Chipper Jones Out for the Year with a Torn ACL, Career in Jeopardy; Just How Good Was He?

Yesterday, Chipper Jones suffered an ACL tear while making a spectacular play at third base; he’s almost certainly out for the rest of the year, and considering that he was retiring considering retirement at the end of the season, there’s a possibility that we have seen his last game in a major league uniform. (Jones’s agent has said he “doesn’t believe [Chipper] will simply retire without attempting to first rehab the injury,” so this is just preliminary speculation at this point.) Chipper Jones spent much of the year in the offensive doldrums, but had begun to heat up in the month of August, where he was 12-for-30 with three homers in nine games for the Braves. So the Braves will miss his bat. But they’ll miss his presence even more.

Chipper Jones was drafted by General Manager Bobby Cox as the first overall pick in 1990, famously going ahead of fireballer Todd Van Poppel in a draft-day override. Since then, as Jack Moore has written, he has been the greatest franchise player — has provided the most value to the original team that drafted him* — in modern history. His former teammates Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz will probably go into the Hall first, but he’ll be remembered as the franchise’s best hitter since Henry Aaron.

(*As reader Blue points out in the comments section, this should read, “… has provided the most value to the original team that drafted him with the first overall selection in the draft.”)

He’s had a strange career, though. His career began with an ACL tear, just before the start of the 1994 season, and looks like it might end on one. He won one MVP, and received votes in 11 other seasons, but never again finished higher than sixth. Until his 36th birthday, he never led the league in any traditional stat, until he finally won a batting title in 2008. (As a result, using the old Bill James Hall of Fame tools, he’s way above the Hall of Fame norm in HOF Standards and HOF Monitor, but way below the norm in Grey Ink and Black Ink.) From his rookie year in 1995 until 2003, Chipper Jones played in more than 94% of his team’s games every year; since then, he only once played in as many as 140 games. This will mark his first trip to the DL since July 2008, but since then, there have been ten separate occasions on which he has missed multiple consecutive games. While he’s been one of the best-hitting third basemen of all time, his defense has been below-average at best. And his admitted marital infidelity is pretty hard to defend, as well.

Still, as he’s gotten older, he’s been an unselfish leader on the team. In 2002, just three years after his MVP, he voluntarily moved from third base to left field to accommodate the team’s acquisition of Vinny Castilla; then, two years after playing his last inning at third base, he moved back. The left field move is commonly blamed for his numerous leg problems over the years, as they began to crop up shortly after he began playing his new position. On numerous occasions, he has offered to restructure his contract with the Braves to increase their payroll flexibility.

By now, most fans and baseball writers have gotten used to the idea of Chipper Jones as a Hall of Famer, so he probably won’t run into the problems that Ron Santo has had. But they may not realize quite how good Chipper has been. Last offseason, blogger Mac Thomason noted that, in Lee Sinins’ Sabermetric Encyclopedia last offseason, Jones led all third basemen in the modern era in Runs Created per Game and was in a virtual dead heat with Eddie Mathews at the top of the list for Runs Created Above Average. Chipper is 37th in all-time WAR, and sixth among third basemen (seventh if you consider Alex Rodriguez a 3B), behind Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, Brooks Robinson, and George Brett.

Thomason goes on to say:

Chipper is the greatest player in Atlanta Braves history — and they’ve had some pretty good players. He’s clearly ahead of Dale Murphy, and even ahead of Hank Aaron (not counting the Milwaukee years). The only player who could have a case, because they’re so different, is Greg Maddux, and Chipper’s Braves career is twice as long. Scored purely as a hitter, he might be the best third baseman of all-time; he has the highest slugging percentage of any third baseman, and the highest OPS, and is third or fourth in on-base (depending upon if you count Edgar Martinez). I’d still rank Schmidt first, for a number of reasons, but second is muddled, and Chipper has a pretty good argument.

Whatever the future holds, he has had an incredible career.

