The Hall of Fame Case for Chase Utley

Let's talk about the case for Phillies superstar Chase Utley in his first year on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

SAN FRANCISCO - APRIL 27: Chase Utley #26 of the Philadelphia Phillies warms up on the on deck circle during against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on April 27, 2010 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Ask almost any Phillies fan, and they’ll tell you Chase Utley belongs in the Hall of Fame.

How could he not? He was the greatest player on the greatest team in franchise history. The Phillies claimed five straight NL East titles from 2007 to 2011, winning two pennants and a World Series in the process. It was easily the best five-year span in the team’s long and (mostly disappointing) history.

Utley hit .290/.386/.503 over those five seasons, producing 33.3 FanGraphs WAR, third-most in baseball and easily the highest total on the Phillies – although Roy Halladay, who joined the club for the final two seasons of that magical run, ranked just above him with 33.5 fWAR between Toronto and Philadelphia.

Among Phillies, 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels ranked a distant second with 21.0 fWAR during the glory years, while 2007 NL MVP and de facto team captain Jimmy Rollins ranked third with 19.9 fWAR of his own.

Ad – content continues below

Beyond WAR, Utley led Phillies hitters (min. 162 games) in batting average, on-base percentage, and wRC+ while trailing only Ryan Howard in home runs, RBI, and OPS.

The star second baseman also represented Philadelphia at the Midsummer Classic more often than any of his teammates from that era, starting four straight All-Star games from 2007-10. Indeed, including his All-Star appearances in 2006 and 2014, he has started more All-Star Games than any Phillies player aside from Mike Schmidt.

The Phillies are one of only three NL teams to ever win five division titles in a row (the Braves and Dodgers have done it multiple times over). At least one mainstay from that era has to be a Hall of Famer, right? And if it’s going to be anyone, it has to be Utley.

Well, not so fast.

Ask almost any casual observer or baseball traditionalist, and they’ll tell you Chase Utley falls short of the Hall of Fame criteria.

Utley never won an MVP; in fact, he never finished higher than seventh in voting. The only category he ever led the majors in was hit-by-pitches. And as good as his defense supposedly was, he never won a Gold Glove.

Ad – content continues below

Time and again, Utley was overshadowed by teammates with flashier skill sets and postseason performances, including Howard, Rollins, Hamels, and Halladay.

On top of that, his career and his peak were short by Hall of Fame standards. He started more than 120 games in a season just seven times and qualified for the batting title just nine. He ranks 300th all-time in plate appearances and 295th in games played.

Utley was fantastic from 2005-14, but he spent the next four years barely hanging around – and bringing down his career rate stats in the process.

Stats via FanGraphs

Chase Utley was a very good player on some very good teams, but he never reached superstar status – at least, not outside of Philadelphia. Simply put, he doesn’t have the accolades, the reputation, or the longevity of a Hall of Famer.

But wait…

Why should Hall of Fame voters in 2024 feel restricted by decisions and opinions from over a decade in the past? The way we view the game has changed tremendously since Utley’s peak in the late aughts and early 2010s. Voters could choose to hold Utley’s counting stats and lack of awards against him, or they could use this as an opportunity to rectify past mistakes.

Ad – content continues below

Utley never won a Gold Glove, but looking back, he was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, defensive second basemen of his generation. He ranks first among second basemen in FanGraphs defensive value since the turn of the 21st century. He also ranks first in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and second in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS).

On top of that, Utley holds the single-season record for UZR at second base; he is tied with Craig Counsell for the single-season record in DRS.

These metrics weren’t so popular or widely available during his heyday, but that’s no reason why voters shouldn’t use them now. What good is having all this information if we don’t take it into account?

Moreover, thanks to his remarkable defensive skills, Utley ranks among the greatest second basemen in history by JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score, developed by Jay Jaffe), one of the most prominent statistics used to evaluate a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness.

JAWS is calculated using a simple formula that averages a player’s total WAR (per Baseball Reference) with his WAR from the best seven seasons of his career. This provides a nice combination of peak performance and longevity.

