Is Chase Utley the Best Player in Baseball?

Excerpt from BP’s Joe Sheehan chat:

Henry (Princeton): Hey Joe, Keith Law in his chat yesterday declared Chase Utley
to be the best player in baseball, better than Pujols. Considering
Pujols out-VORPed Utley 96-62 this year and is a GG defender at first
(screw what the vote says) is it safe to say that KLaw is off his
rocker on this one?

Joe Sheehan: You also have to screw what the vote says on
Utley, who according to at least one metric (+/-, by BIS), was the best
defensive player in baseball this year. I disagree with Keith’s
conclusion, but you know, I think he’s a lot closer to the truth than
the mainstream opinion of Utley, which wouldn’t have him anywhere near
the discussion.

Chat excerpt from ESPN’s Keith Law chat:

Ian (Bellingham, WA): Utley is turning thirty this offseason. You really think he can maintain production long enough to make the Hall?

SportsNation Keith Law: He’s
a good athlete and a plus-plus defensive player – those guys tend to
age pretty well. Now, this is the part that might make my head explode,
but the voters often look at stuff like Gold Gloves, so he needs to
start winning some to boost his HoF chances. In my opinion, if a guy is
the best player in baseball for a year or so and stays at/near that
peak for a good 4-5 years, he’s a HoF candidate. And Utley is the best
player in baseball right now.

Excerpt from the Statistician Magician’s Mind:

Keith Law is the best analyst that I know of.  Law combines a rare blend of the ability to scout, mixed with the ability to analyze the numbers.  More importantly, analyzing the “Right” numbers.  There is a reason that Law was employed by “Baseball Prospectus” before he began his tenure with ESPN and Scouts, Inc.  But on this particular subject, I must mildly disagree. 

     Chase Utley is among the best players in the game, I am not denying that.  A very good defender at an up-the-middle position (second), and a great bat for any position, but obviously it is that much more valuable because he plays second.  Utley, according to OPS+ was 35% better than the average hitter in 2008 with a line of: .292/.380/.535.  Utley even stole 14 of 16 bags, which percentage wise, is very, very good.  Utley was sixth in the league in Win Shares this season, fourteenth last season (but would have been higher had he not been injured), and was thirteenth in 2006.  10th in VORP in 2008, too.  And an assortment of other statistical categories that point to Utley being one of the five or ten best players in the game.  Utley by almost any measure, is great.  And I step aside to listen to those numbers. 

     But is he the greatest among the current crop of players?  I say no.  Albert Pujols would be my choice.  Pujols year in and year out is the best in the game it seems, outside of last year. 

     So while I agree with Joe Sheehan that Keith is probably closer than one might think, I believe that Pujols is the best.    



  1. joefromnewhampshire

    Hanley is definitely up there. This season he was 4th in Win Shares, and 2nd in VORP. Pujols is definitely scary, it is still difficult to believe that he was injured this year.

  2. districtboy

    My mind can’t begin to imagine what a completely healthy Albert Pujols can do. I mean, I can imagine and I by the time I am done drooling I will have officially placed my bet on 2009 MVP (oh yeah, and 2008 MVP too). I think a 1958 Jimmie Foxx year is within reason. A serious blip on the career of Keith Law, but hey, he probably put in to the fact Utley plays 2B while Pujols plays a more offensively minded position. Still a blip, though.


  3. joefromnewhampshire

    That is exactly what I thought about Law’s comment, It is obviously easier to go find a first baseman than a second baseman. But it is impossible to find someone as good as Pujols right now. But I wouldn’t put any money down on the MVP, because even know he is the best, the best doesn’t always win that award.

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