: James’ projections tend to be very optimistic). Utley has a strong track record for elite defense while one would be kind to call Cano an average fielder. Utley has always contributed positively on the base paths including double-digit stolen base totals (with an 88% success rate) in five of his six full seasons. In short, Utley is a multi-talented player with a well-padded resume while Cano is a one-dimensional player with one really good season and two good finishes to his name.
Even in an era with mainstream acceptance of Sabermetric principles, Utley still goes relatively unnoticed and unrewarded. Utley could very well go down as the franchise’s second-best player of all time, behind third baseman Mike Schmidt. He already ranks eighth all-time in WAR at 38.7, about 28 WAR behind the man currently in second place, Ed Delahanty. If he has 5+ WAR seasons for the next four years, he could mail it in during his late 30′s and finish in second — if the Phillies decide to extend him beyond 2013, that is.
With shock jocks like Mike Missanelli calling for the team to ship Utley to another city, it’s time for people to wake up and realize just how great of a player Utley really is. Utley should be to the Phillies what Derek Jeter is — and what Cano will be — to the Yankees.
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