Pictured: Two players who are not Chase Utley. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
With doom and despair building about the fate of one Chase Utley, many in the town of Philadelphia have bought in to a flawed line of reasoning. If Utley was never truly healthy, trading away the Phillies 2010 MVP must have been a horrible mistake. Wilson (and the amazing technicolor goatee) Valdez was certainly a solid backup infielder in his time with the Phillies, and he served this organization in any way he could. Why then, was he traded for a mediocre lefty bullpen arm?
Well, to put it frankly, it's because Wilson Valdez is terrible at baseball. I'm not sure how certain people (looking at you, Mike Missanelli) have forgotten this fact, but it's basically undeniable. In his two years as in red pinstripes, Valdez had 663 PA. In those 663 PA, he had 39 walks, 102 singles, 30 doubles, 7 triples, and 5 home runs. All in all, this works out to a line of.254/.300/.351 and a wRC+ of 73, where 100 equates to league average. That's slightly above replacement level hitting at SS, and replacement level hitting at 2B. Among all players with at least 500 PA in the last two years, that puts Valdez as the 22nd worst hitter in MLB. He's a bit below Omar Vizquel and slightly above Chone Figgins. I think it's fair to say that Valdez is not a particularly great (or good, or even average) hitter.
But more than almost anyone else in baseball, Wilson Valdez has a special skill. And no, I'm not talking about pitching. Wilson Valdez may be the greatest double play hitter that we have ever been fortunate enough to see play the game of baseball. Don't believe me? Well, what if I told you that, other than the corpse of Ivan Rodriguez, Valdez's DP/AB % of 5.5% was higher than anyone else in baseball with at least 500 PA in the last two years... by a full percentage point. The next closest was Wilson Ramos' 4.5%. And the man he'd be filling in for? Utley's seven double plays in 823 AB put him at a DP/AB % of 0.7%, ranking 301st out of 311 players. If the city of Philadelphia yearns for more double plays, then they ought to mourn the loss of such a great talent.
Clearly, Wilson Valdez was not kept around for his offense. But a fielder of his caliber can't be found easily, right? In his two years in Philadelphia, he had a .989 Fielding Percentage at 2B, a .981 FP% at SS, and a .953 FP% at 3B. Just looking at him as replacement for Utley, who had a similar FP% of .990 in 2011, it'd seem like Valdez was capable of matching Utley on the defensive side of the game. Unfortunately, FP% is an incredibly flawed statistic and hides Valdez's weaknesses while also failing to capture Utley's strengths. Valdez has a very strong arm, and draws most of his defensive abilities from it. It's a good thing to have, but it's much more valuable at SS than it is at 2B. On the other hand, Utley's defense is derived from his range. This allows him to reach balls than Valdez wouldn't even attempt to make a play on, occasionally leading to errors but also converting some of those balls into outs. As a result, the more advanced statistics have found Utley to be among the best defenders in baseball, with his UZR/150 never falling below 12.0 since 2007, and his DRS was (defensive runs saved) never lower than 7, averaging about 16 since 2007. As for Valdez (SSS warning)? In 630 defensive innings in the past two years (about half of a full defensive season), Valdez had had a DRS of -7 and a UZR/150 of -5.4. He rates a little better than Utley at avoiding errors, but Utley's range, rated as 9.2 runs in 2011, is far better than Valdez's (-4.4 runs in 2010-2011). In short, Valdez's defense at second base would be a massive step down.
Even with all of this said, Valdez wasn't completely useless as a player. Between 2010 and 2011, he accumulated 1.1 fWAR and 1.5 rWAR. Valdez is a below replacement second baseman and third baseman, but he's nearly a league average shortstop. He's solid defensively at the position, runs fairly well on the bases, and his lack of offense isn't quite as big of a problem at the 2nd worst offensive position. But for 2012, the Phillies have not one, but two players who are better shortstops than he is. And with Jimmy Rollins healthy (knock on wood) and Freddy Galvis waiting in the wings, it'd be a waste of a roster spot to keep Valdez around when he wouldn't be playing the only position he's good at. The Phillies other utility infielder, Michael Martinez, is pretty much useless as well, but that's not a reason to keep Valdez around, it's a reason to get rid of Martinez.
Anyone who'd say that the Phillies lacked foresight when trading Valdez away would be wrong. The Phillies don't seem to have a good plan in place if the worst occurs and Utley is limited for much of the season. Leaving second base to Wilson Valdez, however, would not be a good plan. It wouldn't be a much of plan at all.