Chase Utley Is Good

Today, Albert Pujols was named the National League MVP, and rightfully so. Giving it to anyone else would have been some kind of travesty, as Pujols is clearly the game’s best player, had a season that no one else can even come close to, and carried a pretty bad group of teammates towards contention for most of the season. He clearly is the game’s most valuable player.

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the guy who finished 15th in the NL MVP voting – Chase Utley. We’ve known for quite a while that Utley’s value was greatly underestimated by the average fan and the mainstream media, but this just drives the point home even further.

Utley hit .292/.380/.535 on the way to posting a 3.63 WPA/LI for the season. The next closest second baseman to Utley in terms of offensive value was Dan Uggla, who posted a 2.27 WPA/LI. That’s basically a win and a half difference between the next best guy at his position. Dustin Pedroia, who is getting all kinds of support for AL MVP, and will almost certainly finish in the top three when voting is announced tomorrow, had a 2.03 WPA/LI. Utley is so far and away the best offensive second baseman in the game, it’s ridiculous to even consider anyone else.

That’s not all – he’s also an elite defender. The +/- system has Utley as a +47 defender in 2008. That’s not a typo – plus 47!. They expected him to make 338 outs on ground balls this year – he actually made 384. Now, a +47 ranking is so insane that it almost certainly contains a good bit of noise that isn’t actually measuring Utley’s real defensive value. He’d been ranked as a +16 and +22 defender in each of the last two seasons, so so it’s nearly impossible that he improved to a level where he was actually 47 plays better than an average second baseman this year.

So, let’s just assume that there was all kinds of sample error in the +/- data and call Utley a +25 defender for 2008. This assumes that he was very good, slightly better than in previous years, but takes out the extreme portion of the Fielding Bible numbers and gives us something we can swallow a little easier.

If Utley was really +25 plays, that’s about 20 runs saved over an average defensive second baseman, which translates to about two wins.

+3.5 wins for his offense, +.25 wins for the position adjustment (second baseman hit a little bit worse than average), +2 wins for defense, and +2 wins for replacement level = +7.75 wins.

You can quibble with the numbers to some degree if you want, but no matter what kind of adjustments you make, you can’t get away from the fact that Chase Utley was something like a +7 to +8 win player this year, compared to a replacement level second baseman. He’s obviously the Phillies best player and the main reason they are the World Series Champions today.

Pujols was better, but Chase Utley was the second best player in baseball this year. That he finished 15th in the MVP voting just shows how amazingly underrated he really is.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


25 Responses to “Chase Utley Is Good”

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  1. YC says:

    I think another player who deserves a mention here is Carlos Beltran.

    3.57 WPA/LI
    +24, +25, +16 in CF the last three years

    So that should be something like

    +3.5 wins for his offense
    ~+1.5 wins for his defense
    +.5 wins for Positional Adjustment at CF (Per Tango)
    +2 wins for Replacement Level

    =+7.5 wins

    I think Carlos Beltran and his 22nd place finsh in MVP voting is at least as underrated as Chase Utley. But seriously, Delgado?

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  2. Jason T says:

    Dave, where did you find the complete ballot? ESPN writes that Howard didn’t even appear on all the ballots. Also, Brad Lidge recieved two (!) first place votes.

    Beltran has been seriously underrated (I feel) for years. Hopefully, with this World Series win Utley won’t.

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  3. Big Steve says:

    I’m too lazy to run the fangraphs numbers, so I’m using WARP3.

    Pujols: 13.5

    Berkman: 11.4
    Utley: 10.6
    Beltran: 10.4
    Hanley Ramirez: 10.9
    Ryan Ludwick: 10.9
    Wright: 10.6
    Braun: 9.3

    Howard: 5.4
    Delgado: 8.3

    So, you basically have Pujols as the clear number 1 and about 7 or so batters behind him theat you could argue about for number 2. I would go with Berkman since he has the lead among the second tier and leads the leaugue in WPA.

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  4. Dave Cameron says:

    WARP3 is basically useless. Between the problems with FRAA and Clay’s ridiculous replacement level, it just doesn’t reflect reality.

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  5. mymrbig says:

    Does WARP3 include defense and position adjustment? If not, Utley clearly jumps ahead of the rest of the guys in your tier #2. (sorry for being lazy and not looking it up, it is a pet peeve of mine when others do this and now I’m guilty!!!)

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  6. Scott batura says:

    Wow, I am amazed. For me, the NL MVP came down to Pujols or Utley. I am amazed he came in 15th. Especially since he was on a playoff team.

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  7. JWay says:

    I wish I had him (Utley) on my fantasy team… In all seriousness though I had no idea Beltran was doing so well this year. I even like him. Crazy.

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  8. Chris says:

    That is frickin unbelievable!! I did have Chase on my fantasy team and I can tell you with 100% certainty that he and he alone led me to first place. Take a look at his April numbers for a second. Also and this is no knock on Big Al because he is also as good as it gets, but didn’t Utleys team make the playoffs! I don’t think they do without him..

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  9. Jugen says:

    Utley is (obviously) amazing, and if he’d played his season in reverse it would have been the kind of narrative the BBWAA loves.

    Wins-wise, though, is it better to have a .900 OPS all year, or a month of 1.200 with 5 more of .800-.850 or so?

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  10. Brandon says:

    What is more amazing is that Utley’s teammate, Ryan Howard, finished second place despite being vastly inferior. Apparently BBWAA writers have an incredibly short memory. Apparently, even after ignoring ever single win and value stat out there, they decided that Howard’s second half was worth more then Utley’s first half.