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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.

49 Responses to “Chipper Jones Out for the Year with a Torn ACL, Career in Jeopardy; Just How Good Was He?”

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  1. tdotsports1 says:

    Chipper is a legit first-ballot guy no?

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    • In my opinion, yes. (But I’m not exactly sure what the distinction between “first-ballot” and “second-ballot” is. I don’t buy the antiquated notion that you shouldn’t vote for someone on their first ballot because Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb weren’t unanimously elected. If someone’s a Hall of Famer, I think you should vote for them, whether it’s their first or their twelfth time on the ballot.)

      Chipper’s one of the six or seven best third baseman ever, in the history of baseball. There should be no debate that the top seven players at any position on the field should be Hall of Famers. Then again, the eighth-best is on the outside looking in, too. Induct Santo, already!

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      • Jason B says:

        “But I’m not exactly sure what the distinction between “first-ballot” and “second-ballot” is. I don’t buy the antiquated notion that you shouldn’t vote for someone on their first ballot because Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb weren’t unanimously elected. If someone’s a Hall of Famer, I think you should vote for them, whether it’s their first or their twelfth time on the ballot.”

        Hear, hear. What he said.

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  2. deadpool says:

    Chipper hadn’t announced a retirement yet, so it seems a little extra presumptuous. That said you left off second or first ranked switch hitter. The only .300 avg switch hitter with 300 (400) HR.

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    • It’s certainly presumptuous to assume that he’ll never play again. But it’s not impossible. The surgery to repair his knee is a serious procedure without a 100% success rate, and the rehab required after the surgery will be an intensive, taxing process. If all went well, he likely wouldn’t be ready to play baseball until next summer.

      Chipper surely doesn’t want to see his career end like this, which is why he’s told his friends and his agent that he wants to try rehab. But he was already considering retirement before this, because of all the pain he’s played through, and the road back to baseball will be a long one from here. He’s not retired yet by any means. But even if he returns to baseball, almost all of his career is already behind him.

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  3. Jeffrey Gross says:

    The best proof of how good Chipper Jones (and Scott Rolen) truly is (are):

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  4. Dan In Philly says:

    FWIW, I remember when I first started following saber blogs about 7 or 8 years ago, there was a passing reference for the interesting case of Chipper Jones’ HOF credentials. The implication was, I believe, that at the time he was not a shoo-in. I wonder why now. Maybe the projection systems back then did not forecast his 30s to be as productive as they ended up being???

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    • Anon21 says:

      I doubt any projection system predicted his wonderful 2008. And yeah, since the safe bet is always an increasingly sharp decline from the early 30s into the late 30s, I am betting that his down-slope was probably overrated by most analysts and projection systems.

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  5. Kevin S. says:

    Why mention his infidelity? Sure, it makes him a scumbag of a human being, but it has absolutely nothing to do with his abilities as a baseball player.

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    • It has to do with his perception, and it has a bit to do with his Hall of Fame candidacy, too — after all, Hall of Fame voters are told to consider “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” His character is a part of his overall career. He has been a very good teammate and a very good employee of the Braves. On the other hand, he has also fallen as a person, though, to his credit, he’s been upfront about that too.

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      • wobatus says:

        I had never heard of that. The quotation from him, something to the effect that it’s the worst thing he could do besides kill a man, must sting the kid a bit. In any event, that was a long time ago, it seems.

        I thought about the fact you brought it up and passed, because I suppose it is Hall of Fame issue, although it certainly didn’t hold back the Babe. :)

        I ws more taken by the line about how the Braves will miss his presence more than his bat. I couldn’t find presence on the advanced stat page. Nyuck nyuck.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        The next time someone’s held out of the Hall for the moral character clause (non-steroids division) will be the first. Sure, the odd voter making a stand against chauvinist pigs might withhold a vote, but it’s not going to have a substantive impact on his candidacy.

