“Criminally underrated” is now an overused phrase, meaning exactly what I want it to mean in regards to Chase Utley.
Overshadowed by inferiors, Utley has flown under the mainstream for the most part because of the common fans obsession with statistics that, while not useless, are very much flawed.
“Inferior” does not mean bad. Ryan Howard was a good baseball player for a number of years. Ditto for Jimmy Rollins. The two players range somewhere in the above-average range, to just plain good.
But neither player can touch Utley in either peak seasons, or cumulative value.
But this isn’t written to compare Utley to non-Hall of Famers. And it’s not written to compare him to Hall of Famers that are probably not deserving of the honor, either.
Utley stands up well to the actual Hall of Famers. The players who already have their plaques enshrined in Cooperstown. And the guys that aren’t there yet, but should be eventually (not voted in yet/not eligible). He is one of the all-time greats and he still has some mediocre to good baseball left, especially since he is currently on pace to exceed five wins again this year, if one were to assume good health. Which with Utley though, is not necessarily a safe assumption.
He knocked out five 7-7.9 win seasons in five consecutive seasons from 2005-2009. It’s not like my normal loose threshold of Hall of Fame caliber seasons that I set at 6 wins. Utley eclipsed the *6* by at least a win, in every one of those five seasons.
I get that 58 wins is generally perceived to be a borderline Hall of Famer. And Utley has not reached the counting stats that so many of the current Hall of Fame voters have grown — and adopted permanently, apparently — a love for. So if an observer of baseball does not consider advanced statistics and/or sabermetrics then the case for Utley seems less apparent.
But with that said, the right to vote should at least be exercised by observers of the game who realize that playing a certain position, and playing it well, matter greatly. It’s not necessarily the case, but it should be. You don’t have to be infatuated with WAR and WARP to know that a guy who can handle second base defensively has more value than a guy that can only handle first base.
Utley could obviously handle 2B. But he wasn’t just an adequate “handler” of the position as much as one of the better handlers of the position of all time. Perennially a good defender, perennially a 2B, perennially one of the best-hitting 2B ever…and what he have is a guy that might just end up getting lost in an extremely crowded ballot.
58 wins may not be enough. But if he ages with any kind of grace, I don’t see how 65 is out of the realm of possibility.
The one thing Utley has going for him is that sabermetrics is growing. And there will still be hard-headed voters when Utley’s case ultimately rolls around. But there should be less stubborn, “set-in-their-ways” voters, than we currently have to deal with. And most likely, there will be guys that just don’t view Utley as a Hall of Famer with any kind of non superhero like finish to his career.
That’s their right.
But Chase Utley was — at his best — better than Whitaker. He was better than Biggio. And he was better than Alomar.
If he retired after this season, he’d get my vote. But since it is likely he stays healthy enough to produce at a decent-enough level for a few more seasons, he may get a lot of other people’s votes as well.
In reflection, Chase Utley will look better when the ballot rolls around, to the voters, than he does to them now. Even his peak years will.
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