The Phillies Nation Top 100: #4 Chase Utley

Posted by Ian Riccaboni, Tue, February 25, 2014 08:00 AM | Comments: 61
Features, History, Phillies Nation Top 100 - 2014

The Phillies Nation Top 100 continues today with #. Our mission is to assess the Top 100 Phillies players of all time using impact to the Phillies, individual achievement, team achievement, traditional stats, and analytics as our criteria. The list was compiled by Ian Riccaboni and Pat Gallen with input from the rest of the Phillies Nation staff. 

From this point forward, each weekday, we will reveal two Phillies from the PN Top 100 in separate posts. To view the players listed thus far, please click here. To view the 2008 iteration of the list of Greatest Phillies of All Time as compiled by Tim Malcolm, please click here.

Please check back tomorrow morning for #3.

“World Champions. World f…” – Utley, 2008 World Series celebration

#4 – Chase Utley

Years: 2003-Present

.287/.373/.498, 217 HR, 129 SB in 5617 PA

Previous Rank: 24 (+20)

fWAR Phillies Rank: 3rd among position players, 5th among Phillies

Signature stat: All-time leader in SB% (88.36%, 129 out of 146)

Selected to five-straight NL All-Star teams (2006-2010), won four-straight Silver Sluggers (2006-2009)

Signature Series: Tied a World Series record with five homers in the 2009 World Series

Signature Moment: Hit 2-run HR in first inning of Game 1 of the 2008 World Series

Taken as the 15th overall pick in the 2000 MLB Draft out of UCLA by the Phillies, Chase Utley stormed through the Phillies minor league system, playing for short-season Batavia in 2000, skipping A-ball and going straight to Clearwater for 2001. Utley handled Triple-A pitching well for a 22-year old in 2002, hitting 17 homers in a season where they switched the lefty-hitting Utley’s position from second to third base. Utley switched back for 2003, earned a cup of coffee with the Phils and by 2005, Utley was a regular for the Fightins.

In 2005, his first full season in the Majors, Utley hit .291/.376/.540 with 28 HR and 16 steals, earning 13th place in MVP voting. In 2006, Utley would earn his first All-Star nod, his first of five straight, and would win his first of four straight Silver Slugger awards. Utley was in the middle of an MVP caliber season before John Lannan broke his hand with a fastball on July 26, 2007. Utley, who was hitting .336/.414/.581, would finish the year with a .332/.410/.566 line with 22 HR and 9 SB, returning one month and a day after being hit, helping the Phillies break their 14-year playoff drought.

While Utley wouldn’t deliver in 2007′s playoffs (2-11 in a 3-0 Rockies sweep), Utley would shine the brightest during the postseason. Utley has hit 10 postseason homers for the Phillies, second only to Jayson Werth‘s 11, including a 2-run homer off of Scott Kazmir in the first inning of Game 1 of the 2008 World Series and the first half of a pair of back-to-back dingers off of Matt Garza in the sixth inning of Game 3 en route to a 4-1 series win over the Rays. When the Phillies returned to the World Series in 2009 to face the Yankees, Utley was a monster, hitting five homers in six games, tying Reggie Jackson‘s single-World Series record in a 4-2 series loss.

Utley has a rare combination of power, speed, and defensive ability at second base. From 2003 through 2013, Utley has accumulated the fourth most fWAR in baseball, ranking first among second baseman. Among second baseman from 2006 through 2013, Utley ranks first in runs scored, is second in homers to Dan Uggla, second in RBI to Robinson Cano, sixth in steals, second in OBP to Matt Carpenter, second in SLG to Cano, second in triples to Orlando Hudson, ranks first in defensive runs created, and ranks fifth in all of baseball across all positions in that metric during that time frame. Among Phillies, Utley leads all second baseman in HR, runs, and RBI.

Had injuries in 2007, 2012, and 2013 not slowed Utley down, he likely would be approaching Hall of Fame status. Utley currently is ranked as the 18th most productive second baseman of all-time according to FanGraphs’ version of WAR. Utley ranks 12th among second baseman all-time in homers with a number of players that are catchable in 2014 directly ahead of him and fourth in RBI. Utley ranks 22nd all-time in defensive runs created at second base with a chance to accumulate enough to move into the top 20 in 2014. Depending on how long Utley can hold off father time, Utley may be able to break into the top 10 all-time in a number of categories among second baseman but that remains a big if, particularly when considering his degenerative knees.

Utley’s hustle has endeared him to the fans, as his cerebral-ness and cunning has made Utley one of the most exciting, and fundamentally-sound, players in Phillies history. The play that comes to mind when describing Utley’s play is the play that famously earned him the nickname “The Man” from Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas. Utley scored from second base on a ground ball hit to Atlanta pitcher Macay Macbride by attempting to steal third during the pitch and then taking off as Macbride was throwing to first to put out Ryan Howard. Utley’s smarts and hustle also makes him Major League Baseball’s all-time SB% leader.

