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My Partial Sabermetrics Manifesto, or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Chase Utley

March 30, 2010
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Question: who is the best second baseman in the game?  Dustin Pedroia?  Ben Zobrist?  Robinson Cano?  Of the last decade?  Jeff Kent?  Placido Polanco (he’s very underrated, actually)?

If you think the above list is missing somebody, then you and I are on the same page.  Chase Utley is far and away the best player in the game at that position right now and has been ever since he started manning second full-time for the Phillies back in 2005.  Let me throw some stats at you real quick: Utley created more runs than every other second basemen in each of the past four years (he finished second ’05), led all second basemen in 0PS in each year from ’05-’08 (finishing second last year behind Zobrist), was either first or second in wOBA—another version of OPS—for second basemen during each of the last five years, and led everybody at his position in wins above replacement in all of the last five years save, again, for Zobrist, who just had a whale of a year in ’09.  Not to mention that Utley was the silver slugger in each of the past four years at second.

I’m guessing you’ve already noticed that I don’t like traditional statistics when discussing baseball.  Sorry, but batting average, home runs, and RBI just don’t tell me a whole lot when evaluating a player.  I want to know how much a player is contributing to his team’s winning baseball games.  Baseball has been around long enough for us to start dealing with stats scientifically rather than just arithmetically.  Plus, these stats are more useful.  Sabermetricians of course already know this, but for those of you who don’t, you need to get on board.  The train’s leaving you.

But I digress.  I’ve already demonstrated that Utley has simply been dominating second base in terms of his performance at the plate for the last five years.  But that doesn’t tell the whole story.  Second base is a defensive position.  Value at that position, as in shortstop and catcher, is more influenced by defensive ability than most other positions.  Bad fielders can bleed runs (and, by extension, games) for a baseball team—just ask Joe Posnanski how he feels about Yuniesky Betancourt.  That’s why I disliked Mike Piazza his whole career even though so many baseball fans loved him.  Sure, he crushed home runs, but I almost never saw him throw a guy out.  Same goes for Derek Jeter.  I think these guys are lucky that they came to prominence before sophisticated fielding metrics were available—Jeter was already the Yankees’ hero before a lot of people realized that he’s probably the worst defensive shortstop to ever play the game (see the “Jeter vs. Everett” piece written by Bill James under “Fielding Bible Excerpts”).  As defensive metrics get better and better, determining the value of a player is, I believe, more science than art.

And who rises above the fray in this brave new world of objective analysis?  That’s right, Chase Utley.  He led all second basemen in UZR in three of the past five years and finished second and third in the other ones, averaging a total of 15.2 runs better than an average second baseman.  He is consistently near the top of John Dewan’s plus/minus ratings—from ’06-’08 he was +85, which was 27 plays better than Mark Ellis, the next-best guy at the position.  Not only has Utley been the very best hitter at second ever since he’s been starting, he’s also been one of the very best fielders at a defensive position (unsurprisingly, he’s never won a Gold Glove because the Gold Glove is the most poorly-voted-on award to ever exist except maybe the Nobel Peace Prize).  There ain’t not a lot of guys doing stuff like that in the game today (Pujols is the only other one that comes to mind).

I know it’s no secret that Utley is the man, but I don’t think people realize how much better he is than everybody else at his position.  It’s not even close.  Zobrist had a monster year last year, but he’s still young and doesn’t have the track record Utley has.  Pedroia’s year-by-year numbers are considerably less impressive than Utley’s, and that follows for Cano, Ian Kinsler, and Brian Roberts too.  They’re just not doing it like Utley is doing it.  And it kills me, as a Naturals fan whose team is in the same division, to say that, because every time he pokes a 2-2 pitch opposite field for a single or rolls up an incredibly difficult double play to end a 1-out rally it makes me want to put him in the Scorpion Death Lock.  The sad truth is that I’m just jealous.

I’ve long wondered whether I would actually kill a person to have Chase Utley on my team.  After this post, I’m leaning towards the affirmative.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Reusch permalink
    March 30, 2010 6:03 PM

    Amen.

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