Chase Utley Is Good

Just one of your intermittent reminders that Chase Utley is, in fact, good at playing baseball.

Among players with 240 or more plate appearances, Utley is one of nine second basemen with three or more Wins Above Replacement via FanGraphs (fWAR). Utley ranks seventh in the group at 3.3, trailing Dustin Pedroia at 6.5. Although the difference appears quite large, Pedroia has nearly twice as much fWAR due to having nearly twice as many plate appearances. If we scale fWAR to 700 plate appearances, a full season, we get to see just how good Utley is and has been thus far.

WAR

PA

WAR/700 PA

Pedroia

6.5

484

9.40

Utley

3.3

246

9.39

Zobrist

5.5

451

8.54

Kendrick

4.2

382

7.70

Kinsler

4.5

478

6.59

Weeks

3.8

469

5.67

Phillips

3.4

460

5.17

Espinosa

3.2

441

5.08

Cano

3.2

443

5.06

Going by just offense, Utley currently ranks second among all qualified second baseman with a .393 wOBA, just barely trailing Pedroia at .398. Ben Zobrist is in third place all the way back at .380. In fact, overall, Utley’s wOBA is tenth-best in the National League.

What has Utley meant to the Phillies? Utley made his season debut on May 23. From the start of the season on April 1 to May 22, the Phillies averaged 3.83 runs per game. Since then, the Phillies have averaged 4.77 runs per game. To put that in perspective, the St. Louis Cardinals currently average the most runs per game in the league at 4.80. With Utley, the Phillies’ offense went from below-average to among the league’s best.

Although not much has changed for Utley — he has always been this good — two things are noticeable. One is that he has completely recaptured the power that evaded him last year. In 2010, his ISO dipped to .169, by far a career low. This year, it is back up to .212, just eight points below his career average. The second difference is that Utley continues to make contact more frequently when he swings the bat. His swinging strike rate has been on a steady decline throughout his entire career, as the following chart illustrates:

A difference of 2.3 percent from 2005 to 2011 may not seem like much, but in a typical season, Utley sees 2,500 to 3,000 pitches of which he will swing at about 40 percent (minimum about 1,000). So, given that theoretical minimum constraint, Utley is making contact with 23 more pitches compared to the start of his career. With a career BABIP at .313, that is hypothetically seven more hits, worth about ten points of batting average in 600 at-bats.

Along with his typically pristine defense  (his 22.4 UZR/150 is tied for best in baseball; small sample size caveat) and his efficient base running (11-for-11 stealing bases), Utley continues to be the total package and continues to be criminally underrated around baseball.

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25 comments

  1. Dukes

    August 01, 2011 09:10 AM

    He is not underrated in my mind. Chase Utley is exibit A of what makes this current Phillies team special. In my mind, he is in line for the best Phillie ever award with Schmidt and Carlton.

  2. Mratfink

    August 01, 2011 09:30 AM

    Dukes, what you said is true but i still think he is underrated. I would point to his mvp finishes which are consistently closer to ten than to his true value which is probably one of the 3 best players in the NL (though a lot of that probably has to do with injuries)

  3. Phillie697

    August 01, 2011 11:20 AM

    I don’t think he’s that underrated anymore. Lately, I have yet to find any non-Phillies fans that I know, and that includes Red Sox fans, who don’t think that Utley is the best 2B in all of MLB. He might not get MVP votes because defense is basically irrelevant for voters, but I think people know how good he is.

  4. Ajay

    August 01, 2011 12:22 PM

    Yes, Chase Utley is Exhibit #1 why the Gold Glove Award is complete nonsense.

  5. Santos

    August 01, 2011 02:23 PM

    Exhibit #1b: Derek Jeter

    I mean really, we could go on all day here.

  6. Jeff

    August 01, 2011 06:22 PM

    Exhibit 1 and Only: Rafael Palmeiro winning the year he played 21 games at 1B and otherwise being a full-time DH.

    I’d argue Utley has been better than Pedroia this year. I know all stats count, but let’s not forget that, in rushing back from injury, his spring training was held in Philly instead of Florida. Filter out his first few weeks, and he has really been kicking butt.

  7. Rob

    August 01, 2011 07:08 PM

    On the other hand, you have to give Pedroia credit for maintaining his high level of play over a longer period of time.

  8. Dukes

    August 01, 2011 09:43 PM

    Jeff, I disagree that Utley rushed back from injury this time. To his (and the teams) credit, he took the proper amount of time. That’s obvious because he’s playing like he is healthy.

  9. Boni

    August 01, 2011 10:24 PM

    I loved this article until you dared to call Chase Utley underrated. I can’t believe for a second that the average baseball fan doesn’t know that “Chase Utley is Good.” But then again, maybe most superstars are, in fact, underrated if only because we have no conception of what it really means to be that good. In any case, Utley is awesome, everybody knows it, and I hope you cry in whichever beverage you happen to have in hand when the Phillies win the World S
    eries in 5, count ‘em 5, games.