When Utley decides to retire, his #26 will no doubt be retired and has face on the Phillies Wall of Fame whether or not he can hang around long enough to have a compelling Hall of Fame case. For what he has meant to the organization, and the fans that support the Phillies organization, Utley earns his ranking as the fourth-best Phillie of all-time.

Avatar of Ian Riccaboni

About Ian Riccaboni

Ian Riccaboni has written 892 articles on Phillies Nation.

Ian's athletic achievements include getting stuffed by NBA center Aaron Gray in high school and hitting .179 over four years for NYU against D-III, NAIA, JuCo, and NCBA schools. Ian hopes his athletic successes will help him achieve his dream of becoming the underground Bob Uecker.

  • Posts: 0 Mike B

    We are so lucky to have had the chance to watch this guy play baseball. Just a fantastic player. What impresses me most about him is the fact that as a minor leaguer, his defense was a significant weakness, but through his work ethic and force of will, he turned it into his strongest suit.

  • Posts: 0 Laura Hoogerwerff

    I totally agree with this ranking. I’m so glad that I have the privilege to watch him play in person. One of my all time favorites.

  • Posts: 212 photoFred

    Avatar of photoFred

    He’s got great numbers, true, but also great baseball instincts. Like Derek Jeter, he may not always make the routine play, but when the game is on the line he earns his money.

    At the risk of sounding like a crazy person (by mentioning him in the same breath as Utley) I think, based on admittedly brief observation, Galvis may have that same sort of instinct. Sadly, he has yet to find his bat…

  • Posts: 8 DaveWeaver

    Avatar of DaveWeaver

    He skipped AA, not A. He played 2001 in Clearwater (High A) and then moved on to Scranton (AAA).

    Also, his # 26 will NOT ‘no doubt’ be retired by the Phillies as their policy is to only retire numbers when a player makes the Hall of Fame. As author notes, it will take more years and a lot of lucky health for that to even be an outside shot. He will make the Wall of Fame, alongside guys like Darren Daulton. Quite an honor.

    Is he REALLY the top SB% of all time in MLB? That is his ‘Signature Stat’ out of all he accomplished? 129 of 146 over 11 seasons…I am pretty sure there needs to be a minimum standard for that stat? If a guy was successful the only base he ever tried to steal, is he the all-time best base stealer? Utley averages significantly less than 15 attempts per season.

    When we are talking Top 4 Phillies of All-Time, and there was all winter to write it, the article should not be written this poorly.

    • Posts: 452 Ian Riccaboni

      Avatar of Ian Riccaboni


      I will not engage your final point too much as I am reading this on a lunch break but you have your opinion and I have mine. I appreciate you reading the article and taking time to post. As someone who has a grammatical or structural error or two in every other article, I was proud that this one was devoid of such on first glance. I’m sure there is one in there, but I think it was written well from a structure and grammar standpoint. I do believe Utley was the most transformative player that the Phillies have had since Schmidt and Carlton and I do believe he has the best shot of anyone to have his number retired.

      I will, however, assert that he quite literally did skip Class-A Lakewood in 2001 and then also skipped Double-A Reading in 2002. We are both correct, no need to drag that point out.

      He really is the leader in SB% and the minimum for this statistic is 80 SB attempts. I do not know who created the minimum or why it is so low or so high but that is Baseball Reference’s criteria.

      Thank you for reading.

      • Posts: 0 wbramh


        I know I speak for others when I say I wouldn’t change the glasses on your face.
        However, speaking for myself, I’d itch-day the asses-glay and go with something bolder and heavily tinted – maybe with chrome rims with Phillies red highlights (think what Rodman would wear and then back off by a notch or two).

        As for your “Top 100 list,” well that has been nothing short of terrific and I really wouldn’t change a single word (except maybe the typo in the the title of your #6 all-time Phillies player).

        Thanks for fun and suspense.
        I’m sure Robbie and Lefty are #s 3 and 2 respectively on the Top 100 list but I have no idea who could possibly be #1. Hmmm.

        Once the suspense is over it’ll be time to list the Bottom 100.”

        My bottom #2 and #3 remain up for debate but the winner of the “Bottom 100″ is as sure a bet as the winner of the “Top 100;” a player who would have truly stunk in any century.

        1. MiniMart
        2. Bert Adams
        3. Chile Gomez

    • Posts: 5434 Lefty

      Avatar of Lefty
  • Posts: 0 Chuck A.

