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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Utley, J.Roll and the NL MVP 

SI just published a nice profile of Jimmy Rollins talking about J.Roll’s role as a leader on the Phillies and as a spark-plug in the Phillies offense. J.Roll has come a long way since his first few seasons in the majors, when he struck out 100+ times a season and proved to be a problematic lead-off hitter for the Phillies: while fast and powerful, he didn’t give the Phillies chances to score because he didn’t get on base and make contact the way good lead-off hitters do.

Now J.Roll is quite a weapon for the Phillies, something that I think Tony Gwynn, who mentored J.Roll in the off-season in 2003-2004 to cut down on the strikeouts and make better contact, deserves some credit for. Since cutting down on the strikeouts, he’s seen his production shoot sky-high:

Runs Created:
2001: 96
2002: 72
2003: 76

Runs Created / Post-Gwynn:
2004: 108
2005: 100
2006: 114
2007: 107

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF).
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.

Almost certainly, J.Roll will eclipse his career-high for Runs Created that he set last season with 120 or more in 2007. J.Roll has been having a great season and has been mentioned as a possible MVP candidate. While I’d love to see the Phillies have another MVP on their roster, I don’t think Jimmy Rollins is the most valuable player on the Phillies roster, let alone in the N.L. I think the Phillies real MVP candidate is Chase Utley:

First, some numbers … Both J.Roll and Utley are leading the Phillies in Win Shares with 23 … That’s about seven behind the Mets David Wright, the NL leader. However, Utley’s injury means that he’s contributed more to the Phillies in a shorter time. Utley is 13 Win Shares Above Bench, while J.Roll is 10. Both are impressive figures, but Utley’s is more significant.

If you care about clutch-hitting, then Utley again has the edge: Utley is hitting .309 BA/RISP, while J.Roll has a .266 BA/RISP.

J.Roll, while a more disciplined and dangerous hitter, currently leads the Phillies in outs by a wide margin: 468, 74 more than Aaron Rowand. True, J.Roll has the most plate appearances on the team by far (691, 90 more than Rowand), but that is still significant. J.Roll, batting lead-off, has gotten lots of chances to put the ball into play. More opportunities, more chances. Utley, who has 94 Runs Created to J.Roll’s 107, did that with more than 160 fewer plate appearances. As a consequence, Utley leads the Phillies in Runs Created per 27 Outs: 8.5, better than J.Roll’s 6.5, Ryan Howard’s 7.4, and Pat Burrell’s 7.8.

Utley and J.Roll are both middle infielders, which is interesting. Traditionally, the second baseman and shortstop were the guys who were fielders and slap-hitters. The recent phenomenon of the middle infielder as power hitter has transformed the position. Utley leads N.L. second basemen by a wide margin in RC/27: 8.5 to the Braves Johnson at 7.2 and the Dodgers Jeff Kent at 6.5. He’s clearly the most productive NL 2B at the plate.

J.Roll has more competition. Remarkably, the top four NL shortstops are all in the N.L. East:

RC/27: Shortstops –
H. Ramirez (FLA): 8.5
E. Renteria (ATL): 7.2
J. Rollins (PHILA): 6.5
J. Reyes (NYM): 6.3

These are all terrific players, and J.Roll has more competition than Utley to be the best at his position, but J.Roll is one of the first amongst equals. Utley is the first without any equal.

Oh, and defensively, there is little question that Chase Utley is probably the best defensive second baseman in the N.L. J.Roll is in the middle of the pack, probably not as good as Reyes or Ramirez. In terms of Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 Innings played, Chase Utley holds the edge here too: 3.300 to 2.899.

One area where J.Roll holds a decisive edge is in speed: Chase Utley is a good base-runner and is quick, but J.Roll is a monster on the bases. He leads the NL with 17 triples and has taken 30 of 36 bases in steals. No contest.

I think Chase Utley is the 2007 NL MVP and I wonder how much his injury will cost him. He and J.Roll are deserving candidates to be sure, but to me the numbers are clear: Chase Utley is the best player the Phillies have. Period.

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It is great that the Phillies have two players that are very worthy of being considered at MVP's. they each bring their own strengths on the field and off the field.

IF ONLY, J. Roll could get 40 more walks in a year, he would definitely be the prime candidates as best player in the league, if not the MVP. He has come a long way as a player

Utley, is equal to or better than J. Roll. His on-base percentage and ability to hit when needed are great.

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