Nov 25, 2009, 12:51 PM EDT
During his amazing playoff run last month I penned a lengthy article about Chase Utley being the most underrated player in baseball, writing: “Many media members and fans seem to think of him as merely a very good player rather than a truly great one.”
Part of my evidence for Utley being significantly underrated was his poor showings in past MVP balloting and with the latest votes revealed yesterday we now know that this season was no different.
Utley finished eighth overall while receiving just five top-five votes and was completely absent on 14 of 32 ballots. In other words, 27 of the 32 voters didn’t think Utley was among the five best players in the league this season and 14 of the 32 voters didn’t even think he was among the 10 best.
All of which is baffling considering that Utley hit .282/.397/.508 with 31 homers, 63 total extra-base hits, 88 walks, 93 RBIs, and 112 runs in 156 games while going a perfect 23-for-23 swiping bases and also played Gold Glove-caliber defense at an up-the-middle position.
He had a remarkable all-around season and not surprisingly Fan Graphs pegged Utley as being worth 77 runs more than a replacement-level player based on his offensive and defensive contributions. That total ranked second in the entire league behind only Albert Pujols at 84 runs, yet Utley received no second-place votes, only a handful of voters recognized him as a top-five player, and nearly half the ballots failed to even include his name. And the amazing thing is that this is nothing new.
Based on runs above replacement level Utley also ranked as the league’s second-best player in both 2007 and 2008, yet finished No. 8 and No. 14 in the MVP balloting. And in both 2005 and 2006 he ranked as the league’s fourth-best player while finishing No. 13 and No. 7 in the voting. In his five full seasons Utley has been second, second, second, fourth, and fourth among all NL position players in runs above replacement level, yet he’s never finished higher than seventh in the MVP balloting.
What makes the lack of respect shown to Utley particularly confusing is that he’s a hugely popular player on a tremendously successful large-market team. He’s not thriving in obscurity for some last-place, low-budget team, he’s putting up huge numbers for the back-to-back NL champs in the country’s sixth-largest city. Heck, two different Phillies have won MVPs with Utley as a teammate, so clearly a lack of attention for the team isn’t to blame.
MVP ballots were sent in long before Utley’s playoff heroics, so perhaps his big October this season will lead to more support from voters in 2010. In the meantime, Utley retains his title as the most underrated player in baseball for at least another year.
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