  • Posts: 0 Mike F

    As a player utley is my idol. No matter how good or bad the phillies were playing he always went out there and gave 110% every single time and i always admired that about him.

    • Posts: 0 Mike B

      He still does, as far as I know. He’s not dead yet. ;)

      • Posts: 0 wbramh

        We can’t say for sure whether Utley’s dead or alive.

        Only Robo2ndBaseman could have survived and thrived after the knee injuries Chase suffered.

        I believe he’s an unholy experiment. He doesn’t even flinch or change expressions when he gets tagged with a fastball.

        Think about it.

  • Posts: 24 donnavox20

    Avatar of donnavox20

    Yes, he really does have the highest stolen base percentage….


    • Posts: 5434 Lefty

      Avatar of Lefty

      Oops, hadn’t read down this far. Sorry donnavox20, didn’t see that you had already posted this. You got it first.

  • Posts: 556 Bruce

    Avatar of Bruce

    Hmm..m, Utley is so highly thought of by the whiz kids of stats, they list him #4. That’s a jump of twenty (20) from Tim Malcolm’s previous list and rank of #24 for Utley. Wow! And Utley’s career is not even completed. Personally, it’s mind boggling that Hall of Famers, Ashburn and Delahanty are ranked BELOW Utley during this week’s rankings.

    If I had to do a list, it would exclude CURRENT players. The players of past would be judged on research of witness accounts from biographies, historians, and of course, statistics. I would even include the viewing of Ken Burns’ award winning TV documentary on the history of baseball to understand better the different eras and the evolving changes that affectted the game on the field.

    • Posts: 452 Ian Riccaboni

      Avatar of Ian Riccaboni

      ” The players of past would be judged on research of witness accounts from biographies, historians, and of course, statistics. I would even include the viewing of Ken Burns’ award winning TV documentary on the history of baseball to understand better the different eras and the evolving changes that affectted the game on the field.”

      Not to sound smart, but this is exactly what we did do. The countdown was not a fly-by-night operation and was researched for about four months before its reveal.

  • Posts: 0 Frank

    Great player, but his WS comment showed little class. The fact that you guys applaud it says something too.

    • Posts: 24 donnavox20

      Avatar of donnavox20

      Compared to the behavior of many other athletes, I’m not too worried about one public F-bomb. Utley didn’t shoot anyone, beat his wife, rape someone, kill any dogs or bully any teammates. I’ll take the F-bomb. If that makes me classless, so be it.

      • Posts: 0 wbramh

        Everyone knows the F-bomb is a gateway word to murder and mayhem.

    • Posts: 0 wbramh

      Are you referring to Chase’s F-bomb at the rally after the 2008 WS victory?

      Personally, I tend to avoid expletives in my every day language (unless I jam my finger in a door) but when the Phillies won their first championship in 1980 I screamed those same Utley words out a second story window once an hour for about a year. Neighbors set their clocks to my outbursts. Okay, that’s an exaggeration and my parents told me a million times not to exaggerate – but you can bet the language was colorful and long-lasting.

      Sometimes emotions get the best of people – ie: David Ortiz when Boston celebrated their recovery from the terrible marathon bombing.
      It was just natural, non PED-enhanced adrenalin coursing through the Big Papi’s veins.
      Frankly, I doubt a soul sitting in Fenway nor many of those citizens congregated in front of their TeeVee machines gave a Flying Wallenda how Papi chose to express himself at that emotionally charged moment.

      I suspect no one was mortally injured by Chase’s rather pure over-expression of joy. I trust he employs modifiers when talking to Cub Scout troops between momentous life achievements..

      • Posts: 0 Double Trouble Del

        Always look forward to your posts. This one put a smile on my face to be sure.

    • Posts: 0 Mike B

      As does the fact that you’re so uptight about it.

      But but but think of the CHILDREN!

      My sister told her then-six-year old son that he can say that word when he wins a World Series trophy, and not before then. Seemed like a good solution to me.

      • Posts: 24 donnavox20

        Avatar of donnavox20

        All of the children in my family have HEARD that word. They know enough not to use it, at least not where the grownups hear it! I don’t think hearing Chase say it once stunted anyone.

    • Posts: 0 Chuck A.

      Really, Frank? Are you serious? That statement…while probably not the smartest thing he could have said….is now part of the team “lore”….whether some like or despise it. Let’s just let it go already. No one got hurt.

    • Posts: 0 Hogey's Role

      I’ll take classless, frank get a life

      • Posts: 0 Art

        Let me guess…you attend Wing Bowl every year,.

  • Posts: 0 Dave

    I love Utley, but to put him ahead of Whitey doesn’t make sense.

    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      I’ll take a crack at the case for Utley over Ashburn based on their stats:

      1) Utley is the better hitter overall. Ashburn got on base more, but Utley has much more power.

