At 38 years old and some-odd months, Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley should be on the steady decline. And while he definitely does not play at the same level he once did, Utley’s productivity has yet to disappear.
Utley has made 161 trips to the plate so far this season, slashing .250/.356/.426 with four home runs, 18 runs driven in and three stolen bases. Utley’s OPS of .783 would be his highest since 2014, and his current walk rate of 12.4 percent rivals the numbers he put up during the heart of his career in 2009 and 2010. If that isn’t impressive enough, Utley’s strikeout tendencies, which had been on the rise, dropped seven percentage points from 2016 to 2017.
Utley has already produced 1.0 fWAR this season with the Dodgers, putting him on pace to post an amount in the 2.5 to 3.0 range if he can continue his good start. That total would be his highest since — you guessed it — 2014, when he was a 4.6-fWAR player. His game has been on the decline since, but he’s tied for 95th in fWAR this season among the 306 players with at least 100 plate appearances.
The fact that Utley — currently the 10th-oldest player in the National League — still manages to be in the top third of players who receive ample playing time is an impressive feat. Of course, impressive feats are not new for Utley, who is a six-time All-Star, a four-time Silver Slugger and a World Series champion with the Phillies.
At what time do we start thinking that Chase Utley is a Hall of Famer?
The advanced stats
Spoiler alert: The sabermetrics think that Utley is already in.
In career fWAR, Utley ranks 11th all-time among second basemen, with his 64.3 mark ranking higher than Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, Jackie Robinson, Joe Gordon, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Evers, Nellie Fox, Billy Herman, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Mazeroski, Bid McPhee and Red Schoendienst. By these standards, Utley has already been a more valuable player than 12 of the 20 second basemen in the Hall of Fame. And, of the 10 players in front of him, just two — Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich — aren’t in the Hall. With two or three decent years, Utley could theoretically pass both of them in fWAR as well. He’s only 4.9 wins behind Grich, the higher of the two.
According to JAWS, a Hall of Fame prediction system created by Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus that looks beyond a player’s longevity by using both their career WAR and their peak WAR, Utley is the ninth-greatest second baseman of all time and posts peak WAR numbers that were better than Sandberg, Alomar and Biggo’s. His total WAR, which is a combination of longevity and quality of play, still fall short of the average mark for second basemen, although he could theoretically hit that mark before retiring as well.
In an article for Sporting News in 2015, Ryan Spaeder gave some tidbits as to why Chase Utley should be in the Hall of Fame. Here are just a few:
- Utley batted .301/.388/.535 during a five-year stretch from 2005 to 2009. Since 1947, only four other second basemen have slashed that in a season. And none of them have done it twice. Utley averaged that.
- Utley is just one of two second basemen ever with at least 200 home runs and 100 defensive runs saved. The other is Hall of Famer Joe Gordon, who, like Utley, missed lots of time during his career, due to injuries and military service.
- Utley homered five times during a single World Series (2009), tying Reggie Jackson for the most in one series. He has seven career Fall Classic homers, ranking second in the National League, and his career .795 World Series slugging percentage is second to only David Ortiz.
Of course, there is also the fact that Utley led the majors in fWAR during a 10-year span from 2005 to 2014 (it wasn’t close, either — Robinson Cano was the closest second baseman, almost 20 wins behind). The only other player that led the league in fWAR for a decade span that is not in the Hall of Fame is Barry Bonds.
The “traditional” stats
While Utley is more than worthy of getting in the Hall of Fame according to advanced metrics, his “traditional” and counting stats seemingly fall short, largely in part to the fact that he played 150 or more games in only four of his 15 MLB seasons.
The average Hall of Famer, according to Baseball-Reference, has 2,406 hits and 218 home runs to their name with 18 years of experience in the major leagues. Utley has the home runs, with 254, but falls far short of the 2,400 or so hits needed to be considered an average Hall of Famer. Utley, in fact, has just 1,811 hits during his time in the major leagues.
According to Bill James’ favorite toy, though, there still remains a 74 percent chance that he reaches 2,000 hits. In my mind, if Utley can manage to cross the 2,000-hit plateau, he will convince enough of the “traditional” Hall of Fame voters that he has the numbers to get in, because even they should see that he has been arguably the best second baseman of the 2000s.
He had a five-season stretch from 2005 to 2009 in which he hit .282 or better with 25 or more home runs in four out of the five seasons. He stole double-digit bases, scored over 100 runs and drove in 100 more in multiple seasons. None of those numbers specifically stand out, but Utley’s burst of top-notch play offensively, in addition to his vastly underrated defense — how the heck does he have zero Gold Gloves? — make him a strong candidate to reach the Hall at a position without a lot of representation.
Still, though, he must first reach 2,000 hits in order to appease this crowd.
With all this in mind, I ran a Twitter poll the other day, asking my followers whether Chase Utley would have their hypothetical Hall of Fame vote.
What would it take for Chase Utley to get your Hall of Fame vote?— Devan Fink (@DevanFink) June 12, 2017
Obviously, as you can see, I provided four choices: “he has it now,” “he needs 2,000 hits,” “he will never have my vote” and “other.” My theory that Utley needs to reach the 2,000 hit plateau was almost proven correct. Outside of the fact that “will never have my vote” won by a large margin, almost a quarter of respondents felt that 2,000 hits would be enough to sway them. And, yes, this is the general public and not a poll of Hall of Fame voters, but it is telling to see how many do feel that 2,000 hits is what Utley is missing.
Of course, even if Utley did get 2,000 hits, the results between a “yes” and a “no” for the Hall of Fame — based on this poll, at least — would be deadlocked at an even 47 percent apiece. This, although not a reflection of the electorate, lets us know that many think that Utley will never be Hall-worthy, even if he might compare favorably to many enshrined second basemen.
The odds may be stacked against him, but in my eyes, Chase Utley is a National Baseball Hall of Famer. Hopefully, he will continue to play well enough to convince 75 percent of the voters when the time comes. “The Man” still appears to have some work to do.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.