Chase Utley Gets No Respect

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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24 comments

  1. Justin

    November 24, 2010 08:24 AM

    I think Cano had a better year this year. He had his break out season. It’s a matter if he can sustain this kind of production throughout the rest of his career. Utley did it for 5 years now. i think in a few years Cano may be able to pass Utley but for now Utley still rules 2nd base.

  2. Richard

    November 24, 2010 09:01 AM

    I feel it in my bones that Utley is going to have a monster 2011. (How’s that for scientific analysis for you?)

    (Bill, what do you mean Utley, at age 32, is still on the “good side of 30″? Isn’t the good side of 30 generally under 30? Or do you mean 35?)

  3. Dan

    November 24, 2010 10:47 AM

    Utley for president. Just sayin’.

  4. Scott G

    November 24, 2010 10:50 AM

    Bill, how do you feel about the MVP recipients? Specifically, do you agree with how the voters tend to be in favor of players whose teams make the postseason?

  5. sean

    November 24, 2010 11:18 AM

    Missanelli’s reasoning is retarded: trade the guy before the year before he downs downhill. trading utley is beyond stupid, and i bet asking him, who to get in return for utley would make him sound even stupidier, because he couldn’t value what utley brings skillwise or intangiblewise(if you believe in that stuff).

  6. James

    November 24, 2010 03:42 PM

    I was listening to Missanelli today and he said Sabermetrics are nonsense, and that anyone who knows anything about Baseball knows that Utley is an average fielder.

    I kind of like the guy but he is truly clueless about the game.

  7. Scott G

    November 24, 2010 04:00 PM

    I don’t listen to 97.5. For some reason, I inflict the pains of 610 on myself, but has anyone ever tried to have an intelligent conversation with him on the air about it? I’d love to hear someone with a strong hold on sabermetrics talk to him to hear his absurd responses. *cough cough* Bill?

  8. Bill Baer

    November 24, 2010 08:58 PM

    I don’t listen to talk radio unless my iPod battery is dead, so I can’t tell you specifically about any trends. But I know that anytime I listen to it, my brain hurts after about two minutes of listening.

    It’s not even a matter of accepting Sabermetrics; it’s a matter of thinking logically. I find talk radio to hold a very cynical view of people, that the only way to get them to listen is to say outlandish things — to stir the pot.

    I have never met Missanelli or any other shock jock aside from Howard Eskin but I bet he’s different off the air than he is with a microphone under his chin.

  9. Bill Baer

    November 24, 2010 09:18 PM

    Richard, I meant that if you split Utley’s 30′s into two groups — 30-34 and 35-39 — he’s still in the good group. :)

  10. hk

    November 25, 2010 08:21 AM

    Scott G, Missanelli had Keith Law on right after the Phillies re-upped Ryan Howard and Law tried to have a conversation with him about the deal. Law went sabremetric and all Missanelli could say (repeatedly) in response was, “… but he’s the preeminent slugger of his time.” It was the last time that I listened to Mike Missanelli.

  11. Matt

    November 25, 2010 09:38 AM

    The problem with Utley is that since Rollins’ MVP season in 2007, many sports writers anointed Utley as an MVP favorite going into the season. In other words everybody has been waiting for Utley’s MVP season. He started out like it in 2008, but since midway 2008, Utley has only occasionally shown stretches of dominance. Otherwise, it seems like he plays hard and goes about his business but never with any dominant flair.
    Over the years it seemed like every time I turned on the TV and the Yankees were losing, there was Jeter punching an inside pitch into right field for a clutch hit. I’ve never had that “he’ll come thru” feeling with Utley. So I think that Utley not fulfilling everyone’s MVP predictions and only making headlines with his postseason errors has lead to him becoming an ignored figure in baseball.
    I don’t know what to expect from Utley next year. Probably .270 bavg., 80 bb, 20 hr is the best I expect. I think the days of >0.900 OPS are behind him. Just have to remember that those numbers are still great for a 2B-man.

  12. Burt Lavallo, friend to all

    November 25, 2010 11:23 AM

    I’m a big Utley fan, but I’m pretty sure 32 is the bad side of 30. He IS on the good side of 40, though…

  13. CarlosBeltransexual

    November 25, 2010 05:28 PM

    I hope that Philly is a fanbase smart enough to turn off sports radio. For as much time as I devote to following our teams, I can’t stomach any sports radio, local or otherwise, for any length.