      2) Both Ashburn and Utley were great baserunners. Utley may have lost a step now, but for much of his career he was regarded by analysts as one of the best (and for a while *the* best) baserunner in the game. That’s not just based on his opportunistic base stealing, which Ian noted, but also for how often he takes the extra base.

      3) Both were excellent fielders. Ashburn had the great range in center, and analysts regard Utley as one of the best fielders of the past decade, at any position.

      In addition to the stats, of course, Utley was the best player on arguably the best run in franchise history.

      • Posts: 0 mudmin

        Forgot 2
        4) Unlike Ashburn in 1950, Utley came up big in the 2008 and 2009 World Series’.

        5) Utley was a world champion.

      • Posts: 0 wbramh

        Mudmin: Fair comments but to be fair to Whitey…

        4. With the exception of Granny and to a lesser extent Puddin’ Head, nearly the entire Whiz Kids lineup went comatose in that series. Their team batting average was an anemic .203. Del batted .143 – even worse than Whitey. I think it’s tough to put too much weight on one bad World Series performance (especially if there’s no redemption opportunity) any sooner than one poor regular season series performance. Ted Williams fans would certainly agree. “The Greatest Hitter that Ever Lived” batted a dismal .200 in his one and only World Series appearance.

        5. Chase played on a better hitting team and faced a lesser opponent in the 2008 Rays than the Whiz Kids did facing the perpetual powerhouse Yanks who had swept their 6 previous series opponents. No one was surprised when they swept their 7th series in a row – only surprised at how close three of the games turned out to be.

  • Posts: 0 Don M @DonM409

    I too think that his WS parade premeditated curse (with lots of children in attendance) was a scumbag move … that said – he was 29 years old when he did it. It was dumb, I’m sure he’d admit it was dumb – lets move past it . . .

    Ian and Pat, great job on this countdown!

    • Posts: 0 wbramh

      Sure, easy to say “let’s move past it.”
      Moments like that cause long-term trauma.

      I’ve been trying to move past Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction but I can’t get the moment out of my mind no matter how many times I run the tape back and forth, upload it for Facebook friends, freeze frame it, copy it on the office Xerox machine and dream about it.

    • Posts: 0 Hogey's Role

      Scumbag move?? — dumbest thing I’ve ever heard…. the man is who he is, and that’s a World f’n champion!

      • Posts: 2897 Chuck A.

        Avatar of Chuck A.

        Yeah, I have a great deal of respect for Don M’s comments and usually agree with them. But I think “scumbag move” may be a bit harsh.

        Was Chase wrong for saying it? Yes. Does he regret it? Probably. Did I laugh when I heard it? Yes. Has my now 16 and a half year old son been adversely affected by hearing it? No (trust me…there are other more important things, positive and negative, that have affected him over the past 5 years).

        As I said, this is now part of Phillies lore…whether we like it or not. I think it was a very emotional day and Chase let it fly….whether it was planned or spontaneous.

        I’m not the hugest Chase Utley fan and don’t revere him the way a lot of people do. (However, let it be noted that I DO have his jersey…it’s one of those cool St. Patrick’s Day green ones from a few years back and the only reason I got his was because they were out of the Hamels ones in my size. But I still wear it proudly.). It would be easy for me to totally rip him for the F-bomb. No…I’ll rip him for other things….like not disclosing his knee thing until very late in the spring a few years back. Thank God he figured it out and is seemingly healthy. I guess we’ll see how he holds up this season being another year older.

        Oh…and for the record…since this thread is really about his ranking… I would DEFINITELY rank Whitey better than Chase ….for all the reasons mentioned by several posters below.

      • Posts: 891 schmenkman

        Avatar of schmenkman

        Chuck (A), I completely agree with your take on the f-bomb.

        As for the rankings, what I’ve seen is a lot of reasons for why Whitey was awesome, all of which I agree with. What I haven’t seen are reasons for ranking him ahead of Utley.

  • Posts: 0 Brooks

    Personally, I would take the 2008 WS double play as the signature moment that I will never forget about Chase.

  • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

    The NFL Network sometimes recycles its 60 minute version on he 5-6 NFL B’s drafted ahead of Tom Brady the year e was rafted t 199, as a 6th round pick. Brady’s one of the better example of the common game of seeing who was drafted ahead of an eventual star that left earlier selections in the dust.

    Don’t waste your time checking the never wases and whodats chosen ahead of Utley. All but one is a guy whose parents probably don’t even remember them, unless maybe Mr. or Mrs. Baldelli are reminiscing.

    But what’s pretty fascinating is the first pick that year. Adrian Gonzalez was cream of the crop, and has gone on to have a really good career. But when you come down to it, given a choice of roads to travel to compare Chase and AGon, good as he’s been, about he only thin that mi might make for some debate is the limitations on Utley for a couple years with his knee issues.

