Last week, we introduced what we’re calling the Hall of Pretty Damn Good Players, a repository for all of those terrific-but-underappreciated contributors who probably won’t get recognized by their sport’s official Hall of Fame. We kicked things off with Kenny Lofton, who was unceremoniously dropped from the baseball writers’ ballot in 2013 despite being one of history’s best center fielders by JAWS (an average of career and peak wins above replacement).1 Lofton deserved far better — which happens to make him a great prototype for the HoPDGP phenomenon.
In other words, the players who belong in our Hall have slim real-world chances in spite of great advanced metrics. To help quantify that, we made a model that predicts a player’s Cooperstown probability based on traditional measures of Hall-worthiness. (Lofton’s traditional Hall probability was just 28 percent.) This week’s inductee won’t be eligible for voting until the 2024 ballot, but his conventional odds are even longer — our model gives former Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley a mere 22 percent Hall of Fame probability.
|Category||Value||Rank at Pos.|
|Black Ink Test||3||52|
|Gray Ink Test||42||51|
Utley’s counting stats would not immediately suggest Cooperstown potential. He didn’t even clear 2,000 hits (ending his career with 1,885), much less the traditional 3,000-hit benchmark that signals obvious Hall of Fame merit. The same goes for his home runs — Utley hit just 259 — and even batting average — he had a lifetime .275 mark. Those kinds of numbers are more Bret Boone than George Brett.
But Utley was a master of all the little things that add up to help teams win ballgames.
Despite the unimpressive career average, Utley had an on-base percentage of .358, which was 23 points higher than the league average during his career, and his slugging percentage of .465 was 42 points higher than average. His lifetime walk rate, strikeout rate and isolated power were all better than average as well. On top of that, Utley got plunked by 204 pitches in his career, which ranks eighth-most all-time. Batting-wise, that all made Utley worth 176.5 more runs than an average player.
Despite so-so speed, Utley was highly effective — if, um, “aggressive” — out on the basepaths, too. He stole 154 bases and was thrown out only 22 times, good for a success rate of 88 percent — the best ever among players with at least 100 steals. Utley also took the extra base successfully 54 percent of the time, much higher than the MLB average of 40 percent over his career. In total, Utley’s base-running was worth 72.6 more runs than average.
And on defense at second, Utley was much better than the early scouting reports predicted during his prospect days. He led National League second basemen in assists twice (2008 and 2014) and in plays made per game three times. He turned 993 double plays, which ranks 30th all-time at second base. The advanced metrics2 think that Utley was worth 112.2 more runs than an average second baseman, a position that itself carries an adjustment of 32.7 runs above average. Overall, Utley’s defense added 144.9 runs more than an average player.
All told, Utley is estimated to have been about 394 runs better than an average major leaguer over his career, the seventh-most of any primary second baseman since 1901.3 And it all came from Utley being good-to-great at a lot of different things, adding up to make him more than the sum of his parts:
|Hits on balls in play||53rd||
|Hitting for power||76th||
That helps explain how Utley can rank 10th on the JAWS list for second baseman since 1901 despite that measly 22 percent Hall of Fame probability. And subjectively, Utley’s case will also be helped by the hustling, F-bomb-dropping fan-favorite persona he cultivated while leading Philadelphia to the 2008 World Series title and five straight postseason appearances from 2007 to 2011.
Utley was the best player on those Phillies by WAR — fitting, because they were teams rife with HoPDGP candidates. Aside from pitchers Roy Halladay (who spent four seasons with the Phillies and was inducted into Cooperstown last summer) and Pedro Martinez (who played for Philadelphia in 2009 and was inducted in 2015), there weren’t any other high-probability Hall of Famers on the team during that era. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, Utley’s longtime double-play partner, ranks highest among the remaining Phillies with a 44 percent chance; next up behind him and Utley is first baseman Ryan Howard at 13 percent.
|Wins Above Replacement|
Much like Utley, this was a crew of good players who either lacked the traditional benchmarks or didn’t have the staying power to build a slam-dunk Hall case. Starter Cliff Lee, for instance, was a Cy Young winner and one of the most dominant postseason pitchers ever, but he didn’t have a breakout season until age 26 and recorded only 143 career wins (which would be the fewest of any full-time starter in the HOF). Lee dropped off the ballot in 2020 with 0.5 percent of the vote. Howard was tracking for the Hall of Fame early on, with 286 home runs in his first 6½ full seasons. But an injury suffered in the 2011 postseason was the beginning of the end for Howard’s career. (And in truth, the prevalence of tactics like the defensive shift had already begun to erode his value.) Pitcher Cole Hamels and outfielders Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth were consistently valuable performers, but none is anywhere near the Hall of Fame JAWS average for his position.
And yet, despite the lack of Cooperstown-bound star power, Philadelphia had the second-best record in baseball over that five-season stretch, trailing only the New York Yankees. Philly did it with basically one Hall of Famer playing a truly significant role; by comparison, New York did it with at least three (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina), plus possibly CC Sabathia4 and three others who would be very good Hall bets if not for performance-enhancing drug charges (Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte and Robinson Cano). Few teams in history have ever sustained a better five-year stretch with so few future Hall of Famers in the mix.
Utley was a big part of that. He started in 919 total victories over his career, including 787 with Philadelphia, helping engineer the franchise’s best-ever five-season stretch.5 And he — like most of his teammates — did it without compiling any of the flashy statistical milestones that traditionally get a player into the Hall of Fame. That means Utley will probably have to settle for a place in the Hall of Pretty Damn Good Players, even if he was one of the game’s ultimate under-the-radar winners.