    It’s a sad state of affairs really.

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  11. don says:

    Utley is also a pretty decent baserunner. Obviously he want 14 for 16 in SB attempts but that’s already factored into his WPA/LI. How did he do relative to average on grabbing the extra base from first or second when guys behind him get a hit?

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  12. Big Steve says:

    I’m sorry Cameron, but I don’t have Bill James online, so I don’t have all of the +/- data. I just find it interesting that you proclaim Utley the second best player by just running the numbers on him. Maybe WARP3 isn’t perfect, I’ll actually agree with you there since everytime I go and look at a players page their past WARP3s are differeent than they were the last time I went, but it isn’t useless and you really didn’t refute the list at all. The method of judging who is the number 2 player by figuring out only his Wins and no one else who would be a candidate = methodological failure,much more than using a system that might not be optimal.

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  13. Dave Cameron says:

    WARP3 is useless. It’s broken. It’s like a sedan that tries to use wheels from a Jeep and an engine from a lawnmower.

    The replacement level is demonstrably wrong. There’s no way you can justify the replacement level that it uses, and considering that its measuring Wins Above Replacement, that’s a big problem.

    Then, it includes FRAA as a defensive metric, which is like using batting average to measure offense. It’s outdated and just not accurate.

    WARP3 isn’t “not optimal”. It’s fundamentally flawed and useless.

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  14. Big Steve says:

    Fine. But its even more useless to say someone is the second best player in the league without running the numbers on anyone else. I’d also like to see the lists compared to see how far off they are as far as order goes. Additionally if it is demonstrably wrong… demonstrate that. You’re stating these things as fact when many smart people probably would disagree with you at least to the degree you are arguing. I saw Rob Neyer use WARP3 today he must be a complete f***tard to use such useless numbers. Baseball propectus as a website uses it to dtermine value I’m sure they are all mouth breathers who have no idea how to create a stat with any use. All of Jay Jaffes work completely and utterly useless. Clay Davenport must be Sarah Palin dumb to create and put time into updating such a completely and utterly useless stat.
    I’m going to say that Casey Blake is the second best player in the NL since he has probably been a 1-2 win player and I don’t have to bother running the numbers on anyone else.

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  15. Dave Cameron says:

    That you’re unaware of Win Value calculations doesn’t mean they don’t exist or that I haven’t run the numbers on anyone else.

    If you’re interested in reading about the problems with WARP, go to insidethebook.com and you can read all kinds of discussions about it. There isn’t a respected analyst in the market who thinks that WARP3 is accurate. Nate Silver invented SuperVORP to replace the WARP3 numbers in PECOTA because he knew WARP was broken. That BP still uses says a lot more about them than about WARP’s utility.

    You’d do well to do a lot more research before making so many assumptions about the knowledge of others.

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  16. Big Steve says:

    I’m not unaware of them. I know of Tango’s work, but I don’t have access to all of the numbers. If you did run the numbers on others that would be an insightful tidbit of information to include when declaring that someone is better than everyone elses in the league except for Pujols, but what the hell do I know.

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  17. Terry says:

    Please correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t WARP3 stand for “wrong about replacement players cubed”?

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  18. David says:

    Well, I went to the site you linked to, Mr. Cameron, and I don’t see “all kinds of discussions about it.” In fact, the term is not on that page, nor is there an obvious link to said discussion. Perhaps that’s the fault of the web site, but more likely it’s not something that they highlight for obvious reasons.

    I’m new to this site, so perhaps you could actually either a) provide a real link to previous analytical debate to defend your point b) actually defend your point, which would elevate your comment beyond a rant. Last I heard, your job as a writer requires you to attempt to communicate clearly to many audiences.

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  19. Terry says:

    Dude…learn to use a search function.

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  20. Clonod says:

    Dave,

    If you think that +/- can be 22 plays off for Utley, doesn’t that suggest a margin of error that renders the stat usless?

    I like +/-, and I think it’s a lot more likely that you can just have a career year with the glove, just like the bat.

    We don’t make adjustments like this with offense. Davey Johnson hit 43 HR in 1973 but we don’t go back and cut them in half because they didn’t pass a smell test. If we have ANY faith in +/- we shouldn’t do it either.

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  21. David says:

    Well, the burden of proof is usually on the speaker to prove his point. As a teacher, I know that if I answer a question from a student with a dismissive “look it up in the library,” I’ve just lost that student. If, by some miracle, the student does look it up with such minimal guidance–as I did on that site–and finds the print equivalent of what I found on a “warp3″ search (3 random articles that mention warp3) is going to lose all respect for that authority. A search for “warp” returns 47 articles. I’m also not the first to raise this issue in this thread.

    Thank you for such a kind introduction to the site. As the fan of a site that presumably has a business model, be very proud that you’ve done your best to drive away one new reader.

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  22. MTB says:

    For those looking for the actual analysis, I believe the article Dave Cameron referenced can be found at:

    http://www.tangotiger.net/archives/stud0106.shtml

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  23. Curcumin says:

    Somboddy call cryin’ 1 1 and have ‘em send a wwwwhhhhhhhaaaaaaaambulance quick!

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  24. Charlie Manuel says:

    I think he earned himself a christmas present

    http://www.WorldF-ingChampions.com

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  25. Captain Scurvy Tripoli says:

    Yarrrr David b a cunt

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