Chase Utley Is Still Ridiculously Good: A Statistical Appreciation

Chase Utley had as good a day as he has ever had today: 3 for 3 with two homers, 4 RBI, and a walk. It was a positively delightful performance from an awesome player.

Prior to the season there were legitimate concerns that the superstar second baseman's best days were behind him. A relative "down year" in 2010 combined with a great deal of uncertainty surrounding his injured knee led many to conclude that Chase Utley would never again match his MVP-level production--some even speculated that he wouldn't play at all in 2011. Many of these concerns were, of course, well founded. It was perfectly reasonable to expect a decline from a 32-year-old player with a lingering knee problem. But Chase Utley isn't just any 32-year-old player with a lingering knee problem. Neither age nor poor health can slow him.

After today's game, his slash line sits at .286/.381/.481. His power numbers are still a hair behind his career marks, but if his performance over the last few days is any indication, the power stroke appears to be rounding back into form. 

More generally, however, among non-SABR fans and media people, there seems to be a lingering perception that Chase Utley is no longer an "elite" second baseman. The numbers tell a very different story. 

Before today's game, Utley had accumulated 2.3 WAR (when the stats are updated on Fangraphs tomorrow, that number will probably be closer to 3). This is good for 10th best among all Major League second baseman. But consider for a moment that he's done it in about half as many plate appearances as the other leaders. At 2.3 WAR in 212 plate appearances, Utley would post about 7.6 WAR in a full season's worth (700) plate appearances. This would be right in line with his 2005-2009 totals. To this point in the season, only Dustin Pedroia, Ben Zobrist, and Howie Kendrick have posted more WAR/G than Utley and his 131 wRC+ is tied for third best in baseball. 

It has become somewhat fashionable to criticize Utley's defense in the last few years, but advanced defensive metrics continue to rate him very highly. His 4.8 fielding runs above average ranks seventh best in baseball. Not the fastest nor the hardest-throwing fielder, he relies on good positioning and good reads to be an elite fielder. He continues to do both of these things excellently.

Finally, you would never guess that Utley missed two months to a knee injury by watching him on the basepaths. He has been running with unprecedented frequency and has stolen 10 bases without being caught. This pace shatters his previous high of 23 attempts in 687 plate appearances in 2009. Again, while he is not necessarily a speed demon, Utley is an extremely smart baserunner whose ability to make good reads is the key to his success. 

In conclusion, Chase Utley is still ridiculously good. Like, top five second basemen in baseball and best second baseman in the National League good. If Base Ba'al is God, Chase Utley is his prophet. Worship him.

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