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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.