JAWS and the 2024 Hall of Fame Ballot: Chase Utley

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2024 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

When the Phillies returned to contention following a slide into irrelevance in the wake of their 1993 NL pennant, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, first baseman Ryan Howard, and lefty Cole Hamels gained most of the attention. Howard all but ran Jim Thome out of town after the latter was injured in 2005, then mashed a major league-high 58 homers in ’06 en route to NL MVP honors. Rollins, the emotional center of the team, carried himself with a swagger and declared the Phillies “the team to beat” at the outset of 2007, then won the MVP award when the team followed through with a division title. Hamels debuted in 2006 and became their ace while making his first All-Star team the next season. In the middle of all that, as part of the nucleus that would help the Phillies win five straight NL East titles from 2007–11, with a championship in ’08 and another pennant in ’09, Chase Utley was as good or better than any of them, though the second baseman hardly called attention to himself.

Indeed, Utley seemed to shun the spotlight, playing the game with a quiet intensity that bordered on asceticism. He sped around the bases after hitting home runs, then reluctantly accepted high-fives in the dugout. “I am having fun,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Andy Martino in 2009. “When I’m on the baseball field, that’s where I love to be. I’m not joking around and smiling. That competition, that heat-of-the-battle intensity, that’s how I have fun.”

As a hitter, Utley had a compact and powerful stroke that impressed everyone from the most grizzled of baseball men to budding superstars. From the Philadelphia Daily News‘ Paul Hagen in 2008:

“At times he can put close to what you’d call a perfect swing on the ball,” Phillies manager/hitting guru Charlie Manuel said. “It’s good balance, rhythm, load, and at the same time getting a ball that you’d like to hit. And just, very slight, underneath the center of the ball.

“He’s a very stylish hitter. He’s a good guy to talk about because, if you watch him day in and day out and look at him from a mechanics standpoint, he would be a tremendous guy to use as a demonstration for young kids.”

Forty miles away from Philadelphia, in Millville, New Jersey, a young Mike Trout patterned his swing after Utley, his favorite player. But hitting was only one of Utley’s skills. Thanks to his off-the-charts baseball instincts — subtle things like his secondary leads while running the bases and his knack for positioning in the field, which John Dewan pointed out in a 2009 Hardball Times piece — as well as his foot speed and range, he was an exceptional baserunner and defender. His all-around skills showed up in WAR; he outproduced Howard and Rollins in their MVP-winning years, and just about everybody else during his heyday. His 59.7 WAR from 2005–14 trailed only Albert Pujols‘ 67.7.

Utley’s appeal was hardly limited to statheads. “I think scouts used him more than anyone else I can recall as an example of a player who maximized skill with grit, energy, team-oriented nature, competitiveness,” wrote the New York Post’s Joel Sherman in 2018. “Scouts loved them some Chase Utley.”

For all of that acclaim, Utley was under-appreciated in his day. Because he didn’t debut until age 24 after starring at UCLA, and didn’t play 100 games in a season until age 26, he didn’t reach many major milestones, and not only did he never win MVP, he never won a Gold Glove despite off-the-charts defensive metrics. “I never played this game for awards, to be honest with you,” he told the New York Times‘ Tyler Kepner in 2018. “I feel like if you do that, you’re not really doing what’s most important, and that’s to try to help your team win.”

Will Utley’s lack of recognition during his career carry over into Hall of Fame voting? To these eyes, that’s one of the ballot’s biggest questions, particularly given that the writers haven’t elected anybody from the post-1960 expansion era with fewer than 2,000 hits. Getting him into Cooperstown could be a real fight, one I don’t expect to be won on this ballot.

2024 BBWAA Candidate: Chase Utley
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Chase Utley 64.5 49.3 56.9
Avg. HOF 2B 69.6 44.4 57.0
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
1,885 257 .275/.358/.465 117
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Chase Cameron Utley was born on December 17, 1978 in Pasadena, California, the older of two children of David (a personal injury lawyer) and Terrell Utley. When he was a toddler, his family moved to Long Beach, where he soon began playing Wiffle Ball marathons on the front lawn of neighbor Denny Mayfield.