    That said, without checking any numbers, if I were to, I’d expect Chuck Klein to probably rate higher than Chase, although I’m not comfortable comparing players so many generations apart.

    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      Funny thing about the AGon comparison. Gonzalez is 3 1/2 years younger, but he got to the majors faster and they have exactly the same number of plate appearances so far. What’s more, they’ve been very similar hitters to date:

      AGon: 5,671 PAs, .294/.367/.501 (.369 wOBA, 132 wRC+), with 10% walks and 17% Ks
      Utley: 5,671 PAs, .287/.373/.498 (.376 wOBA, 128 wRC+), with 10% walks and 15% Ks

      But while they’ve been similar hitters, Utley has been the much better baserunner, and although Gonzalez has been a very good-fielding first baseman, Utley played a tougher position and played it even better.

      So Utley is far ahead in WAR (55 to 32), and although AGon is younger it’s unlikely he’ll catch up.

  • Posts: 0 Abel Ruiz

    One of my favorite phillies of all time. Can’t wait till my son gets older so i can show him how Utley played and how baseball should played

  • Posts: 0 bacardipr

    Now if only we can him to speak more then hell be almost perfect. Just joshing…Utley is a special player total combination of baseball smarts, instincts and natural ability. I hope he remains healthy and retires before he gets to the point where he can no longer play. However some thing tells me Utley is not going to go down that way.

  • Posts: 374 Jay Floyd

    Avatar of Jay Floyd

    Ranking Utley higher than Ashburn and Delahanty is the absolute biggest blunder on this list.

    Also, Utley’s other F-bomb on TV at the All-Star Game in NY is often forgotten. Post-parade comment wasn’t an isolated instance.

    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      Jay, just curious, what’s the rationale for the first point?

    • Posts: 0 wbramh

      But what was the context of Chase’s other F-bomb?

      Did Chase say, “Oh F%#*, I can’t believe my country ranks 39th in the World in infant mortality rates.”

      Personally, I would have been shocked and dismayed – at the language of course since we can’t have that in a civilized society.

      • Posts: 0 Hogey's Role

        No the crowd booed him, he said boo, f you… That’s the man he is, chase is the man, my favorite player of all time, hard-nosed all out style… Good for him, stays true to himself, only makes me like him even more

      • Posts: 24 donnavox20

        Avatar of donnavox20

        I was sitting behind first base one game last year, when a foul pop up bounced off of Chase’s gloves and hit the ground. He very clearly said ‘gosh darn it!’ Not.

    • Posts: 556 Bruce

      Avatar of Bruce

      I agree with Jay Floyd on the “blunder” made in choosing Utley over Ashburn and Delahanty. Regarding the Hall of Famer, Ashburn, I get the impression that a few here minimize the value and importance of a great lead-off hitter and he was the best for that role in Phillies’ history and regarded as one of the greats at his position (CF) during his era.

      As a reminder to the young fans who never saw him play, I’ll provide a capsule of his accomplishments (thanks to Phillies.com):

      Two-time NL batting champion (.338, 1955 & .350, 1958) and runner-up twice (both to Stan Musial, 1948 and 1951) . . . Only rookie named to 1948 NL All-Star squad . . . Hit in 23 consecutive games that season . . . Led NL in singles, walks and on-base percentage, four times; hits, three times; triples, twice and stolen bases, once . . . His 1958 season marked the only time a leadoff hitter led the league in both average and walks . . . Batted .300 or better in nine of his 15 years in the majors and had an on-base percentage of .400 or more six times . . . Ranked 11th all-time in walks and 35th in hits when he retired after the 1962 season to enter the broadcast booth . . . Phillies all-time leader in singles (1,811) and was the club leader in games, at-bats and hits until Mike Schmidt came along . . . Ranks third in Phillies history in runs . . . Holds Phillies record for consecutive games played, 730 . . . Finished with career .397 on-base percentage (.394 with Phillies).

      Holds club record for outfield putouts, 538, in 1951 . . . Holds NL records for most years, 500 or more putouts, four times, and most years, 400 or more putouts, nine times . . . Led NL outfielders in putouts nine times, tying an NL record . . . Ranks sixth all-time in putouts, 6,089 . . . One of only two players to ever lead the league in putouts, assists and double plays in the same season twice . . . Second all-time to Taylor Douthit in total chances per game (3.04), chances per game (2.98) and putouts per game (2.90). . . Career chances per game average is well ahead of his contemporaries, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider.

      • Posts: 0 wbramh

        A very good counter-argument for Ashburn at #4, Bruce.

