San Diego Padres v Philadelphia Phillies

The list of baseball things Chase Utley does well is long. He’s a very good baseball player, you see. As a good baseball player, Chase Utley does this important things well: he hits for power and is unfailingly patient and plays good defense. It’s a nice combination, the combination which led him to one of the better peaks in recent memory.

Now 34-years old, Chase Utley is on the downside of his career. As a second baseman, injuries are taking their toll and the ageing process begins rather early. Utley hasn’t played 120 games in a season since 2009, the last time the Phillies played in the World Series.

For the first time in two years, Chase Utley is healthy to start the season. As one expects from Chase Utley, he’s playing well. He’s also doing other Chase Utley things. While he hasn’t been hit by a pitch yet this year (his calling card), he did swipe two bases in a win over the Mets on Tuesday night. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t thrown out. Stealing bases is one of the many things Chase Utley does very, very well.

No player has stolen bases more efficiently than Chase Utley in the expansion era. In fact, he’s close to becoming the first player to steal bases at a 90% success rate. That’s good, I assure you.

As it currently stands, Chase Utley is the most efficient base stealer of the modern era. Since unsuccessful steal attempts were only partially applied during the early days of baseball, comparing Utley to Ty Cobb is hardly fair. But among Expansion Era thieves with 100 successful steals, Utley has done it better than anyone else.

Rk Player SB% SB CS Tm
1 Chase Utley 89.855% 124 14 PHI
2 Carlos Beltran 86.686% 306 47 KCR-TOT-NYM-STL
3 Jayson Werth 86.667% 104 16 TOR-LAD-PHI-WSN
4 Nate McLouth 86.325% 101 16 PIT-ATL-TOT-BAL
5 Kazuo Matsui 85.000% 102 18 NYM-TOT-COL-HOU
6 Eric Byrnes 84.868% 129 23 OAK-TOT-ARI-SEA
7 Pokey Reese 84.706% 144 26 CIN-PIT-BOS
8 Tim Raines 84.696% 808 146 MON-CHW-NYY-OAK-TOT-FLA
9 Eric Davis 84.096% 349 66 CIN-LAD-TOT-DET-BAL-STL-SFG
10 Henry Cotto 83.333% 130 26 CHC-NYY-SEA-TOT
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/10/2013.

Like Carlos Beltran, Utley is lauded for “picking his spots” as a base thief rather than stealing in volume. No doubt many a fan and coach alike wishes Utley would put his base stealing prowess to better use. Instead, Utley runs when he knows he will be successful and the Phillies are better for it.

According to Fangraphs, Chase Utley’s overall base running is valued at more than 44 runs for his career – four full wins if you subscribe to the 10 runs = 1 win standard. Baseball Reference thinks his base running is worth 35 runs for his career. Baseball Prospectus, long the stingiest when it comes to handing out runs to on-field achievement, rates his base running as just under 19 runs for his career.

Base running is a small yet significant part of Utley five tool attack. His short swing generates plenty of power and he doesn’t really strike out a lot. He’s really good. He isn’t good because he steals bases like a ninja but it certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s one of the things helped Utley quietly build a borderline Hall of Fame career.

He probably won’t get it, barring a late career surge of unexpected health. Second base in Cooperstown is a tough nut to crack and Utley’s big number counting bonafides are lacking. But his peak, according to WAR, stacks up favorably with just about anybody. The Phillies might be collapsing around him but Utley, as he has been for a decade, is the unflappable core of the team.

Courtesy of Crashburn Alley