“He was kind of a wuss to start with,” recalled Mayfield in 2009. “Very timid and shy. But the shyness he had, the game brought him out of it. He would slide into the fence, throw his body into the tree [the imaginary base] to be safe. I’d say, ‘You’re crazy.'”

Utley also played Wiffle Ball with his father and sister Taylor, younger by seven years. To prevent him from having to retrieve balls that young Chase would hit into the street, David turned his son around to hit left-handed, so instead his hits would rebound off the family’s house. Already working to hone his all-around game, Chase would insist upon Taylor getting a chance to hit so that he could work on his defense.

Among the other players in Mayfield’s Wiffle Ball group was Sean Burroughs, a future major leaguer and the son of former AL MVP Jeff Burroughs. As a coach for Utley’s Little League team, the elder Burroughs helped Utley refine his hitting mechanics. While starring at Long Beach Polytechnic High School alongside future major leaguer Milton Bradley, Utley mimicked Thome, his future Phillies teammate and one of his favorite players, by shifting his right foot to open his stance. He hit .525 with 12 homers as a senior, making several All-America teams.

Utley grew up a Dodgers fan, with Brett Butler, Kirk Gibson, and Steve Sax among his favorite players. The Dodgers drafted him in the second round in 1996, but collegiate life intrigued him; after visiting UCLA and discussing his situation with senior Troy Glaus, another future major leaguer, he chose to accept a scholarship. He starred at the school, setting a freshman home run record with 15 and earning All PAC-10 and All-America honors in his sophomore and junior seasons. Entering the 2000 draft, he was considered the best pure hitter among the collegiate prospects; the Phillies chose him with the 15th pick, signing him to a $1.78 million bonus.

Utley began his professional career with the Batavia Muckdogs of the Low-A New York-Penn League, hitting .307/.383/.444 with two homers in 40 games. Baseball America named him the Phillies’ fifth-best prospect, but he slipped to seventh after a challenging year in the Florida State League, with BA expressing mild concerns about his defense: “He will never be a Gold Glover, but the Phillies are thrilled with the progress he made with his range and double-play pivot. He has enough arm to play second base but lacks natural actions around the bag.”

The Phillies tried Utley at third base while jumping him from High-A Clearwater to Triple-A Scranton/Wilke-Barre in 2002; later that season, the team dealt Scott Rolen to the Cardinals in a trade whose return included second baseman Placido Polanco; meanwhile, free agent David Bell’s four-year, $17 million contract blocked Utley at the hot corner.

Returning to second base, the 24-year-old Utley cracked the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list at no. 81 in 2003, and made the big club out of spring training. He debuted on April 4, striking out against the Pirates’ Jeff Suppan in his lone plate appearance. “I struck out and got booed back to the dugout, which made it a proper start to my Phillies career,” recalled Utley in 2016. Two days later, he was demoted, but upon returning, he connected for his first hit, a grand slam off the Rockies’ Aaron Cook on April 20, and tore around the bases. As called by the legendary Harry Kalas:

Afterwards, broadcaster John Kruk played a legendary prank on the rookie, with an assist from manager Larry Bowa:

Despite the slam and the good fun, Utley was sent back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre later that week, didn’t return until August 14, and hit just .239/.322/.373 (87 wRC+) with two homers in 43 games. Back in the minors to start 2004, he was recalled when Polanco was sidelined by a quad strain in May, and stayed up the rest of the season, getting 11 starts at first base and 41 at second while sometimes bumping Polanco — who was in the midst of a fine 4.6 WAR season — to third. Utley hit .266/.308/.468 with 13 homers in 287 plate appearances spread over 94 games; his 10 DRS (7 at second base, 3 at first base) began a streak of seven straight years in double digits.

The Phillies planned to turn second base over to Utley for the 2005 season after Polanco hit free agency, but the latter surprised them by accepting arbitration — generally a formality that entitled teams to draft pick compensation — and returning to Philadelphia. Under new manager Charlie Manuel, the pair more or less shared the second base job until June 8, when the Phillies traded Polanco to the Tigers. Utley broke out to hit .291/.376/.540 (132 OPS+) with 28 homers, 16 steals, 23 DRS, and 7.3 WAR, the league’s third-highest total behind only Pujols and Derrek Lee.

