Chase Utley has decided that his 16th season in Major League Baseball will also be his last. The Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman announced his retirement Friday effective at the conclusion of the 2018 season. He’s ready to go home and be a full-time dad. No one can be mad at him for that.
When Utley officially walks away, he will do so as one of the most decorated players in the league during his era. Utley was a six-time All-Star, a four-time Silver Slugger Award winner, received MVP votes in five different seasons, and won one World Series championship as part of the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies.
Utley will also go down as one of the most productive second basemen of all time. He’s currently a .276 career hitter, with 1,880 hits, 259 home runs, 1,025 RBIs and 153 stolen bases.
Now comes the inevitable question that follows the retirement of every really good to arguably great player: Has Chase Utley done enough to earn a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame?
It’s a question Hall of Fame voters will have five years to ponder. In the here and now though, Utley does present one of the more fascinating cases among MLB’s current batch of a stars. He certainly has productivity and longevity on his side. But does he have the overall numbers or a strong enough legacy to get him over the hump? Let’s take a look.
What do the numbers say?
In you’re a big believer in Sabermetrics, then Utley’s case gains significant strength.
According to Baseball Reference, Utley’s career 65.6 WAR ranks 15th all-time at his position, and is higher than Hall of Fame second basemen Jackie Robinson, Craig Biggio, Joe Gordon, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Evers, Nellie Fox, Billy Herman, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Mazeroski, Bid McPhee and Red Schoendienst.
Using that measurement, Utley has been more valuable than 11 of the 20 second basemen already in the Hall of Fame. Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, Robinson Cano and Willie Randolph are the only four second baseman ahead of him on that list that aren’t in the Hall of Fame. There’s obviously been a strong push for both Whitaker and Grich in the past. Cano’s case seemed rock solid, but took a troubling turn this season with his PED suspension.
In terms of Jay Jaffe’s respected JAWS formula, which he uses to determine a player’s Hall of Fame value, Utley scores a solid 57.4. That’s 11th among all second baseman, and just about the average for all 20 Hall of Famers at his position.
While Utley’s advanced stats measure well, his counting stats are going to fall well short of the usual standards in some notable areas.
According to Devan Fink of Beyond the Boxscore, the average Hall of Famer finished his career with 2,406 hits and 218 home runs. Utley is already well past the home run mark with 259, but could fall over 500 hits short. He’s currently at 1,880.
Failing to reach 2,000 hits won’t be a dealbreaker by any means, but it’s a milestone that could have helped solidify Utley’s case. He does not rank among MLB’s top 250 in RBI or runs scored.
What is Chase Utley’s legacy?
Utley was an impact player during his prime. Between 2005-2014, Utley’s fWAR was 20 runs higher than any other player at his position. That includes Cano.
Utley is top six at his position in multiple offensive categories since 2003 debut, including hits (fourth), doubles (second), home runs (second), stolen bases (sixth) and slugging percentage (third). Despite never winning a Gold Gloves Award, few would argue that Utley’s defense was superb as well.
A run of dominance like that to go with a well-rounded game will definitely help to elevate his stock.
Utley can also point to his historic 2009 World Series performance as a defining moment in his career. Utley’s five home runs are tied for the most in a single World Series along with Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson (1977) and George Springer (2017).
During his Dodgers years, Utley will probably be best remembered for the slide that changed baseball forever. Utley was suspended for two games during the 2015 NLDS for his takeout slide that broke the leg of New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. In direct response to that controversial play, the league changed the rules regarding how baserunners were allowed to slide. Around baseball, it’s known as the Chase Utley rule.
It’s possible that slide ends up being a bigger part of Utley’s legacy than anything else he has or will accomplish. But it shouldn’t define his Hall of Fame case.
Will Chase Utley be a Hall of Famer?
Even with the pros seemingly outweighing the cons, it feels closer to a no than a yes right now for Utley. It’s right on the edge though, and there will be plenty of time between now and 2023 for the perception of his career to change for the better. In fact, now that Jack Morris and Alan Trammell are in, Utley’s Hall of Fame case could replace theirs as the most interesting to dissect and discuss.
As many experts have pointed out, the disparity between Utley’s advanced and traditional stats are more pronounced than just about any worthy candidate we’ve ever seen. It could ultimately come down to the makeup of the voters in place throughout Utley’s stay on the ballot, and which measurements they value more.
Even still, getting the 75 percent of the vote needed for election is going to be tough. That Utley never finished higher than seventh in MVP voting could hurt his case as well. If he’d won even one MVP award or had he reached 300 home runs or 2,000 hits, it may have bridged that gap enough to solidify his case.
Perhaps Utley’s best chance now is to finish this season strong and be a big part of a Dodgers World Series championship.
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