Homegrown Talents: Utley and Howard

Over at Yahoo! Sports, Andrew Simon (@HitTheCutoff) posted the top-ten position-player tandems. It’s a great list, but I couldn’t help but wonder where Chase Utley and Ryan Howard ranked. Simon’s criteria was that both players must have debuted with the same team and must have become regulars within a year of each other. Utley debuted in 2003 and became a regular in ’05 while Howard debuted in ’04 and became a regular in ’06, so they qualify. (Technically, Howard became a regular in ’05, but he didn’t play the full season as the starting first baseman.)

Without giving too much of the list away, Will Clark and Robby Thompson ranked tenth on the list with a combined 68.5 WAR (Baseball Reference version, or rWAR). Jim Rice and Fred Lynn were ninth at 71.2 rWAR. Utley and Howard, each with lots of baseball left in them, sit at 62.3 combined rWAR, putting them just outside the top-ten. In FanGraphs WAR (fWAR), they have 70.5, so they are at least in the same company as those on the back end of the top-ten.

This season, Utley has already posted 1 rWAR in 132 plate appearances. If he gets 300 more PA over the rest of the season, he will finish with about 2.3 more rWAR. Howard is at 1.4 with 345 PA, which puts him on pace for about 700 PA and thus projects about 1.4 more rWAR. An additional 3.7 rWAR would bring the duo to 66 rWAR. They would crack the top-ten easily in 2012 and could make a run at the top-seven. It will be hard to crack #6 as the duo of Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando combined for 101.7 rWAR, about 24 ahead of the pair in seventh place.

The big key to ranking highly on this list, aside from having lots of talent, is longevity. Utley became a regular in ’05 at the age of 26 while Howard earned an everyday job in ’06 also at the age of 26. By comparison, Clark and Thompson were playing everyday at the ages of 22 and 24. Jackson debuted at 21 and earned an everyday job at 22; Bando, 22 and 24, respectively. Additionally, Jackson and Bando finished their careers at the ages of 41 and 37. Utley and Howard didn’t have the benefit of their early-20’s, but they can finish near the top of the list by having long, productive careers, which requires a lot of luck and a lot of hard work, the latter certainly not an unknown trait to the Phillies’ right-side pairing.

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  1. The Howling Fantods

    June 29, 2011 01:04 PM

    My biggest complaint about the Phillies in the middle of the last decade is how they blocked Utley’s entrance into MLB. They had Polanco at second, who was performing well, but worthless David Bell and his steroids were taking up space at 3B. Even back then, before I knew anything about Sabermetrics, I always thought they should have gotten rid of Bell and his terrible contract one way or another, shifted Polanco over to 3B, and brought up Utley at least a year earlier. Of course, Ed Wade made a genious decision and traded away Polanco instead, getting murderous Urbina and worthless Ramon Martinez.

    Ryan Howard’s situation wasn’t as bad, as he was blocked by an actual legitimately good player (when healthy), and probably didn’t end up wasting too much time in the minors anyway.

    Utley’s wasted time will always bother me. There is no reason he had to wait until 26 to become an everyday player except for incompetence. I also would have been much happier to have kept Polanco at 3B through today, instead of the revolving door of mostly crap until we got him back. He is not a superstar by any means, but he is definitely above average, and a bargain with his contract.

  2. JB Allen

    June 29, 2011 03:38 PM

    Would it have been better to have just kept Rolen, and had Rolen, Rollins, Utley and Howard for a while? Would Rolen in the lineup (and Utley at full time two years sooner) have pushed the Phillies over the top? Or would Polanco in his prime have helped more? Either way, Bell had heart-and-soul, and I think was the Pumpkin to Thome’s Seabiscuit, so there’s that.

  3. Scott G

    June 30, 2011 10:32 AM

    Rob Charry says that Ryan Howard has been the MVP through yesterday for the Phillies this far. Pitchers included. Absurd.

    A caller calls up and states Victorino has more 2Bs, 3Bs, higher OBP, and higher SLG. Charry’s response? Howard has so many more RBIs. What isn’t intuitive about RBIs and Rs. They are largely a factor the other players on a team.

  4. Aaron H

    June 30, 2011 10:40 AM


    If my memory serves me right, Rolen demanded a trade, wanting out of Philly-as expected the Vet’s soft, cushioned Astroturf concrete surface was murder on his back, and the Phils were in the midst of another mediocre season (wait, the Phils weren’t always winning division titles??), so I’m not sure if he would’ve stuck around once his contract expired.

    As for not bringing up Utley, it’s fun to play the what-if game, but considering his health these days, I wonder if his delayed arrival to the majors might have actually helped the current team. He would’ve played more games at an earlier age and his knees could be much worse by this point, especially with all of the games he would’ve played in the Vet.

  5. JB Allen

    June 30, 2011 12:32 PM

    Aaron H – You’re right about Rolen, although I wonder how much of that had to do with Dallas Green’s asinine comments to the press a year before. If I had to take sides between the two, I would go with the one who didn’t make Ryne Sandberg a Cub.

    Interesting point about Utley. He should have been playing full time by 2004, when the Phillies had already left the Vet. He might have been ready sooner, but his minor league numbers weren’t anything special until 2003, and I don’t think expectations were all that high for him (compared to the actual results). If he had been the regular 2B by 2003, would he have been as valuable in the late 2000s? Don’t know.

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