He showed that breakout was no fluke. While making the first of five straight All-Star teams, he hit .309/.379/.527 (125 OPS+) with 32 homers, 15 steals, 18 DRS, and 7.3 WAR (again third in the league) in 2006. From June 3 to August 3, he peeled off a 35-game hitting streak, matching Luis Castillo for the second-longest of the Wild Card era — only Rollins’ 38-gamer from 2005 was longer — and tied for 11th all-time. On August 9, he produced one of the signature plays of his career. After clearing the bases with a three-run double off the Braves’ Macay McBride, he broke for third in an attempt to steal; when Howard chopped to McBride on the first base side of the mound, Utley rushed home. “Chase is going to keep going and he’s safe at home plate! Chase Utley, you are the man!” exclaimed Kalas, thereby christening him with an enduring nickname.

“That moment began Utley’s ascent from mere superstar to civic icon,” wrote Kepner.

Utley finished seventh in the NL MVP voting as Howard, who led the majors with 58 homers and 149 RBI while tallying a career-high 5.2 WAR (which didn’t even crack the league’s top 10) won. Two months later, and a day after his wedding, Utley signed the biggest contract of his career, a seven-year, $85 million extension that bought out all three years of his arbitration eligibility and the first four years of his potential free agency.

The 2006 season had been the Phillies’ third in a row finishing second in the NL East with between 85 and 88 wins, and their 13th straight without a playoff appearance. Spurred by the play of Utley, Rollins, Howard, Hamels, Pat Burrell, and Jayson Werth, the team finally broke through in 2007, taking advantage of a late collapse by the Mets to snatch the division title on the final day of the season with 89 wins. On September 12 they were seven games back, but went 13-4 while the Mets went 5-12. Though Utley produced his best season to date at the plate (.332/.410/.566, 146 OPS+) and totaled 7.8 WAR, he missed four weeks due to a fractured metacarpal, suffered on July 27 when he was hit by a fastball from the Nationals’ John Lannan and needed surgery to insert a pin to stabilize his right ring finger. He finished eighth in the NL MVP voting while Rollins, who hit .296/.344/.531 (119 OPS+) with 6.1 WAR, won. Both players were held to 2-for-11 showings while being swept by the Rockies in the Division Series.

In 2008, Utley set a new career high with 33 homers to go with a 136 wRC+, 31 DRS (!) and 9.0 WAR, second only to Pujols’ 9.2. The Phillies won 92 games and claimed their second division title. Utley hit a combined .220/.391/.460 with three homers during the postseason, coming up big several times. His two-run double off the Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo broke open a scoreless Division Series opener; the Phillies won in four games. His two-run sixth-inning homer off the Dodgers’ Derek Lowe tied the NLCS opener, and he added a first-inning RBI double off Lowe among his three hits in Game 4; the Phillies won in five to advance to their first World Series in 15 years. Utley got them off on the right foot against the Rays with a two-run first-inning homer off Scott Kazmir in Game 1, and added a solo homer off Matt Garza in Game 3.

Though he went hitless in Games 4 and 5, Utley scored three times after getting on base in one way or another. In the seventh inning of the latter game — which had resumed after a 46-hour rain delay just an inning before — he made an incredible, career-defining play, “The Utley Play.” Ranging to his right to backhand Akinori Iwamura’s grounder, he had the presence of mind to leap while faking a throw to first base, then threw a one-hopper to catcher Carlos Ruiz to nail Jason Bartlett trying to score the go-ahead run:

In 2018, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the play, Utley described what was going through his mind to The Athletic’s Jayson Stark:

“So as I catch it… I’m thinking to myself that I don’t think it’s the smart decision to go to first. One, it’s cold. Two, it’s a long throw, and I’m off balance. Three, if I don’t (throw), it doesn’t really matter. The run’s not going to score. So I figured I might as well pump-fake and see what will happen.”

…“I knew I had plenty of time to get the ball [home]… I knew I didn’t have to make the perfect throw. I just had to get it to Chooch in a normal amount of time. So I kind of kept going on the run, and threw a one-hop throw on purpose.”

