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.

Seager homers, Dodgers edge Brewers 4-2 in wild-card opener

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Mookie Betts had two hits and an RBI, Corey Seager homered and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2 in the opener of their NL wild-card series on Wednesday night.

The eight-time West champion Dodgers capitalized early in a bullpen game for the Brewers and can wrap up the best-of-three series on Thursday. Milwaukee – a playoff entrant despite a losing record – limped into the postseason as the No. 8 seed without its best starter and reliever, who are hurt.

The Dodgers took a 2-0 lead on a leadoff double by Betts and four walks by left-hander Brent Suter in the first, tying for the most walks by a pitcher in a single inning in postseason history. Betts scored when Will Smith drew a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded. Seager walked and scored on AJ Pollock‘s bases-loaded walk.

Suter needed 32 pitches to get out of the inning. The left-hander gave up three runs and three hits in 1 2/3 innings. His five walks were a career high, and he didn’t record a strikeout.

Chris Taylor doubled leading off the second and scored on Betts’ double, making it 3-0. Max Muncy walked with two outs and Ryan Braun caught Smith’s drive to right at the wall to end the inning, potentially saving three runs.

Braun winced as he hit the wall with his right shoulder. He was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the fifth.

The Dodgers could have inflicted more damage but were just 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position in the first two innings.

Milwaukee pitchers retired 10 straight Dodgers during one stretch.

Clinging to a one-run lead in the seventh, Seager went deep to dead-center off Freddy Peralta, who gave up just two homers during the shortened 60-game season. The Dodgers led the majors with 118 homers.

Closer Kenley Jansen walked pinch-hitter Jace Peterson with two outs in the ninth. Christian Yelich came to the plate as the potential tying run, but he struck out swinging to end the game. Jansen earned the save.

The Brewers closed to 3-2 on Orlando Arcia‘s two-strike, two-run homer with two outs in the fourth. Betts made an over-the-shoulder catch to deny Avisail Garcia with a runner on for the second out of the inning.

Milwaukee had the potential tying run on in the seventh with Yelich’s two-out double in the left-field corner. Tyrone Taylor popped up to third to end the inning.

The Brewers also threatened in the sixth. Avisail Garcia singled to right and was safe at second on first baseman Muncy’s fielding error. Muncy turned and scrambled into short right, trying to pick up the ball with a swooping motion, but it booted off his glove and rolled away. Julio Urias retired the next two batters to end the inning.

Urias got the victory, allowing three hits in three innings and striking out five.

Garcia had three hits and Yelich had two to lead the Brewers.

Pitching with a blister on his right index finger, Walker Buehler allowed two runs and three hits in four innings for Los Angeles. He struck out eight and walked two.

Milwaukee right-hander Corbin Burnes and reliever Devin Williams are missing this series with injuries that occurred in the last week of the season. Burnes has a strained left oblique and Williams has a sore right shoulder. Starter Brett Anderson also was left off the roster because of a blister issue.

WITHOUT WILLIAMS

Losing Williams is a big blow after he emerged as one of baseball’s top relievers this season and is a candidate for NL Rookie of the Year. He is 4-1 with a 0.33 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 27 innings. “It’s really crushing, honestly,” said Williams, who felt tightness after last weekend’s outing. “If we make it to the next round, I should be back. With the progress we’ve made in just a few days, it’s been encouraging.”

UP NEXT

The Dodgers give the ball to left-hander Clayton Kershaw (6-2, 2.16 ERA) for Game 2 on Thursday. He’s 9-11 with a 4.43 ERA in the postseason and lost his lone start in last year’s NLDS. The Brewers start right-hander Brandon Woodruff, who was 3-5 with a 3.05 ERA during the shortened season. He came up big last weekend with 10 strikeouts over eight shutout innings in a must-win game that helped Milwaukee eke out the No. 8 seed.

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