“Criminally underrated” is now an overused phrase, meaning exactly what I want it to mean in regards to Chase Utley.
Overshadowed by inferiors, Utley has flown under the mainstream for the most part because of the common fans obsession with statistics that, while not useless, are very much flawed.
“Inferior” does not mean bad. Ryan Howard was a good baseball player for a number of years. Ditto for Jimmy Rollins. The two players range somewhere in the above-average range, to just plain good.
But neither player can touch Utley in either peak seasons, or cumulative value.
But this isn’t written to compare Utley to non-Hall of Famers. And it’s not written to compare him to Hall of Famers that are probably not deserving of the honor, either.
Utley stands up well to the actual Hall of Famers. The players who already have their plaques enshrined in Cooperstown. And the guys that aren’t there yet, but should be eventually (not voted in yet/not eligible). He is one of the all-time greats and he still has some mediocre to good baseball left, especially since he is currently on pace to exceed five wins again this year, if one were to assume good health. Which with Utley though, is not necessarily a safe assumption.
He knocked out five 7-7.9 win seasons in five consecutive seasons from 2005-2009. It’s not like my normal loose threshold of Hall of Fame caliber seasons that I set at 6 wins. Utley eclipsed the *6* by at least a win, in every one of those five seasons.
I get that 58 wins is generally perceived to be a borderline Hall of Famer. And Utley has not reached the counting stats that so many of the current Hall of Fame voters have grown — and adopted permanently, apparently — a love for. So if an observer of baseball does not consider advanced statistics and/or sabermetrics then the case for Utley seems less apparent.
But with that said, the right to vote should at least be exercised by observers of the game who realize that playing a certain position, and playing it well, matter greatly. It’s not necessarily the case, but it should be. You don’t have to be infatuated with WAR and WARP to know that a guy who can handle second base defensively has more value than a guy that can only handle first base.
Utley could obviously handle 2B. But he wasn’t just an adequate “handler” of the position as much as one of the better handlers of the position of all time. Perennially a good defender, perennially a 2B, perennially one of the best-hitting 2B ever…and what he have is a guy that might just end up getting lost in an extremely crowded ballot.
58 wins may not be enough. But if he ages with any kind of grace, I don’t see how 65 is out of the realm of possibility.
The one thing Utley has going for him is that sabermetrics is growing. And there will still be hard-headed voters when Utley’s case ultimately rolls around. But there should be less stubborn, “set-in-their-ways” voters, than we currently have to deal with. And most likely, there will be guys that just don’t view Utley as a Hall of Famer with any kind of non superhero like finish to his career.
That’s their right.
But Chase Utley was — at his best — better than Whitaker. He was better than Biggio. And he was better than Alomar.
If he retired after this season, he’d get my vote. But since it is likely he stays healthy enough to produce at a decent-enough level for a few more seasons, he may get a lot of other people’s votes as well.
In reflection, Chase Utley will look better when the ballot rolls around, to the voters, than he does to them now. Even his peak years will.
The 2014 Rangers have an interesting predicament. The same predicament they currently have, but it will be more pronounced, more necessary to solve in the off-season.
They have two shortstops and a second baseman. One shortstop, Elvis Andrus, is locked up for a long, long time. And the other shortstop, Jurickson Profar, is most likely going to move over to second base permanently, giving the Rangers what should be a very good and young middle infield, for many years.
I’m assuming the Rangers keep Profar at 2b, rather than move him to the outfield or trade him for another top prospect. It would mean Ian Kinsler either must change positions, or more logically, be traded to a team who will value him more highly since he can man second base for said team.
Kinsler has been on a decline the past few years, whether it’s due to injury or diminishing skills. Or perhaps a combination of both. For example: The league average wOBA in the American League this season is .318. Over the past two seasons, Kinsler’s wOBA’s have been .327 and .330, respectively. The .330 has been over the course of 97 games in 2013, so he has some room to improve upon that. But there is only so much he can do with only a month and a half of the season remaining.
Best option for 2014? Trade Ian Kinsler. There are certainly obstacles. He is going to turn 32 next season. He, as I mentioned, isn’t hitting like he used to hit, as just two years ago, he posted a 7-WAR season with a .364 wOBA. He is guaranteed four more seasons, and $62 million on his current contract (including the 2018 option which has a $5 million buyout). So most teams will be wary of committing that kind of money to a player who is past his prime, and probably past the point of “good” nowadays. Above-average, maybe. But I can’t see Kinsler being worth much more than 3 wins in a season moving forward, and he might be worth even less than that.
