Baseball's most underrated player: Chase Utley

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Perhaps a pair of homers off CC Sabathia last night will end Chase Utley’s reign as the most underrated player in baseball, although even his big night was overshadowed by Cliff Lee’s complete-game victory.
Despite playing for a highly successful big-market team Utley’s excellence has somehow managed to fly under the radar, as many media members and fans seem to think of him as merely a very good player rather than a truly great one.
However, his combination of big batting averages (.295 career), excellent power (30 homers and 40 doubles per 600 at-bats), strong plate discipline (.379 on-base percentage), efficient baserunning (23-for-23 on steals this year), and outstanding defense at an up-the-middle position is extremely difficult to find and makes him one of MLB’s elite all-around players.
Runs Above Replacement (RAR) is a stat that combines offensive and defensive contributions to calculate the total number of runs someone was worth compared to a replacement-level player at the same position. This season Utley ranked second in the NL with 76.7 runs above replacement, trailing only Albert Pujols and his 84.3 RAR. And it’s been a similar story in past seasons:

2009              RAR     2008              RAR     2007              RAR
Albert Pujols    84.3     Albert Pujols    89.2     David Wright     86.6
CHASE UTLEY      76.7     CHASE UTLEY      81.0     CHASE UTLEY      82.2
Hanley Ramirez   73.2     Chipper Jones    76.7     Matt Holliday    80.5
Ryan Zimmerman   70.7     Hanley Ramirez   75.7     Albert Pujols    78.5
Prince Fielder   67.1     David Wright     74.3     Chipper Jones    71.9
2006              RAR     2005              RAR
Albert Pujols    79.5     Andruw Jones     87.0
Ryan Howard      72.4     Albert Pujols    77.3
Carlos Beltran   72.2     Derrek Lee       74.1
CHASE UTLEY      70.8     CHASE UTLEY      73.8
Miguel Cabrera   69.8     Jason Bay        63.6

In his five full seasons Utley has ranked second, second, second, fourth, and fourth among all NL position players in RAR, yet he’s never finished higher than seventh in the MVP balloting while two of his Phillies teammates have won MVPs. Pujols and Utley are the only players to rank among the NL’s top five in all five of those seasons, and if you value things like on-base percentages, positional adjustments, and defense there’s a clear case for Utley being the second-best player in the league during that time.
In fact, during that time there’s a pretty good argument for Utley being the second-best player in baseball, regardless of league. Runs Created is a relatively widely used stat that measures, quite simply, how many runs a player produced offensively. For some context, this season the NL leader was Pujols with 165 and the AL leader was Joe Mauer with 138. Not coincidentally, they figure to be the MVPs when the awards are announced next month. Here are the Runs Created leaders from 2005-2009:

Albert Pujols     764
Alex Rodriguez    661
Mark Teixeira     645
CHASE UTLEY       641
Miguel Cabrera    641
David Ortiz       622
Matt Holliday     617
David Wright      613
Ryan Howard       598
Lance Berkman     594

Pujols obviously stands head and shoulders above the pack, but Utley is within spitting distance of the No. 2 spot and you’ll notice that he’s the only guy in the top 10 who plays an up-the-middle position defensively. Getting that kind of offensive production from a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman is extremely rare and hugely valuable, which is why even after last night’s heroics Utley is probably still the most underrated player in baseball.

Video: Jonathan Lucroy who? Roberto Perez homers twice in World Series opener for the Indians

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Roberto Perez #55 of the Cleveland Indians hits a three-run home run during the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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Back in July, then-Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy vetoed a trade that would have sent him to the Indians, helping the club make a significant upgrade behind the plate after losing Yan Gomes to an injury. At the time, Roberto Perez had only played in 11 games, batting .043. Gomes had hit .165 before his injury, and Chris Gimenez batted .202 over 42 games. It was not much of a logical leap to think the Indians would eventually falter due to a lack of production at the catching position.

