In all likelihood, the National League MVP is going to Albert Pujols for the second consecutive season, and probably rightly so. He’s at or near the top in many of the traditional and non-traditional stats and is 2nd behind Tim Lincecum in wins above replacement with 7.5.
But right there with Pujols and Lincecum is Chase Utley, with 7.2 WAR. Last year, Utley was 2nd in WAR with 8.1 and yet somehow managed to finish just 14th in the MVP voting. What will the voters do with Chase this year?
I knew Chase Utley has been underrated by the mainstream media, but I’m not sure I realized by how much. Consider this: In the past five years (including this season), Utley has been worth 37.5 wins above replacement, 2nd only to Albert Pujols, who has 39.5. That’s just freakishly impressive, and yet Utley has never finished above 7th in the MVP voting in his career. It is also worth noting that Utley has been good for a whopping 72.2 runs in UZR in the last five years, and yet has never won a Gold Glove.
While I know it’s too premature to start lumping Utley together with Hall of Famers, writers and fans have no qualms about doing the same with Pujols, so please just indulge me for a moment. Utley clearly is playing at his peak right now, and will certainly face some decline later on in his career. But if Utley were to retire after this season, he would have about 40 WAR. It took Hall of Famer second baseman Red Schoendienst 19 seasons to get to do the same. Utley has done it in eight. Alright, so that’s a little cherry-picking on my part, as we know Red was helped into the Hall by his managerial record, but Tom Tango recently looked at all position players born between 1874 and 1958 and found that 34% of players with a career WAR in the 40’s made it into the Hall of Fame. Those are some fair odds.
Looking at it from a different angle, Utley is averaging 6.9 WAR per 150 games. For a frame of reference, Jackie Robinson averaged 6.8 WAR per 150 games, the second highest among 2nd baseman in the Hall of Fame behind Rogers Hornsby, who was worth an astonishing 8.5. The great Eddie Collins is next with 6.7.
I’m not nuts enough to say that Utley is going to go on and have a career anything quite like Robinson’s or Collins’; my point is that casual fans have failed to realize just how good Utley really has been. He has been consistently brilliant now for quite a stretch.
Watch him and appreciate him, folks. I believe he’s the type of player you’ll one day be telling your grandchildren about.