There is one team that could use a 2B next season though, and has a fairly new obsession with throwing around money: the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mark Ellis has a $1 million buyout on his 2014 option and is going to be turning 37 next summer. There is no doubt that Ian Kinsler will be an upgrade at 2B for the Dodgers over Ellis (And at $5 million, Ellis might even be worth a utility role). If the Dodgers don’t bring home a championship this season after spending an absurd amount of money in 2013 (and beyond), there will be even more pressure to win next year.
In comes the potential acceptance of either the remaining Ian Kinsler money or most of it, without having to give up much. Maybe a prospect with some upside. But they definitely won’t have to surrender a bonafide prospect of any kind.
The Rangers COULD decide to just move Kinsler to 1B or a corner outfield spot. But a .330-ish wOBA at first base would be below the league average at the position. And even though .330 would be a little above average in left or right field, he would be learning a new position. That might not go well. There is a not-miniscule chance Ian Kinsler is a below-average player in 2014 if he is moved off of 2B, especially if it is to the outfield.
The Rangers would probably be just as good bringing back David Murphy as one of the outfielders, rather than moving Ian Kinsler out there. Murphy is a solid defender, and even though he’s been terrible at the plate in 2013, he should be very cheap next year and regress back closer to his normal offensive numbers.
The other outfield spot could be solved with a platoon, potentially a minor leaguer, depending on who is ready (if anyone), a stop-gap, maybe even Nelson Cruz. Although, knowing that Cruz was just suspended, I would simply let him walk.
They can solve their outfield situation in a better manner than using Ian Kinsler to fill one of the two voids.
And they can find a 1B for a year that’ll hit like Kinsler probably will in 2014.
Overall, the best bet for the Rangers is to move on from Kinsler, assuming there is a team that wants or needs a 2B badly enough.
The arbitrary cut-off I use for what is to be considered a great season is a minimum of 6 WAR. Or 6 wins. This is the cut-off for many. Some others will count a say, 5.8, as a 6. But I don’t. I use a strict baseline. It benefits some, hurts others. But in reality does nothing, since I have no vote for any award that Major League Baseball currently has.
Since I wrote about Tom Glavine not quite being great enough to receive my hypothetical Hall of Fame vote, I received a bunch of feedback. Readers of the piece said I shouldn’t use FIP, that it is not as relevant over the course of a long career. A point well-received. A point that certainly has some validity behind it.
Many chose to use bWAR in Glavine’s defense instead since it takes into account runs allowed, rather than just the three true outcomes a pitcher encounters.
Here are Glavine’s numbers:
Glavine’s pitcher bWAR: 74. two seasons of 6 or more WAR.
Glavine’s pitcher fWAR: 63.9. no seasons of 6+ WAR.
But according to Baseball Reference, Glavine added 7.5 wins at the plate. Yes, his career .454 OPS actually added value. Adjusted, that is an OPS+ of 22.
At Fangraphs, he added 5.7 wins with his bat, while having his career .214 wOBA.
But the question here is, should we include Glavine’s offensive game? We are comparing one player to another in cases like these and not every pitcher has the chance to hit in his career. Or at least a consistent chance to hit and accumulate value by hitting.
It’s not like a general manager would try to sign a free agent pitcher that could hit and use lingo like, “You know, you have a pretty good stick for a pitcher. If you sign with us in the NL, that will probably increase your total WAR when the statistic is invented in the future, and give you a better Hall of Fame case.”
Of course, the general manager probably would use the fact that he could hit as a “selling point.” But obviously not the way I described the scenario above.
So if you add in Tom Glavine’s hitting, he all of a sudden has four seasons of 6+ bWAR and two seasons of 6+fWAR.
Neither are particularly dominating, or truly great, but they definitely help his case a little.
But let’s take a pitcher such as Mike Mussina, who seems to be a good comp in people’s eyes to that of Glavine.
Mussina pitched in the American League his entire career. He accrued -0.1 wins as a hitter. He didn’t hit. He pitched.
He totaled 82 fWAR with three seasons of 6+ wins.
And totaled 82 bWAR with four seasons of 6+ wins.
He has a better case for the Hall of Fame with or without Glavine’s bat. But that is kind of aside from the point.
So I ask the question: should a pitcher, who hits terribly, but based on opportunity and even more terrible hitting by other pitchers, get credit for it in terms of value? In particular, in terms of Hall of Fame voting?
It’s a legitimate argument. But it seems to be unfair to American League pitching. And when we compare Hall of Fame pitchers to one another, we compare them from both leagues.
Glavine still isn’t a sure-fire Hall of Famer, no matter which way you look at it. He was never nearly as dominant as a Maddux or Randy Johnson.
