During the course of my annual looks at the Hall of Fame ballot (so far I’ve done, and , for those interested), I’ll get a decent number of questions that seem basic to hardcore Hall of Fame fans while not being something that’s on the radar of the casual sports fan. A good example of this is: What is a peak candidate?
Chase Utley is a good example of a peak candidate.
At first glance, his career numbers paint the picture of a very good player who isn’t quite up the standard of a Hall of Famer, especially if we’re talking about traditional numbers.
Utley was a career .275 hitter with 1,885 hits, 411 doubles, 58 triples, 259 home runs, 1,025 RBI and 1,103 runs scored. He was a good baserunner and swiped 154 bags in his career. He led the league in hit by pitch three times and runs scored once, but that was it for his black ink. He was a six-time All-Star who won four Silver Sluggers. He won a World Series ring and appeared in the Fall Classic three times. He finished in the top 10 of MVP voting three times, but topped out at seventh.
That’s a really good player and my hunch is this sort of resume in a 1960s/1970s vacuum doesn’t sniff Hall of Fame consideration.
Utley was, though, a late bloomer with an extremely high ceiling who packed a major punch in his prime. Due to not being a full-time player until his age-26 season, a few injuries and being mostly a part-time player late in his career, Utley was not, at all, a compiler. It should be pointed out, also, that since it isn’t the 1970s anymore, on-base percentage and slugging percentage are known to be more valuable than batting average and Utley had a .358 OBP along with .465 slugging, good for 117 OPS+ in his career. Still, this isn’t moving the needle enough without accounting for the peak performance.
Was his peak high enough to overcome his lack of benchmark counting stats, such as 2,000 hits, 500 doubles or even 300 home runs? Let’s paint that picture.
Utley’s upper-tier peak was five seasons. He had several other productive seasons, but I’m going to work with five years where he was a Hall of Fame-level performer. Those years were 2005-09.
Here was his average season for five glorious years: 151 games, .301/.388/.535, .922 OPS, 135 OPS+, 175 hits, 39 doubles, five triples, 29 home runs, 101 RBI, 111 runs, 15 stolen bases.
He topped 30 homers three times,…