Today the Los Angeles Dodgers paid Chase Utley $7 million for one more year’s worth of slide tackles. It reminded me of the time I posted a picture of the second baseman’s JAWS numbers a couple weeks ago. I mused something to the effect of, “Chase Utley might have a decent shot at the Hall of Fame,” in the staff chat module. Somebody replied that he may, in fact, have a very good shot, particularly since second base is traditionally a weaker position when it comes to some of the offensive numbers that look Hall-worthy to voters.
In the interest of parsimony, I’m going to skip breaking down JAWS. It’s an assumption on my part that many of us who spend a portion of every day, even in the offseason, reading about baseball have at least a rudimentary understanding of Jay Jaffe’s system.
There are currently 20 players in the Hall who played second base. Their average career WAR is 69.3 and they average 44.4 WAR7 and 56.9 JAWS. Before Utley goes into spring training to resume practicing his takeout slides, he possesses career numbers of 62.3/49.1/55.7. I’d say, that by surpassing the WAR7 threshold and being so close on JAWS, he’s got a pretty good chance. Now, I know this is just one of numerous angles you can slice these arguments at, but let’s look at some comps from some other second basemen who are already in the Hall.
[table caption=”HoF Second Basemen JAWS”]
Well, aren’t you curious who those guys are? Player A is Jackie Robinson; B is Roberto Alomar; C is Craig Biggio. To clarify, I will not be making any ludicrous arguments as to why any of those three shouldn’t be in the Hall. I’m not that dumb. However, Jaffe’s JAWS tool is here for us to, hopefully, take a healthy, informed snapshot of a player’s performance and his potential for the Hall. Interestingly, Jackie is the only of the three that Utley has beat in career WAR. In WAR7 and JAWS, Utley has a clear lead on Alomar and Biggio. His OPS+ of 121 tops Alomar and Biggio as well (116 and 112, respectively).
Alomar was voted into the Hall in 2011, in just his second year of eligibility, with 90 percent of the vote. Biggio was just voted in with 82.7 percent of the vote, which took him only three years. Of the three, including Utley, Biggio has the most home runs with 291. Utley has 236 and Alomar 210. Both Alomar and Biggio have well over 400 career stolen bases, leaving Utley’s 143 as an afterthought. Then again, Alomar and Biggio played in an era where the stolen base was utilized more often than currently. What makes this all the more interesting, though, is the fact that Utley has done this in only 6,578 career plate appearances. That is an astounding 5,746 less than Biggio’s career (12,504) and 3,822 fewer PAs than Alomar (10,400).
One other statistic of note that surely favors Utley’s case is Defensive Runs Saved. His 136 career DRS is the most by any second baseman – granted, the stat has not been extrapolated throughout all of baseball history. In fact, Mark Ellis (132) is the only other name on that list above 100. So, Utley kind of blows the competition out of the water there.
Now, it would seem most likely that 2016 will be Utley’s last season, which leaves his case for the Hall pretty much at the above numbers. His value as a backup infielder, coupled with his obvious decline into his late-30s, makes it doubtful that even the frivolous Dodgers will have a paycheck with his name on it past 2016. Utley posted a WAR of 0.4 between LA and the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015, which was his first season under 3.0 since 2004. Lastly, is the question of Utley being a “dirty” player.
Of course, I’m not talking about PEDs. You might recall, that I’ve stated before that, if I had a vote, I wouldn’t let alleged or proven PED usage deter me in my voting process. I would vote for Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez. I cannot punish them for being one part of a culture in which everybody turned a blind eye. In Utley’s case, though, would I be dissuaded by his purported “dirty” play? I speak, obviously, of his bowling ball slide into Ruben Tejada to not only break up the double play, but Tejada’s right fibula, as well.
I’ll definitively say that was a dirty play. Does that inherently make him a dirty player? I’m not sure. When that play happened, I remember thinking that that was out of character for Utley. Then again, I don’t play against or alongside him every day.
Aside from searching social media for “Chase Utley dirty player,” I think it’s inconclusive. Add to that the contrition he displays in the second video and I’m not sure you can say he’s a dirty player.
Looking it over, I’d say that Utley is a borderline candidate for the Hall. Will the next season (or more?) tip the scales in his favor?