Utley for MVP?….if not then who?

12 08 2008

Phil's second baseman Chase Utley is one of many in consideration for NL MVP

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is one of many in contention for the 2008 NL MVP

by Jared Smith

There are a lot of uncertainties in the Phillies clubhouse these days.  Will the starting rotation be able to have success in October?  Will the offense stay consistent enough to hold off the Mets and surprising Marlins in the NL East?  However, in the humble opinion of this writer, one of the most perplexing questions surrounding the Phillies these days is whether or not second basemen Chase Utley is a legitimate MVP candidate.

It’s been an up-and-down year for Chase as his laid back attitude has irked the uptight Philly crowd at times.  However the former UCLA Bruin has shown signs of extraordinary power and hitting prowess this season, as evident with his 22 home runs through his team’s first 69 games.  Also, during this same stretch, Utley hit a round-tripper in five consecutive games two separate times!  In addition, his average was well over the .300 mark for virtually the entire first two months of the season, finally dipping below after an 0-for-4 game versus Boston on June 17th.  Basically, with Ryan Howard struggling immensely early on, Utley carried the offense for the first half of the Phillies schedule.

However, as most baseball experts were practically handing Utley the MVP on a silver platter in June, his season took a turn for the worse as the dog days fell hard upon the once sweet-swinging second baseman.  Since July 1st Utley has hit a very mediocre .274 while driving in only 17 RBI’s, scoring only 19 runs and hitting a meager 7 long balls.  However because of his stellar first half, his numbers are still very respectable as the slugger currently sits on 30 home runs and has leveled-off his average right around the .300 mark.  Barring another prolonged slump, Utley will most likely finish the season with 100-plus RBI’s, 100-plus runs, and right around 40 doubles.  If Utley can reach 42 home runs, which seems doubtful at this point, he will tie Rogers Hornsby (1925) and Davey Johnson (1973) for the most home runs ever hit by a second baseman in a single season.  Utley also has a shot to break Hornsby’s record as the last second baseman to lead the league in round-trippers.  He currently trails Adam Dunn, Carlos Quentin and fellow teammate Ryan Howard by two in that category.  Hornsby accomplished this feat twice (1922 and 1925).

So as the numbers prove, Utley has had the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde season, but the real question is does the roller-coaster ride warrant MVP consideration?  My first instincts say no, however after looking at the rest of the field from which to choose from, he might just win the darn thing by default as nobody else has really stepped up in the National League this season as a clear-cut MVP favorite.  Also, if the Phillies do hold off the Mets and upstart Marlins for their second consecutive NL East crown, it will most likely mean Utley did his job in solidifying the middle of the Phil’s lineup down the stretch, allowing sluggers like Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell to do their job with runners on base.  In addition, Utley has done a nice job sealing up the middle of the Phil’s infield providing a capable double-play partner for the 2007 Gold Glove shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

The rest of the potentials are as followed…..Alfonso Soriano (the preseason favorite) is currently a non-factor due to a large a chunk of his season being spent on the disabled list, however that could change with a strong September push coupled with the Cubs winning the NL Central.  Albert Pujols (the other preseason favorite) probably isn’t even the most valuable player on his team as Ryan Ludwick is having a breakout season with 29 home runs and 84 RBI’s while boasting a .306 average hitting behind King Albert.  The rest of the NL Central field is very slim, you have to throw Ryan Braun’s name into the mix but he is currently out of the lineup with a rib cage injury and his numbers are very comparable to Utley’s as the two are currently tied in home runs and RBI’s.  However, if Braun can find a way to stay healthy down the stretch, he could make his case for MVP under the condition that he continues to carry the Brewers offensively into the playoffs AND another member of his team which I will mention later, falters in September. 

Moving on to some of the other pennant hopefuls, there aren’t any offensive players on the Mets, Dodgers or D-backs that are even within an earshot of MVP consideration.  I would throw Manny into the argument, but the history books tell us that a player has never won an MVP award the same year that they were traded in-season, and who am I to argue with history?  So at this point, aside from Manny, who does deserve some consideration IF and ONLY IF Los Angeles makes the playoffs, I would have to consider Ryan Howard as a more serious MVP candidate then anyone else on those three teams, even with the slugger’s 150-plus strikeouts at the plate and 14 errors at first base.