The Phillies scored a run in the bottom of the seventh inning, then held on to clinch their first championship in 28 years. Utley punctuated the celebration by dropping an f-bomb at the victory parade, declaring the Phillies “World Fucking Champions!” and further endearing himself to the Philadelphia faithful.

After another exceptionally strong season in 2009 (31 homers, 136 OPS+, 23-for-23 in steals, and 8.2 WAR, again second to Pujols), Utley went off in the postseason, hitting a combined .296/.424/.648 with six homers in 71 PA against the Rockies, Dodgers, and Yankees. Against the latter, he tied Reggie Jackson’s World Series record with five homers, clubbing two solo shots off CC Sabathia in a 6-1 Game 1 win, another solo homer (plus an RBI double) off Sabathia in a Game 4 loss, and then a three-run homer off A.J. Burnett and a solo homer off Phil Coke in a Game 5 win.

Utley joined the 1980 Royals’ Willie Aikens as the only players with multiple multi-homer games in a single World Series, but he couldn’t do everything himself. The Phillies lost in six games, leaving Utley as the only player to hit five homers in a World Series defeat.

From 2005–09, Utley hit a combined .301/.388/.535 (135 OPS+) while averaging 29 homers, 15 steals, 20 DRS, and 7.9 WAR, a phenomenal stretch. His 39.7 WAR for those five years trailed only Pujols (44.6) and was over five wins ahead of third-ranked Alex Rodriguez (34.2) and over 10 wins ahead of fourth-ranked Mark Teixeira (29.3). He averaged 151 games in that stretch, landing on what was then the disabled list just once in that span (2007), but as he entered his 30s, he had a harder time staying healthy. He missed seven weeks in 2010 due to a torn ligament in his right thumb but still finished with 5.8 WAR in 115 games, good enough for eighth in the league. The Phillies won their fourth straight division title, and Utley drove in a team-high four runs as they swept the Reds in the Division Series before falling to the Giants in the NLCS.

Patellar tendinitis in his right knee delayed Utley’s 2011 debut until May 23; between that and a concussion he suffered in September, he played in just 103 games, managing a 110 OPS+ and 3.8 WAR. He helped the Phillies to their fifth straight division title and hit .438/.571/.688 in a losing cause in the Division Series against the Cardinals. The next year, patellar chondromalacia in his left knee delayed his season debut until June 27. He homered off the Pirates’ James McDonald in his first plate appearance, and in just over half a season (83 games) still totaled 9 DRS and 3.1 WAR, though the Phillies slipped to 81-81, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Though sidelined a month due to an oblique strain, the 34-year-ald Utley played 131 games and hit .284/.348/.475 with 18 homers in 2013. Except for the OBP, those were his best numbers since ’09, though his -5 DRS — his first negative total — limited him to 3.6 WAR. The Phillies went just 73-89; shortly after Utley agreed to a two-year, $27 million extension in August, Manuel was fired and replaced by Ryne Sandberg. The team again went 73-89 in 2014; Utley parlayed a strong first half into his sixth and final All-Star appearance, but slumped in the second half to finish at .270/.339/.407 (108 OPS+) with 3.6 WAR.

After a dreadful first half of the 2015 season, followed by a month and a half on the DL due to right ankle inflammation, Utley got hot just long enough upon returning in early August to drum up interest in his services. He agreed to waive his no-trade clause, and in a waiver-period deal on August 19, was sent to the Dodgers for two players, along with cash to cover most of his remaining salary. “It’s time,” he said of leaving Philadelphia. “We put our heads together and decided it might be best for us to part ways. I gave them a list of a handful of teams that I would consider playing for, and then it was [general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.]’s job to find the best deal he could for the organization. And ultimately it came down to the Dodgers, a team I grew up watching.”

The move helped cover for Howie Kendrick’s injury, and reunited Utley with Rollins, who had been traded to the Dodgers the previous December. Though he didn’t make a major contribution on the field, Utley began mentoring rookie Corey Seager, who joined the team in September and by the end of the month had displaced Rollins in the lineup.

