Chase Utley vs. Billy Martin
Last night, Chase Utley surpassed Billy Martin’s record for most home runs by a second basemen in World Series history. Utley did this in two series, while Martin played in 5. Undoubtedly, Utley is the superior player, both in the regular season and the postseason. Nevertheless, a quick glance at Martin’s numbers reminded of the importance of sample size. For six games in the 1953 World Series, Billy Martin was as good as any second basemen ever to play the game.
For a baseline, consider Utley’s numbers from this World Series. Through five games, he has hit .333 with 3 walks, for an OBP of .429. On top of very solid basic production, all six of Utley’s hits have been for extra bases, 1 double and a record-tying 5 home runs, giving him a slugging percentage of 1.222. He has scored 6 runs and driven in 8. I think we can all concede that Utley is in the midst of an all-time great World Series. In 1953, Martin matched him.
For the six-game series, Martin went 12 for 24 with a walk, hitting .500 with an OBP of .520. He also hit a double, two triples, and two home runs, for a slugging percentage of .958. In Game 2, Martin hit a home run in the bottom of the 7th to tie the game at 2. In Game 6, Martin drove in the game-winning and series-clinching run with a single in the bottom of the ninth. The first World Series MVP award was not given until 1955, so Martin did not receive official recognition for dominating the Dodgers and leading the Yankees to their fifth consecutive World Series win.
Utley is better than Martin. He is a better player and likely a better person. He is, at the moment, having a slightly better World Series. It is worth remembering, though, that if Utley slips at all, Martin can return to the pinnacle of single Series performances by a second basemen. At the least, Martin should remind us that over very short stretches, say 6 games, anything can and does happen.