Chase Utley: One of the Best Ever

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ranking hall of famers

 Discussion over Hall of Fame candidacy is always interesting, but I think things often get a bit subjective. For the sake of simplicity, I will not be ranking these Hall of Fame candidates based on their Hall of Fame merit, rather their pure merit as a baseball player that contributes to winning. I will not be considering factors like playoff performance, general impact on the welfare of the game, etc., despite the fact that I believe that said accomplishments do matter for a hall of fame candidacy. 

The most simple way to rank players is to look at them at their peak. By peak, I do not mean the season in which the player produced the most. For example, in 2010, Josh Hamilton had a fantastic season. He put up a 175 wRC+ in 133 games and played good corner outfield defense, good for an 8.4 fWAR. Was Josh Hamilton really an 8 win player? Of course not. His fantastic 2010 was bookended by some very nice seasons and one very mediocre season in 2009, which is a strong indication that his 2010 output was a result of overperformance in a small sample. A much more reasonable look at his true talent would be his statistical production from 2007-2012, in which he posted a 135 wRC+ and 25.1 fWAR in 737 games. His regression after the 2012 season is much more easily explained by aging (among other things). I won't define a player's peak in some strict window, like looking at a player's best 7 year stretch or his production from ages 24-30. I will try to just use context to identify when changes in production are much more easily explained by genuine drop offs/improvements in player talent. 

Tier 1

Alex Rodriguez

"True" WAR/150 Estimate: 8.4

Probably the best prospect of all time, ARod debuted at age 18.  He struggled a little in his first few stints in the majors, and was sent down to Tacoma where he absolutely dominated. In classic ARod fashion, he came back to the MLB at age 20 and hit a smooth 36 home runs, hitting at 59% above the league average and putting up a 9 win season. ARod really was the perfect baseball player. You can't ask for much more than a shortstop with monumental power, great defense and fantastic control of the plate. 

In order to estimate ARod's true peak, I will have to do some mixing and matching. His defense fell off considerably after being traded to the Yankees and moving to third base. Some of this has to do with age, and some has to do with the fact that he wasn't a natural third baseman. I want to evaluate him as a shortstop, so I will just look at his defensive performance pre-trade. His offense is a slightly different story. While he started off with a bang at the plate, he wasn't quite as good in the next 3 seasons. Don't get me wrong, he was still one of the best players in all of baseball, but he wasn't quite that guy. Given a significant spike in walk rate at age 24, a very reasonable breakout age, I would say that his offensive peak began in the year 2000. He had his final MVP season in 2007 before slightly declining in 2008. However, since I don't want to cherry pick too much, so I will include his 2008 season when I quickly get a snapshot of his production. Combining his defensive and offensive peak will basically be an evaluation of how good he was around 2002.

From 2000-2008, ARod hit 305/401/591 in 6233 plate appearances. Given average defense and baserunning, this would make him a 6.8 WAR/150 guy. Looking at some hazy total zone numbers and more accurate UZR numbers, he was probably a +5 defender at shortstop. With the positional adjustment at short, let's just say he was a +12 defender. He was also a nice baserunner, probably worth around 3 runs annually. 

Post-Roid Barry Bonds

"True" WAR/150 Estimate: 12.1

When Barry Bonds was consuming a balanced breakfast, no other player since integration touches him. Not Willie Mays, not Mike Trout, no one. From 2001-2004, Bonds walked 30% of the time and struck out just 9% while posting a comical 0.460 isolated power in 2443 plate appearances. This was all good for a 232 wRC+. The dude's offensive output was 132% higher than the league average. Despite his old age, he was an above average corner outfielder (still below average overall on defense) and broke even as a baserunner. Everyone knows just how good Barry Bonds was after he started taking steroids, but it is always fun to revisit. Bonds' performance did slow down after 2004, but he was 40 years old and dealt with a lot of injuries, so I think it is fair to say that his 2001-2004 stretch is very close to how truly good he was. He also had probably the best pure playoff run in MLB history in 2002, slashing 356/581/978 in 17 playoff games, almost single handedly carrying the Giants to a ring. 

This will be expanded on. 

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