After winning the NL West for the third straight season, the Dodgers faced the Mets in the Division Series. In the seventh inning of Game 2, Utley singled and then on an infield grounder slid hard and late to the right of second base in an attempt to break up a double play. In doing so, he collided violently with Rubén Tejada, upending the shortstop as he spun in an effort to make an acrobatic throw. Utley was originally called out, but replay showed that Tejada never touched the base, though neither did Utley. Utley was ruled safe, and the Dodgers scored four runs amid a decisive rally; meanwhile, a fractured right fibula ended Tejada’s season.

Mets fans and even many players around the game called Utley’s slide a dirty play, but others declared such contact part of the game. The slide was similar to the type of takeout slides previously accepted and even glorified as old-school examples of hard-nosed baseball.

Major League Baseball suspended Utley for two games for what chief baseball officer Joe Torre called an illegal slide, but Utley appealed, though he did not play in either game; the Dodgers lost the series in five games. Utley’s suspension was lifted in the spring after Torre found no prior discipline for similar slides, but in the wake of the play, MLB instituted Rule 6.01(j), a.k.a “The Utley Rule,” mandating that a slide to break up a double play has to include a bona fide attempt to reach and remain on the base. While contact with the fielder is allowed, the runner isn’t allowed to change his path to initiate contact or engage in a “roll block.” A runner violating the rule is out for interference, and so is the batter. As a result of the rule, MLB additionally made the so-called “neighborhood play,” in which fielders were previously allowed to be near the bag but out of the runner’s path, reviewable by replay.

Amid the controversy, the 37-year-old Utley re-signed with the Dodgers via a one-year, $7 million deal, the first of three successive pacts he would ink with his hometown team. He played regularly in 2016 but hit for just a 92 OPS+ with 1.2 WAR, weighed down by a career-worst -9 DRS. The Dodgers scaled back his playing time in 2017, and he turned in a similar performance for a team that won its first pennant in 29 years but fell to the Astros in the World Series.

Renowned for his ability to recognize a pitcher tipping his pitches, Utley was seemingly unable to spot the telltale signs from Yu Darvish, who was chased early in both Games 3 and 7. Two years later, of course, the baseball world learned that the Astros were illegally stealing signs and relaying them to hitters using their trash-can system. Utley, who’d heard rumors of what the Astros were up to, watched hours of video to try to figure it out. He advised his teammates to change their sign sequences, but without audio couldn’t crack the banging aspect of the code.

“You’re looking in the dugout, you’re looking at first base coaches, you’re looking in the outfield, you’re looking in the bullpen,” Utley told podcaster Ben Reiter. “You’re looking for anything that can be a clue to what they’re doing. And… at the time, I wasn’t able to come up with any one particular thing that I thought was fishy during the World Series.”

Utley re-signed with the Dodgers via a two-year, $2 million deal in February 2018. He started just 35 games from among his 87 appearances, but performed well only as a pinch-hitter (.342/.419/.474 in 43 PA). On July 14, he announced he would retire at the end of the season. He began his press conference by deadpanning that he’d signed a five-year contract extension, then cited his readiness to be a full-time father as his reason for walking away.

When it comes to the Hall of Fame, Utley would appear to be facing an uphill battle based upon the length of his career, from his delayed arrival as a regular to his injuries and retirement at age 39. Because he was drafted out of college, he was 24 when he debuted. Among post-integration position players, only Wade Boggs, Edgar Martinez, and Kirby Puckett debuted in their age-24 seasons and still wound up in Cooperstown. Additionally, Utley’s 7,863 PA outdoes just three expansion-era Hall of Famers, namely Mike Piazza (7,745), Puckett (7,831), and Tony Oliva (6,880), all of whom finished with batting averages above .300.

