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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