But then again, he didn’t have to be. He just had to be good enough to make a strong enough impression on the voters.
Normally, I wouldn’t even address a pitcher’s won/loss record. They aren’t useless, they aren’t irrelevant, but they are something that should be overlooked when evaluating a player’s performance. Front offices don’t look at a pitcher’s wins and losses, so why should we? Exactly. They should be nothing more than a fun little stat to add to all the other fun little stats that have use, but are closer to useless than practical.
But 305 wins for a pitcher, well that’s extraordinary. But an extraordinary number doesn’t necessarily translate into extraordinary performance.
The 305 wins (and 203 losses) HAS to be looked at, and addressed. Because in 2014 when Tom Glavine is considered for induction into baseball’s most prestigious sanctuary, those 305 wins are going to be discussed, frequently. Very frequently. Nearly every old-school writer, former player and most fans of Glavine’s era, are going to be backing him up, using that number: The number 305.
Just to delve into wins and losses for a second if you happen to have come across this article in an old-school mindset:
A pitcher controls less than half of the outcome of a baseball game. The offense controls 50 percent. The fielders control some. And we can add in that a manager affects some of the game too, we just don’t know how much. So we will just use a manager’s impact, whatever it may be, and include that in the production of the offense, pitching and defense.
So you can see there why wins and losses should not be looked at when determining the quality of a pitcher.
So what is it that makes a Hall of Famer? Greatness. Yes, simply put, greatness makes a Hall of Fame player. They do great things on a baseball field, for a long enough period of time, to allow us as critics to say, “Wow, that guy was a great player.” A player can actually go through his career without being exceptional at any one aspect of his game, yet still be an exceptional player, a Hall of Fame player, a great player.
Yet, when it comes to pitchers, the guy kinda has to be great at pitching. Because pitcher fielding is nearly useless. And a pitcher’s bat is normally about the equivalent of Jeff Francouer’s swings against sliders out of the strike zone.
Tom Glavine was a very good pitcher. He accumulated 63 fWAR in his career, 74 bWAR, 118 ERA+, 3.54 base ERA. Very, very good pitcher. His WAR totals are right in that threshold where Hall of Famers “on the brink” usually sit. Players that could be looking in, or looking out, based on a little subjectivity and bias from the writers who induct these guys.
But Tom Glavine had a 3.95 FIP. And if you believe in FIP; that’s not great. He pitched in the National League, so that FIP includes the pitchers he faced — which are easier to strike out, less likely to walk, and extremely unlikely to go deep.
Two times in Glavine’s career, he struck out more than seven batters per nine innings. He kept his walks under control, walking 3 per nine throughout his career. But that’s not “exceptional.” Neither that nor his strikeouts per nine innings are.
Glavine won two Cy Youngs, and finished in the top-five in voting six! times. Remarkable, yet equated to the subjective. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve those awards, I’m just saying that a lot of noise goes into the process of who receives the award.
Dwight Evans was a very good baseball player. One of the better defenders at the corner and well above average offensively.
Orel Hershiser racked up 204 wins in his career and once went 59 consecutive innings without allowing a run.
As for Tom Glavine, he pitched very well, for a long, long time, on one of the greatest runs by an organization that any sport has ever seen. He made it to the postseason several times because of the talent of he and his supporting cast. And during his time in October, he performed incredibly well. To the tune of a 3.30 ERA in 218 innings. And that probably meant his opponents were better than average offenses than he faced in the regular season, given that they were good enough to qualify for postseason play.
But listen to some of the deserving names for the potential 2014 Hall of Fame ballot:
Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, McGwire, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent.
Then you have a few outsiders that aren’t quite in the same caliber: Sammy Sosa, Jack Morris, Rafael Palmeiro, etc.
There are so many more deserving players than Glavine in next year’s class. But there are clouds overhead with many of them. And Glavine doesn’t have a cloud following him around wherever he goes.
I expect Glavine to get voted in: 305 wins. No storm-cloud. Played for a great, winning organization. Seemed to be well-liked by anyone that came across him. Or at least I know of no incidents surrounding him.
This will be why Tom Glavine gets into the Hall of Fame. Because of very good pitching, along with very well-known variables by anyone that knows anything about Tom Glavine.
But I don’t think he should be inducted. He was never an exceptional pitcher. It wouldn’t be an egregious decision by any means. And he wouldn’t be the worst player in the Hall of Fame
But the most exceptional thing about Tom Glavine’s career was that he, or anyone for that matter, could pitch that well, for that long.