Is Chase Utley a Hall of Famer?

63 Comments

Every time a big star retires — or announces his retirement at some date certain in the future — we ask whether he is a Hall of Famer. It’s a potentially troublesome exercise, however.

By immediately invoking the Hall of Fame we’re practically begging the perfect (i.e. induction to Cooperstown) to be the enemy of the good (i.e. the appreciation of a fine career regardless).  It’s also just a basic case of jumping the gun. We have a five-year waiting period for Hall of Fame consideration for a reason, after all.

Yet, despite those issues, it’s still a question people ask, so let’s do our best to attempt to answer it with respect to the latest star to announce his retirement: Chase Utley, who is going to hang ’em up at the end of the 2018 season.

Let’s start big picture: Utley is a career .276/.358/.466 hitter who hit for good power for a middle infielder, topping 30 homers three times. He got on base both by plate patience and by having the knack to get plunked far more often most players (he’s the active HBP pitch leader and eighth all-time in that category). His glove was always considered to be, at the very least, above average and often superior. He’s got 259 homers, over a thousand RBI and 1,880 career hits.

Some of those numbers — like the hits total — are not particularly impressive for a Hall of Famer. Because of that — and because his career will have lasted “only” 16 seasons — some people may be skeptical of Utley’s Hall of Fame case. He’s not a 3,000-hit or a 500 homer guy and, to some, that’s just not good enough. Those career totals, though, are partially due to the fact that the Phillies of the early-to-mid 2000s had a bad habit of leaving guys in the minors too long — Utley did not debut until his age-24 season — and they obscure how good a player Utley truly was in his prime.

As Devan Fink of Beyond the Box Score wrote last year, for a ten-year period, Utley was, by Fangraph’s version of WAR, the best player in baseball and far, far better over that time than the closest second baseman to him on the list, Robinson Cano. If you are just interested in offensive peak, Utley batted .301/.388/.535 between 2005 to 2009. As Ryan Spaeder of the Sporting News noted in an article in 2015, since 1947, only four other second basemen posted a batting line like that in a season. A SINGLE SEASON. None of them have done it twice. Utley averaged that. In all of baseball history, there is a good case — as Jay Jaffe’s JAWS formula shows — that Utley was a top 10 second baseman all time, a bit higher if you weigh things more for peak value, a bit lower on overall career contributions.

Beyond the stats, Utley was a six-time All-Star, has a World Series ring by virtue of playing for the 2008 Phillies and appeared in the Fall Classic three times in all. His teams made the playoffs eight times and, if he sticks with the Dodgers all year, there’s a good chance for playoff appearance number nine. He was one of the best if not the best player on all of those Phillies teams and, while a role player in Los Angeles, he has been lauded as a team leader. We can’t, by definition, measure intangibles, but there is much to suggest — mostly the testimonials of his teammates and managers — that Utley provided value to his team that went beyond his statistical contributions.

I don’t think Utley is a slam-dunk case to make the Hall of Fame. There will be folks who push back, I suspect, based on career-length and counting stats. I think, however, that he’s deserving. He has an unequivocally worthy Hall of Fame peak and he has a strong, strong argument — maybe an unassailable one — of being the best second baseman of his era. That’s good enough for me and, I suspect, eventually, will be good enough for Cooperstown.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
0 Comments

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.