The only other NL pennant contender, the upstart Florida Marlins, also don’t have that standout player who is getting it done on a nightly basis as the club from SoFla is spreading out the offense quite evenly.  In all likelihood, the entire Marlin infield will finish the season with more than 25 home runs, a feat that has never been accomplished by any one team’s infield in the history of Major League baseball.  Currently, the only Fish infielder who has not reached the 25 home run plateau is third baseman Jorge Cantu who has 20.

So, that leaves only one more crop of potentials to consider, the pitchers.  I know pitchers don’t win the MVP often (Dennis Eckersley in 1992 was the last to do it) but with the watered down list of potential MVP’s on the offensive side, all options must be considered.  Over on the mound, only two hurlers in my opinion, are making legitimate arguments for MVP consideration. Diamondback ace Brandon Webb is leading the majors in wins (17), and is 4th in the NL in ERA (2.88).  If the Snakes can hold off the Dodgers in the NL West, Webb should definitely garner some attention.  Over in the NL Central, CC Sabathia is still undefeated in a Brewers uniform (6-0), since coming over in a trade from Cleveland on July 3rd.  Even more remarkable, in seven starts with the Brew Crew, Sabathia has pitched 4 complete games, which is tied for the NL lead with fellow teammate Ben Sheets.  Due to this remarkable statistic which truly proves how valuable CC is to his new team, I will go out on a limb right now and say if the Brewers can somehow find a way to dethrone the incumbent Cubs for the NL Central crown, then Sabathia will win the NL MVP.  

So there you have it, the NL MVP race completely handicapped from top to bottom.  Currently, there is no definitive favorite, but I do expect somebody to man-up and take the reins once the pennant chases heat up in September.  However, if the season ended today, I would shockingly give the nod to the inconsistent Utley, who deserves to win it right now solely because unlike any of the other players mentioned, Chase’s team has not won a game when he was not in the lineup (0-2).  As weak of a statistic as that may be, right now it is the only thing separating Utley from the rest of the pack dwellers contending for this year’s Senior Circuit MVP.

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7 responses

13 08 2008
Jesse

If the voting were at this point of the season, I’d say it’d be between Sabathia and Ludwick. Ludwick has kept his team in the race, despite injuries from other key players on the team. And Sabathia, like you mentioned, has been LIGHTS OUT since joining the Brewers! If C.C. can keep up with the pace he’s set for himself in a Brewers uniform, I think the MVP should definitely go to him…because like you said “there is no definitive favorite.”

13 08 2008
Michael Gill

Speaking of LIGHTS OUT…..If he stays perfect, is he in the conversation ?

13 08 2008
Michael DeLuca

@Gill

I was thinking the same thing when I read the article. I think Lidge would probably be the Phils team MVP as of right now. I don’t think it’s too far fetched to think he could be in the talks come season’s end.

Hanley Ramirez and David Wright are two other names I haven’t seen mentioned. My pick, at this point, would still be Berkman…but they don’t award MVP’s to non playoff players too often any more.

13 08 2008
John

I think Howard is more worthy if the Phillies make the playoffs. He is batting .240…..but he was hitting .160 as late as mid-June and he produces at an astounding level in terms of run production and win shares. Utley looks injured and his second half has been average. (Both stink on defense, though)

13 08 2008
Michael Gill

Funny, I thought Utley was just starting to heat up.

13 08 2008
Kevin Collins

Albert Pujols always has to be in the conversation. He is hitting .345, with an OBP at an amazing .459 and he only has struck out 42 times this year. compare that to ludwick’s .309 avg, .384 OBP, and 100 strike outs. I’d take Pujols’ number over that any day. not to mention Pujols’ glove (although Ludwick is no slouch either with the leather)

25 08 2008
yo sup

berkman, pujols, holliday, ludwick, braun, wright, hanley, carlos lee- all legit shots at mvp. utley has been not very good since early june, so utley clearly doesn’t deserve it.

The answers to your questions at the beginning of this article: No way

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