Beast of the NL East: Hanley Ramirez or Chase Utley?

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Beast of the NL East: Hanley Ramirez or Chase Utley?
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A few weeks back, respected columnist Joe Posnanski took his shot at projecting the 2010 Major League Baseball season. 

He called his projection system perfect, because it was flawed, pointless, and will quickly be forgotten about. 

Hey, that could all be true. 

For now, at least, we'll remember. And we'll talk about one pertinent subject in Posnanski's article. 

No disagreements with Posnanski on his projection that the Phillies will win 96 games; that may even be a little generous. 

No harm saying Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels are the best one-two punch in the division, either. 

Attention caught on Posnanski's claim that Florida's Hanley Ramirez is the best player in the division, though. 

While claiming Ramirez to be the division's cream of the crop, he mentions Chase Utley, David Wright, Ryan Howard, and Ryan Zimmerman as the best of the rest in the NL East. 

This much is clear, however: Ramirez and Utley are the best this division, and maybe this league, has to offer. 

This argument won't be an attempt to discover who could be better in the future, who would make a better fantasy pick, or who is better because they signed a more value-laden contract. This is about what player you would pick if you had one chance to build a new team and had to win the championship as fast as possible. 

So who is the true beast of the NL East? 

The model of consistency, Utley, 31, has produced four 100-RBI seasons in his first five years as a full-time starter. 

His career .295/.379/.523 slash line isn't too bad, either. 

He's already a four-time All-Star, and, yes, he does have a ring. 

He is seen as the Phillies' undisputed leader in the clubhouse, even though there is no such thing as LORP (Leadership Over Replacement Player for those of you playing at home). 

On the field, Utley makes an impact that few players can claim to making. 

In the past three years, Utley has posted WAR seasons (Wins Above Replacement) of 8.0, 8.1, and 7.6. The past two seasons, that has put him behind only St. Louis' Albert Pujols in the National League. 

Utley is also a magnificent defender, as the stats back him up.

According to UZR/150, which is zone rating per 150 games, Utley has been far above average at second base. In 2007, he had a UZR/150 of 21.0, followed by seasons of 21.4 and and 11.3 in 2008 and 2009 respectively. 

Defensively, he's one of the best in baseball. 

It can also be easy to forget that Utley stole 23 bases last year, a high-water mark for his career, and is widely regarded as one of the best base runners in the game. 

According to John Dewan, author of many books on baseball, Utley has gained 96 bases over the average in the past five years, most of any player in the National League and behind only Grady Sizemore of the Cleveland Indians

Yet Utley still continues to be disrespected by some, especially in the MVP voting each year. 

Last year, his eighth-place finish in the balloting put him behind players like Andre Ethier, Pablo Sandoval, and Troy Tulowitzki. 

While they are all fine players, none of them have the impact to their team like Utley does. 

Flip him with Ryan Howard in the Phillies' lineup, and his RBI total would probably go up by 25 or 30.

Present that to the mostly dense Baseball Writers Association of America and they'd have Utley rated higher every year. Sadly, few of the members of the BBWAA are delving deeper than the old BA, HR, and RBI debate held every year. If they could look a little harder, they'd know the truth about one of the best players of this generation. 

Ramirez is undoubtedly one of the best young players in the game. At 26 years of age, his impact on the Marlins' roster has been significant.

He hit a career-high .342 last season, with 24 homers and and 106 RBI. 

Mark up second place in the MVP voting, please. 

It's funny, because while posting a .948 OPS in 2007 and a .940 OPS in 2008, it took until 2009 to get him some serious recognition in the voting. 

Why? Maybe it's because his RBI total went from 81 and 67 in 2007 and 2008 respectively to 101 in 2009. 

The argument about the lack of brain power of the BBWAA is another story for another day, though. 

Ramirez is getting better by the day, a scary proposition for Phillies fans and for the rest of the league.

He struck out 21 fewer times last year than he did in 2008, raised his OBP, and got slightly better defensively to the point where he no longer hurts his team. 

His defensive numbers are still less than stellar, however. His UZR/150 numbers from the last three years: -20.9, -0.6, -0.3. Eighty-two errors in the last four years will do that you. 

He's going to have to be a little bit better at the plate patience-wise, as his walk percentage dipped to 9.4 last year after a decent 13.3 showing in 2008. 

If the balls aren't falling in for Ramirez, he could go through spells where he scuffles to reach base. 

When he does reach base, he can be a threat to run. He had 27 steals last year, down from 35 in 2008 and 51 the two years prior. 

The dip in steals is likely the Marlins' plan to protect their young superstar from potential injury on the bases, as he has struggled with hamstring and groin injuries early in his career. 

And for the record, Ramirez's WAR numbers over the past three years can't match Utley's: 5.7, 7.3, 7.2 simply doesn't compare to Utley's 8.0, 8.1, and 7.6. 

While Ramirez has proven to be one of the best young players in the game, he still has a long way to go to be up to the caliber of someone like Utley. 

Utley hasn't proven himself just to be the best player in the NL East. 

Besides Pujols, Utley has proven himself to be the best player in the National League. 

So, Joe, we appreciate the kindness in your 2010 projections. 

You just got one thing wrong. 

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