CHASE UTLEY: ON HIS WAY TO THE MVP AWARD

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Until July 19, Chase Utley had hit in every game since July 3 (10 games) with a 1.151 OPS (10 of his 21 hits went for extra bases). He is, arguably, the current favorite to win the National League Most Valuable Player award, as he sits on a .338 batting average (2nd in the NL), 16 HR, 79 RBI (best in NL), and 39 doubles (best in MLB; Utley subsequently leads the MLB with 58 extra-base hits, as well). His 39 doubles in 92 games puts him on pace for 68, which would break Earl Webb's record of 67 doubles in 1931.

Sadly for Utley, though, he's not flashy, and he doesn't get a lot of press, even though he's started at second base for the National League All-Star team the past two seasons, and is, by far, the best second baseman in baseball. He has no flaws.

UTLEY'S PACE
Year HR RBI SB XBH
2006 32 102 15 76
2007 28 139 11 102

Coming up through the Phillies' Minor League system, Utley's defense had been detrimental to his push to break through at the Major League level. The Phillies organization attempted to move him to third base in 2002 in order to bring him through the system at a faster pace, but it was to no avail, and he was quickly moved back to his natural position the following season. Five years later, Utley finds himself first in the NL in HardballTimes.com's Revised Zone Rating (RZR), and is just five-thousandths of a percentage point behind the leader in fielding percentage. In Total Win Shares, which factors in both offense and defense, Utley only finds himself one behind National League leader Eric Byrnes of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

As for the in-depth offensive statistics, Utley ranks fourth in the NL in Equivalent Average (EqA) at .328, and first in Runs Above Replacement Player, at 45.6. BaseballProspectus.com lists his overall Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) at 49.8, best in the National League and barely behind the American League runner-up (to Alex Rodriguez) in Magglio Ordonez.

UTLEY '07/LARKIN '05 COMPARISON
Player GMS BA HR RBI SB XBH OBP SLG EQA
Utley 92 .338 16 79 6 58 .408 .589 .328
Larkin 131 .319 15 66 51 40 .394 .492 .313

It might take a power surge to get Utley into serious MVP talk among the mainstream media, however. Utley is only on pace for 28 HR. The last National League MVP to hit less than 30 HR was Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin in 1995.

Even to baseball traditionalists, Utley is the perfect player. He can obviously play, but he also has a lot of intangibles and personality qualities that make him the type of player a baseball purist would rally behind. He's always on an even keel, never complains to the media, never argues with the umpires, doesn't get involved in questionable off-the-field incidents, and runs out every meaningless dribbler back to the mound and every pop-up to the third baseman. He's "clutch," carrying a 1.131 OPS when it's "Late & Close" and a 1.077 OPS when there are two outs and runners are in scoring position (Link).

And hey, Utley appeals to the liberal crowd, as well, as he is an outspoken proponent of environmentalist and anti-global warming causes. What more can you ask for? Not only could he make a run for National League Most Valuable Player, he could make a run for the Democratic nominee for the 2008 Presidential election!

Should Utley win the MVP award for the National League, it would be the first time one team has had two different players win the award back-to-back since Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds won the award with the San Francisco Giants in 2000 and '01, respectively. Ryan Howard won the MVP award last season with the Phillies one season after winning the National League Rookie of the Year award.