        I hope you don’t go too nuts if Ian and Pat chose Chile Gomez as their #1 all time Phillies player.

        I’m sure you’ll agree, they really have tried hard, even if they did pick Abreu about 16 players higher than Howard. A monumental effort and always doomed to be flawed somewhere.

      • Posts: 0 schmenkman

        Bruce, no one is saying that Ashburn was not a great player. He was, and you’re absolutely right that he was one of the best at his position during his era.

        But Utley also has been one of the best players of his era. Period. Regardless of position.

        Back to comparing Ashburn and Utley:

        Ashburn was a great fielder, but so was Utley (see links below).
        Ashburn was a great base runner, but so was Utley (see link below).

        And while Ashburn was a very good hitter, he had very little power. Overall, as hitters, Utley was the better hitter, and there is really no way to argue differently:

        Ashburn: .311/.394/.388 (.782 OPS, .363 wOBA, 115 wRC+)
        C. Utley: .287/.373/.498 (.871 OPS, .376 wOBA, 128 wRC+)

        So Ashburn was 15% better than the league, while Utley has been 28% better.

  • Avatar of The Original Chuck P

    I would certainly rank Whitey higher than Chase but it’s not my list. I’ve done these lists so I know how difficult it is… my blog has AL and NL All-Decade Teams for every decade going back to 1920 and All-Franchise teams for all thirty teams and there were painful decisions for almost every team.

    The criteria for our all-decade teams was slightly different than our all-franchise teams but establishing criteria was very important… you have to have general rules that help you govern those tough choices. You can make exceptions to your rules but those exceptions should be few and far between for the list to have credibility.

    I read your introduction post (which talked about the journey you were embarking on)… from that, I didn’t get much clarity as to how you planned on making those tough decisions. It’s clear that you’re sort of leaning on fWAR as a defining metric and by that measure, Utley nudges Whitey slightly – not sure I agree with that as a defining metric, though but you can tell me if I’m wrong. In Utley’s case, the “replacement level” second baseman during his tenure was downright awful (Keith Ginter in 2008). So of course Utley is going to have a higher WAR than any OF who had the “privilege” of playing in the 50′s. In 1956, Ashburn ranked 8th in WAR among position players… Snider, Mays, Aaron and Frank Robinson were the top 4 with Snider posting a high of 7.6. Those guys are legendary and they all played OF in 1956… Ultey, by comparison is credited with an average WAR of 7.9 during his prime years (2005-2009) and I honestly couldn’t tell you who the next best second baseman was. Utley was great but he wasn’t Duke Snider or Willie Mays great. He was head and shoulders better than any other second baseman, partially because the position was so weak in the 2000′s. You also mention individual achievement and team achievement in your headliner… ranking Utley ahead of Whitey seems to imply that you’re weighing team achievement ahead of individual achievement because Whitey clearly has more individual achievements. Both were 5x all-stars but Utley has virtually no black ink on his resume and no hardware. Ashburn doesn’t have any MVP’s (Mays, Aaron and Banks have something to do with that) but he did win two batting titles, amass more hits than anyone else in the 1950′s AND he’s in the HALL OF FAME… something not too many Phillies can say. Ashburn was also arguably the best defensive center fielder of the 1950′s. You won’t find a center fielder with more range… let the league in range factor per game and putouts eight times in the 1950′s. He also had a straight up cannon… 7th all-time in assists! Nine seasons with double-digit assists… find me another live ball era center fielder that can say that (let me save you some time… you won’t). I was not always a Whitey guy but the more people you talk to who saw him play, the more you realize how great he really was. And my defining reason for picking anyone for an all-franchise team is their true impact on a franchise… Whitey was a true lifelong ambassador for the Phillies. Player and broadcaster… his Whiteness.

    • Posts: 891 schmenkman

      Avatar of schmenkman

      OCP, some points:

      - WAR does not take into account who the other players are at the same position. It calculates contributions from hitting, running, and fielding, all relative to the league averages at the time. If you want to contend that talent has been watered down since Ashburn’s day (more than any improvements in training/conditioning, or the growth of Latin Americans’ presence) that’s another matter.

      - “ranking Utley ahead of Whitey seems to imply that you’re weighing team achievement ahead of individual achievement”
      I don’t know why you would think this, since you’ve said it’s clear that they’re using fWAR, and Utley is already ahead of Ashburn in that (despite having played 470 fewer games, or about 3 seasons’ worth).

      - “Black ink”, i.e. leading the league in something, is useful in predicting what HoF voters will value, but is much less valuable in actually determining which player is better.

      - I didn’t think ambassadorship and broadcasting were among the things considered for best player, for better or worse.

      - In the end of course there’s no argument that Ashburn was a great fielder in center and a very good hitter. But let’s not forget that Utley has been viewed as among the top 2 or 3 best players in the game, period, regardless of position.

