Quick Chase Utley Rant

Despite the fact that the BBWA got it right with Tim Lincecum, Zack Greinke, Joe Mauer and technically Albert Pujols, they are still a bunch of morons. Somehow, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Troy Tulowitzki, Andre Ethier and Pablo Sandoval all ended up with more MVP votes than Chase Utley. At 7.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Chase Utley was the second most valuable hitter in the NL (behind Pujols, at 8.4 WAR) and the seventh most valuable player overall. A strong balance between fantastic defense at 2B and quality hitting at the plate makes Chase Utley one of the most valuable assets in baseball (based on his production and salary, Fangraphs ranked Utley as a top ten asset earlier this year). Utley does many things very well. He can hit (28+ HRs in 4 of the last 5 seasons, .390 career wOBA), field (career +15.5 UZR/150 at 2B), and run the bases (23 SB last season, 0 CS). He tied Reggie Jackson's World Series homerun record this year. And, as evidenced below, he can even fly.

But Chase Utley gets no love.

At first glance, Pujols appears to deserve the MVP. His monstrous bat was second to none (+16 Runs Above Replacement (RAR) better than the second best hitter last year, Joe Mauer, the AL MVP) and his defense is solid (it has averaged just under +5 RAR per season since 2002). However, Albert Pujols plays first base. Yes, WAR accomodates this with a -12.4 Positional Adjustment to Pujols' cumulative RAR, but there is something more to be said when the WARs are close and the positions played by two players require significantly different levels of skill.

"But DME," you say, "Pujols has a +8.4 WAR and Utley has a +7.6 WAR. That's a chunky +8 RAR difference." True, in theory, but WAR does not encapsulate every aspect of a player's value (and no, I'm not talking about Grindiness Per Nine Inning (G/9)). WAR does not encapsulate baserunning skills. Because WAR is derivative of wOBA, which already accounts for SB%, the additional "Baserunning RAR" (BRAR) is calculated by (EQBRR-EQSBR). According to Baseball Prospectus, Chase Utley was the second best baserunner in the majors last season (behind Michael Bourne) and his BRAR was +5.32. Albert Pujols was not even a top 500 baserunner and his BRAR was -0.62.

This makes the difference between Utley and Pujols' end of season cumulative RAR's within two runs of each other. Such a difference is pretty marginal. Factor in Pujols' +13 PA's and the fact that Chase Utley's team made it to the World Series (where Utley raked), and I would have to tip my hat in favor of Chase Utley, who plays in a much tougher division, for the NL MVP award. By no means is it a travesty that Pujols got the honor. It is a travesty, however, that Utley did not even finish top 5 in NL MVP voting.

This only goes to show that even when the BBWA gets it right, they still manage to get it wrong.

Editor's Note: I am aware that BBWA votes are due prior to the playoffs. I am just using his performance as addition rationale as to why I would prefer him over Pujols for the NL MVP. If Utley didn't hit .193/.290/.325 (.217 BABIP) in Sept./Oct., it is very possible that Utley would have had a more valuable 2009 than Pujols.


The 'Bright' One said...

i thought ryan braun was the second best baserunner, according to bill james. i may be wrong though

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

Ryan Braun was the 9th best baserunner on his team, with a +0.4 EQBRR

Anonymous said...

Nice post, completely agree.

The 'Bright' One said...

uh, no. Ryan Braun advanced more bases last season than Carl Crawford

Sexy Rexy said...

I haven't read your post but Albert Pujols was by the far the best player in baseball and if you have to go this deep into your analysis, then maybe you're just overthinking this.

Pujols was better than Utley in:
-AVG (not like it matters)
-RBI (again, not like it matters)
-Replacement (is this VORP?)
(NOTE: Pujols led in essentially all of MLB in most of these categories)

Utley had a better SB% than Pujols

Don't get me wrong, I love Chase Utley, but Pujols is by far and away the bets player currently in baseball and absolutely, 100%, without any shred of doubt, deserved this MVP- especially over the great Chase Utley

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

TBO -- EQBRR encompasses many baserunning factors. Maybe you should read the hyperlinks...

and SexyRexy, if you read the post, you'd actually understand that the difference b/w Utley and Pujols was approx. 2 runs. In other Words, Utley should have, at worst, gotten second.

Sexy Rexy said...

agreed, I think Utley should have gotten second.

This argument seems like the ROY argument b/w Tulo and Ryan Braun a few years back. As great of a year as Tulo had had, Braun deserved ROY and Tulo deserved to get second (I can already foresee a long rant about how "No, Tulo got screwed that year" so please don't and start picking up red herrings).

Pujols here clearly deserved first and Utley second.

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

Quick Response: Pujols did deserve the honor by raw numbers, but he did not clearly do so.

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

Also, replacement is not VORP, no. WAR is essentially VORP.

The 'Bright' One said...

Nobody better disrespect Tulo while i'm still a writer on this blog

Tulo def should have been ROY. Despite Braun's unbelievably lucky hitting 22.5HR/FB%, he was the worst defender in baseball


David "MVP" Eckstein said...

HR/FB rates only normalize to the 10-11 range for pitchers. Hitters control this by their ISO.

Braun also had like 200 less ABs than Tulo that season. I have no prob with him winning ROY. But yes, Tulo was more valuable. But in 200 more ABs