Chase Utley belongs in the Hall of Fame.
After the incident on the basepaths this weekend, that may seem a controversial statement, but I’m not saying he belongs in Cooperstown because of his continuing torment of the Mets. No, it’s simply because Utley is one of the greatest second basemen ever to play the game.
Six-time All Star. Four-time Silver Slugger. The stats don’t lie. And Utley was at the heart of the Phillies teams that won five straight National League East crowns, including one memorable World Series victory in 2008. He is the epitome of the old-time ballplayer, one who did whatever he had to to make get on base, move the runner, turn the double play, or make the leaping grab.
But a lot of that is emotional, the sort of thing you’d expect from a Phillies fan. So let’s look at the numbers. According to Baseball Reference, only one player has more Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than Utley in Phillies history: Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. In Defensive WAR, Utley is narrowly edged by Schmidt, and his single-season defensive performance in 2008 was the best in team history.
But comparing him to other Phillies is limited. How does Utley stack up against the great players of baseball history? Looking at Baseball Reference’s similarity scores, a statistical analysis of all players in MLB history, the man most similar to Utley is Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Gordon. Using the JAWS analysis of potential Hall of Famers, we see Utley ranked 12th among all second basemen, just above Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, and Gordon, Hall of Famers all. The only non-Cooperstown inductees above Utley on the list is Tigers’ second baseman Lou Whitaker, who deserves a second look by the Veterans Committee, and Orioles/Angels second basemen Bobby Grich who, like Utley, had the consistently great, but not flashy, stats that makes him easy to overlook as a great ballplayer.
All of which is to say: Utley’s hardnosed style of play may have earned him a few new enemies in New York (those who weren’t already aggrieved by his constant offensive dominance of that franchise,) but it should not cause us to overlook the truly excellent career of the best second baseman in Phillies history.