      From John Dewan in 2010, comparing all MLB players in runs produced from hitting, fielding, and baserunning:

      “Summarizing the past five-plus seasons, we have Utley with 907 Total Runs and Pujols with 878. And that’s why I submit that Utley is currently baseball’s best. (By the way, over that time span, no one else is close; Jimmy Rollins is a distant third with 742 Total Runs).”

      • Avatar of The Original Chuck P

        schmenk… I would not consider fWAR an individual achievement. Case and point… if I went up to Chase Utley and asked him for a list of his individual achievements, I highly doubt that he would refer to his fWAR. By comparison, Whitey would say “I have a shrine in Cooperstown, I was a two-time batting champ, I amassed more hits than anyone in the 1950′s… more than Mays, Snider, et. al. and did I mention I’m in the Hall of Fame?”

        The issue of “other” contributions is a matter of opinion, really… I always defer to the question, “Who is best suited to represent a particular franchise?” In that context, you add weight to things like all-star appearances, Hall of Fame enshrinement, key moments, franchise records (like hits and games played) and other contributions. If you’re selecting a proprietary team that is meant to reflect the opinion of the comprehensive fan (all ages), those things really matter. If you’re going off stats alone, they don’t. If you’re picking a list which is meant to represent your views, they might not either but you should be consistent.

        Black ink might not seem relevant to you but I would argue it is relevant because I don’t see how you can say that Utley was one of the top 2 or 3 best players when he really never led the league in anything besides an arbitrary stat like Total Runs which DOES have a positional component.

        I feel like Utley’s entire argument rests upon advanced metrics and I’m on board with advanced metrics as a current day talent evaluation tool but let us not forget that Miguel Cabrera – MVP and leader in BA/OBP/SLG – finished 4th in the AL in WAR among position players last year… behind Josh Donaldson… and that’s just one year’s sample. When you’re using advanced metrics as the be all end all to compare and evaluate players from different eras across positions I can’t help but cringe a bit. Maybe I’m wrong with my positional analysis… I always thought fWAR had a positional component… but there are people much smarter than me who could jump in and argue why fWAR might not work in a case like this.

        Utley could still stake claim to a higher spot on this list (if I were making it, which I’m not… it’s yours and that’s cool)… his career is still going.

        For what it’s worth, the bbReference Fan EloRater has Utley at 249 and Ashburn at 170. It also has Richie as the 11th ranked CF (JAWS) and Utley as the 13th 2B. And Utley’s 88% stolen base % is great but I’d take Richie who was successful 86% of the time and stole 105 more bases (so far).

      • Posts: 891 schmenkman

        Avatar of schmenkman

        By “individual achievement” I mean something the individual did, rather than the team. By your logic, OBP wasn’t an individual achievement in 1950, to pick a year when it wasn’t discussed much yet by players.

        There’s not a lot in the criteria you list that tries to answer the question which one was a better player or had more of an impact on the field, and I thought that was a key point of these rankings.

        For example, for all of his “blank ink”, is it really your contention that Ashburn was a better hitter (i.e. a better offensive player) than Utley? If you say yes, I would pick myself off the floor and show why he wasn’t. If you say no, then I guess I would rest my case.

        The *whole point* of comprehensive stats like fWAR is to measure players across positions and across eras, so the cringing is misplaced. fWAR _does_ have a position component, in that it’s tougher to find good-hitting CFs and 2Bs than DHs and 1Bs, because CF and 2B are tougher positions to play. But it does not compare Utley to other 2Bs in calculating WAR, with the sole exception of the fielding component.

        (by the way, you said “your list”, and maybe that wasn’t directed at me, but I’m just a commenter here)

      • Avatar of The Original Chuck P

        Richie wouldn’t have said, “I led the league in OBP four times (which he did).” He would have said, “I won two batting titles (which he did).” I’m not sure what your point was… but those are individual achievements. If you’re going to evaluate a player’s capabilities compartmentally – .

        Higher fWAR is not an individual achievement… it’s a stat that YOU might use to determine who YOU feel is a better player. Again, Josh Donaldson had a higher WAR than Miguel Cabrera last year. Would you say that he was a better player than Miguel Cabrera last year?

        The point I’ve been alluding to here is that it’s virtually impossible to contend who was a better player in a case like this using stats alone. Whitey and Chase played very different positions in different eras and had a very different batting style/role.

        I’ll break it down for you – my opinion, statistics and “eye test”
        Individual Achievements… I’d give the nod to Whitey
        Defensively… I’d give the nod to Whitey.
        Base Running… I’d give the nod to Whitey.

