Is Chase Utley a Hall of Famer?
I saw a post on mlbtraderumors.com about whether Chase Utley will be willing to waive his no-trade clause to be traded to a team that has a better chance than the Phillies of making the post-season. Utley’s recent comments suggest he may not be willing to waive.
Anyway, it got me thinking about what Utley’s chances are of eventually being elected to the Hall of Fame. At first blush, my gut feeling is he’s a Hall of Famer because he was the best 2Bman in baseball bar none from 2005 through 2010.
However, a glance at his career numbers so far don’t look much like a Hall of Famer’s. His career batting average is well below .300, and he hasn’t scored or driven in even 900 runs yet. At age 35 this year and with a history of injuries, I don’t see Utley lasting long enough to get much past 1,000 runs or RBIs. [Please don’t tell me what great sabrmetric numbers Utley has — we don’t yet have any significant evidence that Hall of Fame voters, i.e., sportswriters, primarily judge Hall of Fame candidates on the new numbers rather than the old-school statistics used in the past. That may change in years to come, but it hasn’t happened yet.]
The player in baseball history that Chase Utley most closely resembles is Joe Gordon, the old Yankee 2Bman, who basically did in his day everything that Utley has done more recently — hit for power, get on base and play great D at second. Gordon retired after his age 35 season, and his career offensive numbers look very similar to Utley’s career numbers so far.
The Veteran’s Committee voted Gordon into the Hall of Fame in 2009, long after his death in 1978. In Gordon’s case, modern sabrmetric analysis probably did help him with the Veteran’s Committee (Bill James is a prominent and vocal proponent of Gordon’s greatness as a 2Bman). Also, Gordon’s numbers were hurt by two years lost to WWII, which I’m sure the veteran’s committee took into account.
Utley’s career numbers aren’t better because he didn’t establish himself as a major league regular until age 25, and he’s had some injuries. The Phillies kept him in the minors a year longer than they should have because somebody had the not-very-bright idea of trying to turn him into a 3Bman at the AAA level in 2002.
My prediction is that Utley will eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame for the same reasons Gordon was eventually elected. I just don’t think he’ll be elected in his first three or fours years of eligibility. We’ll see…