But here the Indians are in the World Series facing the Cubs. In Game 1 on Tuesday night, Perez — who finished the season with a .183 average and three home runs in 184 plate appearances — drilled a pair of home runs, accounting for four of the six runs the Indians would score in a shutout win over the Cubs.

Perez’s first blast was a solo that that just cleared the left field fence at Progressive Field, coming on an 0-1 fastball from starter Jon Lester. That padded the Indians’ lead to 3-0.

The second homer put the game away, as he punished reliever Hector Rondon for hanging a 2-2 slider with two runners on base, slugging this one enough to clear the left field fence by plenty. That doubled the Indians’ lead to 6-0, the score by which they would eventually win.

Perez is the first catcher to homer twice in a World Series game since Gary Carter did it for the Mets against the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. Perez is the first Indian to homer twice in the same playoff game since Jim Thome in the 1999 ALDS against the Red Sox.

Corey Kluber dazzles as Indians blank Cubs 6-0 in Game 1 of the World Series

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Corey Kluber #28 of the Cleveland Indians throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

From the moment Kris Bryant struck out looking for the second out of the first inning in Game 1 of the World Series, the Cubs knew Indians starter Corey Kluber brought his A-game and that they were in for a long night. Bryant was Kluber’s second strikeout victim in as many batters and he would go on to strike out eight batters through the first three innings, setting a World Series record.

The Indians, meanwhile, gave Kluber an early cushion, scoring twice in the bottom of the first inning. Francisco Lindor hit a two-out single, then stole second base against starter Jon Lester. Lester proceeded to walk Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana to load the bases. Jose Ramirez brought one run home with an infield single to the left of the pitcher’s mound. The lefty then hit Brandon Guyer with a pitch to force in another run, giving the Indians a 2-0 lead.

The Indians scored one more run in the fourth inning when catcher Roberto Perez snuck a solo home run over the fence in left field, victimizing Lester yet again.

The Cubs struggled to get any kind of momentum going, wasting a leadoff double by Ben Zobrist in the second inning and a two-out double by Kyle Schwarber in the fourth. Through six innings, Kluber yielded only three hits with zero walks and nine strikeouts. He took the mound to start the seventh but departed after Zobrist led off with a single to left field.

Reliever and ALCS MVP Andrew Miller entered the game, but the Cubs seemed to have a better time against him. Schwarber drew a walk and Javier Baez singled to left, loading the bases. At the very least, it seemed, Miller would give up at least one run, if not two. The average team scored two runs with the bases loaded and no outs, according to Baseball Prospectus. But Miller showed why he was named the MVP of the ALCS, getting Willson Contreras to fly out to shallow center. Schwarber thought the ball would drop, so he was way off the second base bag, but center fielder Rajai Davis didn’t notice and fired home to ensure a run didn’t score. Despite the mistake, Miller rebounded by striking out Addison Russell and David Ross to escape the inning with no damage done

Miller returned to the mound for the eighth inning for his second inning of work. After getting Dexter Fowler to fly out, he walked Bryant. Miller got Anthony Rizzo to fly out to shallow center, but Zobrist singled to center to put runners on first and third with two outs. On his 46th pitch of the night, Miller struck out Schwarber to escape the inning.

Perez decided to double the Indians’ lead to 6-0 in the bottom of the eighth. Cubs reliever Justin Grimm walked Guyer and allowed a single to Lonnie Chisenhall, forcing manager Joe Maddon to replace him with Hector Rondon. Rondon hung a 2-2 slider and Perez crushed it, this time clearing the fence by plenty for a three-run homer. He’s the first catcher with two homers in a World Series game since Gary Carter in 1986.

Closer Cody Allen, who thought he was going to be used in a save situation, took over in the top of the ninth. After striking out Baez, Contreras doubled to right field. Allen then struck out Russell as well as pinch-hitter Miguel Montero to end the game in a 6-0 victory for the Indians.

Game 2 of the World Series will start an hour earlier than usual on Wednesday due to forecasted inclement weather late at night. Jake Arrieta will make the start for the Cubs opposite the Indians’ Trevor Bauer.