This might surprise you, since it surprised me: Somehow it wasn't until this very day that I gained any real appreciation for Chase Utley's greatness.
For whatever reason -- maybe it's these reports about Utley maybe getting a new deal with the Phillies -- I happened to look him up on Baseball-Reference.com. Noticed that he's 34, which seems old for a new deal. But then again it's the Phillies, and they don't see color. Or age. Then I noticed that Utley's sitting on 58 career Wins Above Replacement.
That's a lot of Wins+, right between Hall of Famer's Jackie Robinson and Joe Gordon.
Then again, it's just 14th all-time, and well behind non-Hall of Famers Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, and Willie Randolph. Still, mightn't Utley get some support from the Hall of Fame voters, if he puts together a few more good seasons?
Probably not. Because he's played so little. Roberto Alomar, with a closet full of Gold Gloves and nearly 3,000 career hits, had to wait a while. Utley will finish this season well short of 1,500 hits ... and did I mention he's 34?
So I answered that question for myself: No, Chase Utley's not getting into the Hall of Fame.
But then I thought, "Wait a minute? He's got 58 Wins+ and he's not even halfway to 3,000 hits. How good has this guy actually been, when he's actually played?
He's been incredible. I made a list of the top 20 second basemen, which includes all the Hall of Famers except Johnny Evers, Red Schoendienst, and Bill Mazeroski. Then I figured their Wins+ per 162 games. Here are the top six:
1. Rogers Hornsby (9.1)
2. Chase Utley (7.4)
3. Nap Lajoie (7.3)
4. Jackie Robinson (7.3)
5. Eddie Collins (7.1)
6. Joe Morgan (6.1)
Your mileage may vary, of course, and Utley's figure will drop as his career winds down. But he's essentially been a perfect player, with the walks and the power and the defense and the baserunning ... except for one missing ingredient: durability. He's played at least 140 games in just four seasons.
Purely in terms of baseball-playing ability, though, Utley's as good a second baseman as anybody we've ever seen.*
* please e-mail me if you've seen Rogers Hornsby