According to this metric, Utley ranks 12th all-time at his position. His 56.9 JAWS is right in line with that of the average Hall of Fame second basemen (57.0 JAWS). To be fair, his best years are doing a lot of the heavy lifting; his peak WAR is about 5 wins higher than the average HOF second baseman, while his career WAR is about 5 wins lower. In other words, the average HOF second baseman earned 25 WAR outside of his seven best seasons, while Utley earned only 15.

Ad – content continues below

Still, that JAWS figure makes a compelling case that Utley meets the criteria for Hall of Fame enshrinement.

But wait just one more time.

Earning a Hall of Fame vote is about more than just statistics. According to the BBWAA website, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Utley easily meets the criteria in terms of record and contributions to his teams, and I’ve already laid out the case for his playing ability. Yet what about integrity, sportsmanship, and character?

Ask a fan of the Phillies or the Dodgers and they’ll tell you Utley was the model teammate and leader. He formed strong connections with his fellow players, led by example on the field, and put in the time to build relationships with the fans in the cities in which he played. Even now, years after hanging up his hat for the last time, he is working as Major League Baseball’s ambassador to Europe, intending to grow the game across the Atlantic.

Yet Utley’s reputation isn’t so sterling outside of Philadelphia and L.A. Specifically, he is seen as something of a villain within the Mets fanbase for his infamous slide that broke Rubén Tejada’s leg during the 2015 postseason.

Ad – content continues below

Detractors will tell you Utley played dirty, and his unsportsmanlike behavior should keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Defenders will tell you Utley never intended to hurt anyone; he never even broke a rule, according to the commissioner’s office. Before the introduction of the new slide regulations (colloquially known as the Chase Utley Rule), it was common practice for runners to try to break up double plays. Utley’s actions had terrible consequences, but that doesn’t mean he has terrible character.

Ultimately, each voter will have to decide for themselves what to think about Utley’s integrity, sportsmanship, and character, and in turn, they’ll have to decide how heavily to weigh those factors when casting their votes.

Summing It All Up

Chase Utley’s Career Stats

  • .275/.358/.465, .356 wOBA, 118 wRC+
  • 259 home runs (8th among primary second basemen)
  • 154-for-176 (87.5%) in stolen base attempts, all-time leader (min. 100 SB attempts)
  • 61.6 FanGraphs WAR, 64.5 Baseball Reference WAR, 56.9 JAWS

Chase Utley’s Individual Accolades

  • Six-time All-Star starter (2006-2010, 2014)
  • Four-time Silver Slugger winner (2006-2009)
  • Fielding Bible Award (2010)

Chase Utley’s Postseason Accomplishments

  • World Series Champion (2008)
  • Four-time NL Champion (2008, 2009, 2017, 2018)

With just over 40% of ballots revealed (per Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker), Chase Utley has been selected by 45.6% of voters. Thus, he would need to be selected on approximately 96% of the remaining ballots in order to reach the necessary 75% threshold for enshrinement.

Needless to say, that’s not going to happen, especially since a player like Utley is more likely to be named on the publicly revealed ballots – those tend to belong to less conservative-minded voters.

Still, Utley is doing quite well for his first year, especially on such a crowded ballot. Several players have started out polling with far less support and still made it into the Hall eventually.

The Final Verdict

Chase Utley is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate at best. The advanced metrics paint a compelling picture of his candidacy, but even so, his worthiness depends on how much each individual voter values peak performance over longevity.

Ad – content continues below

As for more traditional voters, his candidacy heavily depends on how much they value his teams’ accomplishments compared to his (lack of) individual accolades. Similarly, judgments about his character will factor into their decisions.

If I had a vote, I’d be checking the box next to Utley’s name, but there’s no easy answer either way. Cases like Utley’s are what make Hall of Fame voting such a fascinating topic, and even if he never makes it into the Hall, I’m glad to have had the chance to revisit his remarkable career.