Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is one of baseball’s very best players over the last half-decade. An elite defender and on base machine, he makes his team better and his teammates richer. Without Chutley to around to pad his juicy RBI total, maybe Ryan Howard doesn’t land a contact quite so franchise-crippling.

Utley is back being Utley in 2011, getting on base more than any other second baseman in the National League. After missing the first 50 games of the year he has already amassed 2.7 Win Above Replacement, putting him on a nearly 9 WAR/700 plate appearances pace. Very impressive but it also highlights one of WAR’s great strengths – the value placed on remaining healthy.

Wins Above Replacement is a catch-all counting stat which values offensive production, defense, and playing time with consideration given to the position played. It might well be the perfect counting stat and it is one we reference often here at Getting Blanked.

The playing time feature is key, as a player like Utley can and must be penalized for missing time with injuries. Every time Chase nurses a wound, somebody like Wilson AlvarezValdez needs to play second base. In that very situation this seasons, Valdez posted an ugly .246/.281/.303 line until Chase Utley took over every day.

We can’t ignore Utley’s shortcoming – his health – when considering his dominant play. He clearly offers so much for his club that even when playing just 100 games this year, he still ranks as one of the best second basemen in baseball. We can only count what he does when using a number like WAR, as it credits him for being on the field.

WAR works both ways as it credits a healthy player like Prince Fielder, who hasn’t played fewer than 157 games in any of his 5 full big league seasons. He ranks just behind a player like Kevin Youkilis by WAR, despite Youkilis being a far superior base runner and defender. Youk only plays 145 games a year, meaning the Red Sox must dig into their bench for reinforcements while Youk makes his annual trip to the DL.

As players age, their inability to remain healthy really started to take its toll. While Chase Utley remains one of the most productive players in baseball now, health concerns and decline go hand-in-hand. He is certainly not the only member of the Phillies in that boat. They’re a team that must win now while the Wins Above Replacement still roll in from their aging core.