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.

Henderson Alvarez signs with Tigres de Quintana Roo

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Free agent right-hander Henderson Alvarez signed a deal with the Tigres de Quintana Roo of the Mexican Baseball League earlier this week, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Friday. The righty wasn’t necessarily too fringey a player to hack it in the big leagues, but there were no MLB takers in attendance during his showcase in Venezuela last month and he clearly felt it best to try his luck elsewhere.

The 27-year-old’s last major league gig came with the Phillies, for whom he delivered a 4.30 ERA, 6.8 BB/9 and 3.7 SO/9 over 14 2/3 innings in 2017. While he’s not too far removed from his first and only All-Star bid in 2014, he was besieged by shoulder issues in 2015 and 2016 and underwent season-ending surgeries as a result.

That added injury risk, coupled with the fact that he hasn’t pitched more than 22 innings in a single season since 2014, may have been too much for major league teams to take on this spring. Assuming he steers clear of further injuries, however, a return to the majors may not be entirely out of the question in years to come.