    Utley is our Jeter and should be revered as such.

    Excellent job, Bill.

  14. Dan

    November 26, 2010 12:01 AM

    Matt, if you think Utley is going to turn in that kind of season next year, I can’t truly believe that you are a devoted Phillies fan. Unless Utley gets hurt again, his numbers will not be that low.

    Also, if you don’t believe in Utley, what Phillie DO you believe in? Utley would strike the fear of God into me if I was pitching against him. Not only is he a ridiculously good hitter, he’s just plain not afraid. Pitch him inside and he won’t move a muscle. And that death stare he has probably makes pitchers break into a cold sweat. Utley is the guy I’d want up to bat in any do-or-die situation for the Phils.

  15. Rick

    November 26, 2010 10:15 AM

    Chase

    Utley couldn’t carry Robinson Cano’s jock. “Kind” to call him an average fielder??? Cano just won a GG, having only made 3 errors all year to Utley’s 11 (who also played in far fewer games). Cano also posted a higher Zone Rating, not to mention that he unquestionably has a stronger arm than Utley.

    As far as hitting is concerned, Cano’s batting average is 20 points higher than Utley’s. Although Utley averages a few more home runs a year (27-23), Cano averages more RBI.

    This really isn’t a discussion. Cano is EASILY the best 2B in all of baseball.

  16. sean

    November 26, 2010 11:51 AM

    well this should be an easy take down.

    rick cano’s done this for 1 year and that was possibly his ceiling(best he’ll do). utley just had what’s known as a “down year” so this means next year cano will probably not be as good and utley will probably not be as bad.

    batting average alone does not tell you the whole story on a hitter’s ablity, which you even mentioned while talking about home runs and such. in his down utley still had a higher on base percentage. so i’d say give me the guy that gets on base more(read less outs). as far as RBI are concerned that’s a function of the team around you plus batting order. i’d expect cano to have more RBI when he’s hitting in the 5 spot in one of the best lines up in the league, while utley bats 2/3 in one of the best NL lineups.

    as far as defense in concerned this year cano had 3 errors, but the year before that he had 12 and the year before that 13 and before that 13, so which one is the true measure of what cano actually is, 2007-2007 or 2010? The GG is not an award for defense. i’d also like to throw out there that cano is throwing to teixeira, and utley is throwing to howard.

  17. Slimjim

    November 29, 2010 05:51 PM

    Utley is the most overrated 2B in the game. He is not a Gold Glove fielder, in fact he can barely throw the ball with any accuracy to 1st base. He has had 4 good years as a hitter and yes he was hurt last year, but Cano was better last year and he will be better in the future. Phillies fans are the most biased uneducated baseball fans in the world. Mike Missinelli was right on the money when he said that Utley is not an above average fielder, in fact he might be below average!

  18. Matt

    November 29, 2010 07:00 PM

    Dan, nowhere did I say that Utley wasn’t feared by pitchers. What I am saying is that there is more to this “lack of respect” than simply disrespectful sportswriters. It exists because of certain perceptions that may or may not be statistically defendable. I myself as a devoted Philly fan for 30 years have a perception of Utley these last couple years as being a guy who can get on base but doesn’t necessarily carry the team with big hits, except on occasional hot streaks. Perhaps the perception is hurt because when the Phillies need to get something going, Utley will come thru with a 1B, BB or HBP only to be spoiled by a Ryan Howard K. Again, my point being that it is “perception” and Utley right now does not have the right perception. We shouldn’t have to defend him with statistics. I’m only presenting possible reasons why we seem to have to.

  19. Chris Spencer

    November 30, 2010 12:24 AM

    @Slimjim I’m sure you think that Jeter is an amazing fielder too because of his fielding percentage. There is more to fielding than just the outs. Knocking down a ball and getting an error can save a run compared to an outfield single. Learn about baseball before you run your mouth.

  20. Brent

    November 30, 2010 01:43 PM

    Cano vs. Utley:

    Utley (2010)
    Games Played – 114
    # of Balls Fielded – 420
    Average of – 3.684 balls fielded per game

    Cano (2010)
    Games Played – 158
    # of Balls Fielded – 519
    Average of – 3.285 balls fielded per game

    If you normalize the # of balls fielded by Utley out to 158 games it would be 582. This is 63 extra balls fielded that Utley could have had…to tell me he is worse defensively then Cano is a joke….he may have had more errors but give me a guy who can get to more balls with a few more errors anyday.

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