Chase Utley has been the best at his position for at least the last decade, and possibly over his entire lifetime. The great Joe Morgan's peak ebbed in the late 1970s, and Utley was born in 1979. Since then, there have been second basemen inducted into the Hall of Fame (Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar), and others who are bound to be sooner or later (Craig Biggio), and still others who may not get in soon but have a strong case (Lou Whitaker, Willie Randolph).
But quite arguably none of them were better than Chase Cameron Utley. A great way to see that is in Wins Above Replacement, where Utley is climbing into the group listed above, despite having played in far fewer games:
The topic of this post however isn't what Utley has accomplished in a great career and how that compares, but where he ranks among the NL's best second basemen today.
Utley will be starting at second for the NL in tonight's All-Star game. He was voted in by a comfortable margin after getting off to a hot start. We see this all the time in All-star voting: a player's early success is visible to voters from the start, and even if that's his only good month of the season, it takes a while for their cumulative stats to decline, and by then they've gotten noticed and get substantial voter support.
David S. Cohen has rightly pointed out that Utley has been very streaky this year, alternating periods when he's been dominant, with weeks or more when he's looked lost at the plate.
However streakiness in itself doesn't take away from a player's value. Compared to a theoretical version of Utley's season in which his contributions were spread evenly throughout the year, he has helped the team win games more in some periods, and less in others. It's not as though he created "excess" value when he was hot, leading to unneeded runs in Phillies blow outs in those games.
When we look at Utley's overall productivity this year compared to other second basemen in the NL, it's clear that he has been the best in the league so far, using either main WAR metric:
|Chase Utley||3.1||Chase Utley||3.0|
|Daniel Murphy||2.6||Dee Gordon||2.2|
|Dee Gordon||2.5||Daniel Murphy||1.9|
|Scooter Gennett||2.2||Scooter Gennett||1.5|
|Neil Walker||1.4||DJ LeMahieu||1.4|
How is he doing this? Just as throughout his career, he's beating teams in a variety of ways:
He's been among the best hitters at the position, continues to be well above average on the bases, and has maintained his stellar defense, the occasional miscue notwithstanding.
Some tonight may be tempted to see Utley's inclusion in the All-Star game as a nod to a once great player, acknowledging him for what he has done in the past. That may be the case for the AL shortstop, but not for the NL's starter at second base.