  10. rochey

    August 01, 2011 11:34 PM

    Best Phillie ever?? C’mon. Love Utley, but talk about an overstaement. Carlton: top 3 lefties ever. Schimdt: top 2 third basemen ever. Utley? A very nice player-glad to have him, but best ever is WAY hype!!

  11. hk

    August 02, 2011 06:01 AM

    @ Boni,

    I don’t think the average baseball fan in Philly, much less outside of Philly, even knows how good Utley is. Bill’s title was intended as sarcasm to point out that most fans think Utley’s good while he’s actually been one of the top five players in basseball over the past five years or so. The underrating is in part because the average fan looks at stats like batting average and errors (not OBP and advanced fielding metrics) and thinks that he’s not an elite hitter or a good fielder. It’s also in part because the average fan listens to talk show hosts like Mike Missanelli, who has repeatedly said that Utley is overrated and that Ryan Howard’s contract extension was a good one.

  12. Gio

    August 02, 2011 06:42 AM

    He’s not underrated. Both local and national broadcasters refer to him as the best player to never win an MVP. It’s just that he’s been injured the last few years and is kinda carrying that tag around with him. Give him a full season next year and he’ll be back in the national spotlight as the best (or second best, Pedroia is amazing) 2nd baseman in the game.

  13. Phaul

    August 02, 2011 06:51 AM

    “Schmidt: top 2 third basemen ever”? Who is the second player. No 3B in history is even close!

  14. Jeff

    August 02, 2011 08:21 AM

    About Utley rushing back: maybe not in terms of his health, but definitely in terms of being ready for live MLB action. Again, his Spring Training was baptism by fire. Let’s draw a line after his first 2 weeks in the majors:

    Thru June 9: hitting .224 (and playing bad defense)
    Since June 10: Hitting .308.

    I know the limitations of BA, but an 80-point swing indicates a player who kicked off the rust and straightened out his timing after 2 weeks.

  15. Jeff

    August 02, 2011 08:21 AM

    Phaul: Schmidt was also the second player.

  16. GM-Carson

    August 02, 2011 11:24 AM

    Chase Utley is a treat to watch play the game on a daily basis. I love his work ethic and all-out style. Tremendous player!

  17. Joe

    August 02, 2011 11:26 AM

    @Rochi,

    Look at Chase’s offensive numbers. He may be the best hitting 2nd Baseman since Honus Wagner. He is much more than a “nice” player.

    Over the past 6 years, amongst position players he is 2nd in all of MLB in WAR (Pujols).

    He has the highest WAR of any 2nd Baseman for the entire decade of 2001-10, even though he didn’t play in half of it.

    In fact, I can make an argument that, by position, he has been the most dominant player in all of baseball since 2006. If you look at the top 2 players at each position in terms of WAR through that time period, Pujols is leading Cabrera by 14.8 WAR, while Chase is leading Pedroia by 15.9 (I am ignoring games played in that quick analysis, though I’m not sure that’s germane to the point, anyway).

  18. Santos

    August 02, 2011 03:00 PM

    If Chase Utley can stay healthy for a few more seasons I think Bill Baer is going to become the next Rich Lederer

  19. CJ

    August 02, 2011 03:26 PM

    Phaul: many baseball historians consider Brooks Robinson to be the greatest third baseman ever. I’ll take Schmidt, but…

  20. Nick

    August 02, 2011 05:21 PM

    I’d like to see some stats about how (even this year) the Phillies infield ranks in fielding. JRoll is still an above-average fielder from what I remember, Utley is one of the best, and Howard is average. I’m unsure of Ruiz and Polanco but I’d be interested in finding these infield stats and also comparing them to other teams in the MLB (and NL).

  21. Jauer

    August 02, 2011 07:21 PM

    Since missanelli has already been mentioned, I’ll use the other radio station as evidence that utley is underrated: multiple 610 hosts have recently stated that both howard and rollins are more deserving of the hal of fame than CU

  22. Phillie697

    August 03, 2011 12:13 AM

    I don’t think people actually realize how good CU’s defense is. Historically, only Joe Gordon and Hughie Critz has had more impressive total UZR and UZR/150 than Utley; Joe Gordon is a HoF, and Critz hits like my grandmother. I called Utley’s defense once-in-a-generation in another post, but looks like it’s even more than that.

    When Utley is done playing, if he doesn’t make the HoF, it would be a crime.

  23. FromThisSeat.com

    August 04, 2011 12:23 AM

    Great player-perhaps the best second baseman in the league behind Cano and Brandon Phillips. But will he stay healthy? He is aging, just like the rest of the Phillies offenseive stars.

  24. Kevin

    August 04, 2011 08:04 AM

    Chase Utley – 3.4 WAR in 265 PA
    Cano – 3.3 WAR in 460 PA
    Phillips – 3.3 WAR in 460 PA

    Thats kinda insulting to Chase.

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