As I wrote at the time of his retirement announcement, the limitations on Utley’s career left him short of 2,000 hits, putting his Hall of Fame fate at risk. I had noted earlier in the season in connection to Joe Mauer that at the time neither the BBWAA nor any small committee had elected a single position player with fewer than 2,000 hits whose career crossed into the expansion era. Some of the best players outside the Hall at the time — Dick Allen, Bobby Grich, Andruw Jones, and Minnie Miñoso, all of whom I profiled at length in my 2017 book, The Cooperstown Casebook — were on the wrong side of that line. Since then, the elections of Miñoso (whose now-included Negro Leagues statistics push his total to 2,113), Oliva, and Gil Hodges via the 2022 Golden Days Era Committee have produced exceptions, but BBWAA voters have yet to break the streak.

The 2,000-hit cutoff persists mainly as a proxy for career length, with the more notable players such as the aforementioned ones likely to have derived a greater portion of their value by excelling in areas besides batting average, whether it’s high on-base percentages, good baserunning, good defense, and so forth, particularly at positions of defensive importance. Here are the top players by WAR among those short of 2,000 hits:

Highest WAR Among Players with Fewer Than 2,000 Hits
Rk Player Yrs H PA AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+ Rbase Rfield WAR
1 Mike Trout+ 2011-2023 1624 6521 .301/.412/.582 173 35 -5 85.2
2 Bobby Grich 1970-1986 1833 8220 .266/.371/.424 125 4 82 71.1
3 Chase Utley 2003-2018 1885 7863 .275/.358/.465 117 45 131 64.5
4 Mookie Betts+ 2014-2023 1485 5757 .294/.373/.527 138 39 153 64.5
5 Jackie Robinson* 1945-1956 1563 5941 .313/.41/.477 133 32 82 63.8
6 Lou Boudreau* 1938-1952 1779 7025 .295/.38/.415 120 -4 118 63.2
7 Home Run Baker* 1908-1922 1838 6677 .307/.363/.442 135 -5 35 62.8
8 Andruw Jones 1996-2012 1933 8664 .254/.337/.486 111 9 235 62.7
9t Shoeless Joe Jackson 1908-1920 1772 5697 .356/.423/.517 170 -6 11 62.2
Mark McGwire 1986-2001 1626 7660 .263/.394/.588 163 -15 -29 62.2
11 Paul Goldschmidt+ 2011-2023 1909 7638 .293/.388/.519 143 27 59 61.7
12 Sal Bando 1966-1981 1790 8289 .254/.352/.408 119 11 36 61.5
13 Jim Edmonds 1993-2010 1949 7980 .284/.376/.527 132 -11 37 60.4
14 Dick Allen 1963-1977 1848 7315 .292/.378/.534 156 16 -110 58.7
15 Evan Longoria+ 2008-2023 1930 8206 .264/.333/.471 119 1 95 58.6
16 Bobby Bonds 1968-1981 1886 8090 .268/.353/.471 129 37 48 57.9
17 Larry Doby* 1942-1959 1697 6920 .288/.389/.499 140 14 17 56.8
18 Bill Dickey* 1928-1946 1969 7065 .313/.382/.486 127 -3 46 56.3
19 Robin Ventura 1989-2004 1885 8271 .267/.362/.444 114 -13 155 56.1
20 Jim Wynn 1963-1977 1665 8011 .25/.366/.436 129 18 -28 55.7
21t Chet Lemon 1975-1990 1875 7874 .273/.355/.442 121 -7 93 55.6
Joe Gordon* 1938-1950 1530 6537 .268/.357/.466 120 4 150 55.6
23t Hank Greenberg* 1930-1947 1628 6098 .313/.412/.605 159 5 17 55.4
Gabby Hartnett* 1922-1941 1912 7300 .297/.37/.489 126 -9 78 55.4
25 Manny Machado+ 2012-2023 1737 6874 .279/.339/.49 125 -1 90 54.9
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
* = Hall of Famer. + = active. Base = baserunning runs. Rfield = fielding runs (Total Zone or Defensive Runs Saved)

Over half of that top 25 fits into one of three groups: pre-expansion Hall of Famers (Baker, Boudreau, Dickey, Doby, Greenberg, Gordon, Hartnett, and Robinson), active players and likely future Hall of Famers (Betts, Goldschmidt, Machado, and Trout, with Longoria in this group but the least likely to be enshrined), and would-be Hall of Famers if not for their transgressions (Jackson and McGwire). All had comparatively short careers for one reason or another. The active ones are ongoing, Jackson was banned for life, McGwire had numerous injuries, and the Hall of Famers were limited by catching (Dickey and Hartnett), segregation (Doby and Robinson), World War II (Greenberg and Gordon), or unusual circumstances (Baker missed one prime season due to a salary dispute with Connie Mack and another due to the aftermath of his wife’s death, while Boudreau retired at 34 to manage full-time).

