Friday, June 19, 2009

Intangibilistic Infatuations

Okay, "intangiblistic" isn't technically a word, but role with me on this. More than any other sport, Major League Baseball seems to be the most attractive for pointing out the "intangibles" of a player. Perhaps it's the history of the game, perhaps it's the poetry (am I right, Plaschke?), or perhaps it's the fact that it's been forever dubbed America's National Pastime. The fact is that very seldom does someone who is very good at their job get recognized for what they actually do well. Chase Utley is a prime example of this.

Today, in June, Rick Sutcliffe will attempt to explain why Utley is emerging as the next MVP candidate on the Phillies. That's right, it is never too early to start MVP talk, even when there's three and half months left in the season.

The Phillies might have another MVP on their hands. Ryan Howard won the MVP award in 2006 and Jimmy Rollins won it in 2007, but it's another name from the Phillies' lineup that comes to my mind for the 2009 National League MVP trophy.

Chase Utley is one of the most--if not the most--underrated players in all of baseball. The fact that he's never even come close to winning an MVP is pretty mind-boggling when you consider the numbers he's put up the past four seasons:

2005- 7.4 WAR (T-3rd in NL)
2006- 6.8 WAR (4th in NL)
2007- 8.0 WAR (2nd in NL)
2008- 8.1 WAR (2nd in NL)

You could very easily make a case that this man has been the best player in baseball since 2005. And yet, twice he has been deemed to not even be the best on his own team. Anyways, the point is that recognition for Chase Cameron Utley is long overdue.

Also, this is an MVP article in June.

No, not Raul Ibanez, although his numbers obviously have been very impressive so far and he certainly could get consideration come award season. The guy I'm focused on right now for MVP is second baseman Chase Utley. When you talk to the team, the name mentioned most often when you are talking about what manager Charlie Manuel calls "special players" is Utley's.

Cool. They say he's "special" because of his great defense, right? Or perhaps the fact that he is continually able to produce far better offensively (defense, too) than any other second basemen in the game?

(Sidenote: Does anyone else think it's weird that Sutcliffe ended the paragraph with "Utley's"?)

Utley is special. Obviously, the fans have known this for a while. He is leading the National League votes for the All-Star Game and has been voted to start the past three All-Star Games. Look at his offensive numbers (.309, 15 homers, 44 RBIs, 47 runs scored) and you notice he is strong in all categories, especially when you consider those numbers are coming from a middle infielder. Utley, however, did go 0-for-4 Wednesday in the Phillies' loss to the Blue Jays.

Alright, we got our first mention of stats. Albeit they aren't really beneficial at all for evaluation, but stats nonetheless. So, Sutcliffe, what else makes this guy really valuable?

What makes his performance even more special is the fact that he is coming off extensive hip surgery in the offseason. Right around the start of May 2008, he started feeling pain in that hip, but he somehow gutted through the rest of the year all the way through October. This guy is tough; he could have been a really good boxer.

He could have been a really good boxer..... I feel like Manny Pacquiao would be extremely insulted by Sutcliffe's apparent ignorance as to just how much pain an everyday boxer is forced to endure. Oh, and this is still an MVP article in the middle of June.

We know he can take a punch. He has those lightning-quick hands that he shows off all the time in batting practice. Coaches and players talk about his tremendous strength from the elbows down, and that gives Utley the ability to take the bat anywhere in the zone at any time. That is part of why he is so successful at the plate. As with Howard, Utley's defense is getting better each and every year.

First of all, I can't believe that you are continuing to compare the characteristics of a Major League Baseball Player to that of a freakin boxer. A BOXER. A man who gets punched in the face, ribs, sternum, collarbone, and abdomen for a living (among other things). Also, while Utley's defense has been utterly awesome throughout the course of his career, he's been rather subpar so far this season. His 0.6 UZR ranks 11th among all second basemen, his .825 RZR is 13th, and his 15 OOZ are good for 12th. History tells us these numbers are going to rise by season's end, but it would seem as though he's most likely not going to match the defensive prowess he obtained last season. By the way, you'd be hard-pressed to find any evidence that suggests Utley's defense is "getting better each and every year". His amazing defensive display in 2005 pretty much shoots down this theory. I hate it when writers say things just to say them. C'mon Sutcliffe, you should know by now that there are entire blogs dedicated to scrutinizing stupid shit sportswriters put out on a daily basis. We live in our mothers' basements, we will find you. Trust me, we have nothing better to do.

I should mention that my mother's basement does have a calendar, though, and it says we're in the month of June, and yet I'm reading an article about the candidacy of a player for MVP...Weird.

But something that was said a few years back really illustrated just how special Utley is. His former teammate, Aaron Rowand, paid him the ultimate compliment by saying Utley was everything you could ask for in a teammate, a friend, a husband, a father and a man. To me, that says everything you need to know about the guy.

How to score big points with Rick Sutcliffe so he writes a column about you deserving to be an MVP candidate:

Step #1- Become his friend.
Step #2- Become a woman's BOYfriend, propose to her until she says yes, and then proceed to marry her.
Step #3- Make a baby with said wife (or perhaps someone else instead, it would appear that either are acceptable).
Step #4- Possess both the X and Y chromosomes.

We are five paragraphs into this column and the only tangible evidence brought forth for Utley's MVP candidacy were four statistics--if you can really call them that-- which were mentioned in parenthesis. Instead, Sutcliffe has opted to go more in depth about boxing and how hitting a baseball with a bad hip is like getting punched in the face by Floyd Mayweather.

It's so hard to repeat as champions, but a lot of people think that, at least on paper, this year's team is better than last year's Phillies. That's an awfully big compliment, considering the 2008 squad won 92 games and the World Series. There are two big reasons people are saying this group is better: The Phillies added Ibanez to the lineup, and, at least so far, it appears they are headed toward an entire season with a healthy Utley. Every special team has at least a couple of special players. Utley certainly fills that role for the Phillies.

Believe it or not, that is the end of the column. Rick "Red Baron" Sutcliffe took time out of thousands of humans' lives to say absolutely nothing... in about 483 words. I think we've all learned a few things here today: first, don't read columns that have the word "MVP" in them until September. Second, don't read Rick Sutcliffe columns that have words in them. And third, Chase Utley sadly remains one of the most underrated players in the game--at least for what he does on the field. He is, however, becoming more and more recognized for being a great four-tool teammate (friend, husband, father, man). I guess that's a start.

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