        Whitey’s “job” as a leadoff hitter was to get on base – to set the tone. He was as good as anyone in that particular role. He was also as good as anyone in the field in center field which I would contend is a much more important/difficult position to play than second base. He stood out in a much more prominent era in baseball history at a position that was filled with studs. Utley had more power.

      • Avatar of The Original Chuck P

        Hit send a little early… if you’re going to evaluate compartmentally – break it down into things like base running, defense, hitting – then individual achievements really should mean things like batting titles and all-star appearances. Otherwise, all you’re really doing is forming a redundant criteria… Chase was a better hitter and he had a higher adjusted OPS. You see how that works?

        As far as hitting goes, I would give the nod to Chase BUT I think the gap is closer than you make it out to be (no need to drop your jaw). Chase as a #3 hitter is more valuable than Whitey leading off… and he excelled in that role… but Whitey excelled as a leadoff man.

        I think that Whitey distanced himself from Chase on the defensive side of things and on the base paths. And for me, personally, I give a huge edge to Whitey because he’s actually in the Hall of Fame. Again, if this is list is meant to be completely statistically based, I can see why you’d leave that out. For me, personally, I won’t overlook that…

      • Posts: 0 schmenkman

        OCP, it looks like we’ll have to agree to disagree.

        I’ll leave you with this. Reputable scholars of the game called Utley one of the two best, or possibly *the* best player in baseball over a period of several years. That was never the case with Whitey, as good as he was.

        Okay, one more point. I would say that t’s only “virtually impossible” to tell who was better in the same sense that’s virtually impossible to know if there are other planets outside of our solar system, meaning only if one ignores the last 30 years of research on the topic.

      • Posts: 0 schmenkman

        (just saw your continuation)

        “individual achievements really should mean things like batting titles and all-star appearances. Otherwise, all you’re really doing is forming a redundant criteria… Chase was a better hitter and he had a higher adjusted OPS. You see how that works?”

        No, I don’t see. I said he was a better hitter, and I supported that statement by showing why I said he was a better hitter.

        “As far as hitting goes, I would give the nod to Chase BUT I think the gap is closer than you make it out to be (no need to drop your jaw).”

        I’ll take it. :-)

        “I think that Whitey distanced himself from Chase on the defensive side of things and on the base paths.”

        I could not disagree more. PN tends to delete comments with links, but I encourage your to google “Utley best base runner” and “Utley best fielder”, and you’ll see why that statement is not supportable.

        Whitey deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. According to the “Hall of Stats” (feel free to google), so does Utley. Already. Their one-sentence summary: “Chase Utley is still active, but he is already Hall-worthy.”

      • Posts: 0 wbramh

        I absolutely love this back and forth. I keep changing my mind with every rebuttal.

        I wish Whitey and Chase were listed in Ian’s top 1000 as #4A and 4B.
        I think that’s probably where they belong.

        The argument is so close that I’ve decided (so far) to give the nod to Whitey based on one personal statistic:

        To date, Chase Utley has never invited me to lunch, or more critically, picked up the tab for same.

        So forget all the complicated math.
        For me, it comes down to simple savor metrics, my friends.

      • Avatar of The Original Chuck P

        Oh boy…

        I googled “best defensive second basemen” and nothing on the page came up with Utley’s name on it… google “best defensive center fielder” and the first reputable source that pops up has Richie listed alongside Mays, Carey and Speaker as the best ever. Utley’s a good fielder… he was “great” for a few years but overall I think Richie clearly gets the nod and that’s without factoring in how much more difficult and important defense is in center field (and how hard it would have been playing CF at CM Stadium which was 460 feet to dead center – 60 feet further than CBP).

        The base running comment is also a bit perplexing to me because by the time this is all said and done, it’s likely that Chase and Whitey will have the same legendary 86% stolen base percentage but Whitey will have roughly 100 more stolen bases for his career. So they had similar success as a base thief only Whitey did it more often. Whitey also has nearly twice as many triples and right now has nearly 500 more runs. So is the argument pro-Chase as a better base runner that he went first to third better or had better takeout slides? I’m sorry but I can’t really tell you how many times Richie went first to third or how many hard takeout slides he had so you’ve got me there… I’ll take the sheer numbers.

  • Posts: 0 Ryne Duren

    Again Ian, another great article. I’m enjoying this whole series of articles. My thoughts
    on Utley? He’ll always be the # 1 man in my mind. Stats, rankings, war, all that good stuff, Chase is a pleasure to watch.

  • Posts: 0 Bart Shart

    Ian, great article. The Top Ten Phillies of ALL TIME is a tough job and anyone can argue
    about who should be ahead of whom. UTLEY IS THE BEST PHILLIES SECOND BASEMAN OF ALL TIME. Right behind Denny Doyle.

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