All of those guys and the 10 others were or are elite in at least one area of batting (as measured by OPS+), fielding, or baserunning, and most played positions of defensive importance. The 10 outsiders constitute a who’s who of unsung stathead favorites, and as noted, a few are in the Casebook. Allen has missed election by a single vote twice as an Era Committee candidate. Grich is the only non-PED-linked player besides this ballot’s newcomers Mauer and Adrián Beltré who is above the career WAR, peak WAR, and JAWS standards at his position but outside the Hall. Jones, who received 58.1% in his sixth year on the ballot in 2023, is trending towards eventual election and could break the BBWAA seal on the sub-2,000 distinction.

Utley not only fits neatly into this subgroup, he’s third in value thanks in large part to his baserunning — which also includes an additional 24 runs for his ability to avoid grounding into double plays, not included in the table above — and defense. On the subject of baserunning, while Utley only stole more than 16 bases once (his 23-for-23 showing in 2009) and totaled just 154 steals, he was caught just 22 times. Among players with at least 150 attempted steals since 1920 (the point from which we have continuous availability of caught stealing totals), his 87.5% success rate ranks first, ahead of the more prolific Carlos Beltrán (86.4% in 361 attempts) and Trea Turner (86.1% in 301 attempts), as well as Werth (85.2% in 155 attempts). Like Werth, Utley benefited from the tutelage of Davey Lopes, whose 83% success rate is third behind only Tim Raines (84.7%) and Willie Wilson (83.3%) among those with at least 500 attempts; an expert at reading pitchers, Lopes served as the Phillies’ first base coach from 2007-10, a span during which the team stole at an 84.3% clip, six points ahead of the pack.

Additionally, from 2006–12, Utley was annually among the NL’s best in extra bases taken (XT%) — more than one base on a single, more than two on a double — either ranking among the top 10 or with a top-10-worthy percentage but with not enough playing time to qualify due to his injuries. His composite 64% success rate for those seasons, 23-25 points above the league averages in those years, is also incorporated within those baserunning runs, as are the outs he made on base. Among Wild Card era players, his 69 runs for baserunning and double play avoidance ranks seventh, four runs ahead of Beltrán; everybody else in the top 10 has over 300 stolen base attempts to pad their totals.

As for the fielding, Baseball America correctly predicted Utley would never win a Gold Glove, but that’s because he was robbed. Yes, single-year measures of single metrics aren’t all that reliable, but there’s strength in sample size. Among all second basemen, Utley’s 131 fielding runs ranks seventh all-time:

Fielding Runs Leaders
Among Second Basemen
Rk Player Yrs Rfield
1 Bid McPhee* 1882-1899 154
2 Joe Gordon* 1938-1950 150
3 Bill Mazeroski* 1956-1972 147
4 Frankie Frisch* 1919-1937 140
5 Plácido Polanco 1998-2013 138
6 Mark Ellis 2002-2014 134
7 Chase Utley 2003-2018 131
8 Hughie Critz 1924-1935 130
9 Johnny Evers* 1902-1929 127
10 Frank White 1973-1990 121
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Based on Total Zone (through 2002) and Defensive Runs Saved (2003-onward)

Of the four other players on this list whose careers crossed into the Gold Glove era (1957 onward), both Mazeroski and White won eight Gold Gloves, while Polanco won three; Ellis, a defensive cog on the Moneyball-era A’s, had seven seasons of double-digit DRS totals and should have won hardware along the way.

