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.

Clayton Kershaw might return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week

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Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is nearing his return to the mound, according to club manager Dave Roberts. Both Kershaw (left biceps tendinitis) and fellow lefty Rich Hill (left middle finger blister) are scheduled to toss simulated games on Saturday; depending on the outcome, Roberts says Kershaw could forgo a minor league assignment and slot back into the rotation by Thursday.

Kershaw, 30, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis as the team closed out their Mexico Series at the start of the month. He has not made a start in several weeks, but was finally able to resume throwing on Sunday and managed to get through two successful bullpen sessions. Though Dodgers’ ace hasn’t been completely injury-free over his 11-year career in the majors, this is the first significant issue he’s had with his pitching arm so far. The team is expected to take every precaution with the lefty, and will likely limit him to just four innings during Saturday’s simulated game.

Prior to his injury, Kershaw was working on another dominant run with the club, sporting a 2.86 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through his first 44 innings of the season. While Kershaw, Hill and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu served their respective terms on the disabled list this month, the Dodgers utilized a combination of relievers Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, both of whom impressed during their limited time in the rotation.