Utley is one of 20 players to accumulate at least 100 DRS in his career. He’s 11th in both DRS and UZR at 90.1 runs, 2.6 ahead of Dustin Pedroia for the lead among second basemen. Multi-time Gold Glove winners abound in both sets of rankings, but Utley is the highest-ranking among those who never won once. From 2005–11 — his peak years as a defender, all predating the introduction of the SABR Defensive Index into the voting — Brandon Phillips and Orlando Hudson won six of the seven Gold Gloves among NL second basemen, with Castillo the other one. In terms of both DRS and UZR, Utley generally outperformed them in their winning years:

Utley vs. NL Gold Glove 2B, 2006–13
Player GG DRS in GG Utley DRS UZR in GG Utley UZR
Brandon Phillips 3 (2008, ’10, ’11) 30 55 31.5 37.5
Orlando Hudson 3 (2006, ’07, ’09) 29 48 -10.3 31.0
Luis Castillo 1 (2005) 7 20 10.4 15.5

Perhaps if he’d come along a bit later, when fielding metrics became more widely accepted, Utley would have fared better in Gold Glove and MVP voting; where he ranked among the NL’s top three in WAR annually from 2005–09 and was eighth in ’10, he never placed higher than seventh in the voting. That limits him to a score of 94 (short of “a good possibility”) on the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, which dishes out credit for things that have tended to sway voters: seasons with eye-catching plateaus such as 30 homers, 100 RBI, and 100 runs, careers at .300 or better, awards, league leads in key stats, and playoff appearances.

Utley’s exceptional baserunning and defense wouldn’t put him within hailing distance of Cooperstown without his bat. Via Baseball Reference’s batting runs measure, he was 173 runs above average at the plate, which ranks 20th among all second basemen and surpasses nine of 20 Hall of Famers, seven of whom had over 8,000 PA. His 117 OPS+ is higher than 11 of the 20 enshrinees.

Add it all up and Utley’s 64.5 career WAR ranks 15th among second basemen, a bit more than five points below the standard but ahead of 10 of the 20 Hall of Famers. Of the ones below him, only Robinson was elected by the writers, while the rest were small-committee choices, not all of them good. Four other second basemen outside the Hall had higher WARs, namely Lou Whitaker (75.1), Grich (71.1), Robinson Canó (68.1), and Willie Randolph (65.9). Whitaker is another Casebook subject whom I’ve championed, while Randolph, whose value owes less to his bat (104 OPS+) than his baserunning or defense, went one-and-done on the 1998 BBWAA ballot, as Grich did in ’92 and Whitaker in 2001. Canó, who last played in 2022, isn’t eligible yet and wont be elected anytime soon due to multiple PED suspensions.

Utley fares even better by seven-year peak, ranking ninth at 49.3, nearly five full wins above the standard. He trails seven Hall of Famers and Canó (by 0.1); among the 13 Hall of Famers, he leads are BBWAA honorees Sandberg, Frisch, Roberto Alomar, and Craig Biggio. Meanwhile, his 56.9 JAWS ranks 12th, 0.1 below the standard. Of the 11 second basemen above him, only Grich and Canó (both at 58.7) are outside the Hall; the nine below him include two BBWAA honorees, Alomar (55.0) and Biggio (53.6). Neither was elected on the first try; Alomar’s entry was forestalled by a year due to his spitting incident, while Biggio, a member of the 3,000 hit club, was delayed by two years amid an unprecedented ballot crunch when he became eligible in 2013.

Given his relatively short career and lack of milestones, Utley may not be viewed as an automatic choice. But his standing by JAWS, his prominent role in the Phillies’ success, and the high regard in which he’s held within the game make him an easy pick to these eyes. Indeed, as that aforementioned retirement announcement piece suggests, I’ve been awaiting the point at which I could include him on my ballot, and I gather that I’m hardly the only voter who feels that way. At this point, we have the tools to see how underrated he was in his career. It’s time to reward him with the recognition he deserves.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

102 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
nahmember
5 months ago

I remember in the late 2000s, at the nadir of George W. Bush’s popularity, he was asked which player he’d start a team with, and his answer was Chase Utley. Maybe the smartest, most well-considered thing he ever said as President. As the article points out, Utley was a top 3 player for stretch of 6 or 7 seasons. He’s a HOF lock for me.

dl80
5 months ago
Reply to  nah

A missed opportunity for a nadir/Nader joke