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      • You may be right, Kevin, but on the other hand, I don’t see any reason other than character — and the fact that reporters didn’t like him — for Dick Allen not to be in the Hall of Fame.

        Same thing with Albert Belle: he’ll never get in the Hall, even though he certainly was HOF-caliber at the plate.

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    • atoms says:

      ditto that. the infidelity mention was petty and irrelevant to the focus of this website. he might be excluded from the baseball hall of saints, but he’ll have plenty of flawed company in cooperstown.

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      • Bronnt says:

        It’s funny how often that comes up when people talk about Chipper’s career or his HOF credentials. There’s so many athletes about whom you can say much worse than that they went home with a hot Hooters’ waitress one night. He’s been completely honest about the whole thing and he took custody of the kid. That’s not nearly as damning as the dozens of players who’ve been involved in domestic violence one way or another. I can’t remember him ever having a DUI, which actually endangers human lives, and is therefore worse than having consensual sex with someone other than his wife.

        The fact that Chipper has been so upfront and honest about it has ensured that everyone knows about it now, and they immediately default to that whenever they need to make a negative comment about him. The fact is that he’s a great teammate, he’s never broken the law, he’s never been tied to PEDs, and he’s usually very nice to the fans. The one flaw in his personal life is so small that it’s barely worth mentioning, but it comes up more often than you would think.

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      • J-Doug says:

        “And his admitted marital infidelity is pretty hard to defend, as well.”

        This sentence just doesn’t belong in this article. It has nothing to do with his retirement, nothing to do with his ACL, nothing to do with “how good was he,” and nothing to do with his HOF candidacy. Disagree? Show me the evidence. Fangraphs has always represented the “reality-based” community in baseball analysis, but this baseless speculation that flies in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

        “It has to do with his perception…he has also fallen as a person, though, to his credit, he’s been upfront about that too.”

        In addition to everything I said about your original comment, this is just plain arrogant moralizing. You don’t get to decide who the “fallen” people are, and even if you did it has nothing to do with objective baseball analysis.

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  6. Phantom Stranger says:

    He is a definite HOFer, one of the best offensive third baseman in the history of the game. Watching him play over his career was a real pleasure. The general feeling was he was planning to retire at the end of the year anyway. A bad way to end a career, but he looked like a shadow of himself in the field and at the plate this year.

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    • NYS says:

      Actually recently he’s looked pretty nice at the plate, as referenced in the article. And while his defense isn’t great, he does make the charging, bare-handed pickup and throw to first on a dribbler or bunt with the best of them.

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  7. Omar says:

    I wonder if baseball fans realize just how good this guy was. Braves fans should be viewing him the way that Yankee fans view Derek Jeter. He’s definitely an underrated player.

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  8. Blue says:

    “he has been the greatest franchise player — has provided the most value to the original team that drafted him”

    Um, no. Greatest value from a NUMBER ONE PICK.

    For example, Jones at 80 is five below Brett at 85.

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  9. ugalaw06 says:

    I would really be surprised if the infidelity issue has any effect on the hall of fame balloting with Chipper, because he handled that situation about as well as possible. After the news was broken back in ’98, Chipper immediately took full responsibility for his actions and there have never been any allegations of infidelity since. He’s become one of the most respected players in all of baseball, has foregone millions to stick with the team that drafted him and has never been mentioned as a possible PED user. If anything, I think character will end up as a plus for him.

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    • Blue says:

      Like I posted above:

      George Brett, 85 WAR, 5th highest HOF percentage vote in history. Chipper is at 80 WAR. He is a lock for first ballot HOF, probably in the 80-85 percentage vote range.

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  10. Josh says:

    There is a reason on every Braves telecast commercial they show his picture and say “a hall of famer from whichever side of the plate you choose”, He’s the greatest player in the history of the Atlanta Braves, I have never seen a more professional or classy athlete than Larry Wayne Jones Jr. He’s been my favorite player since I was 3 years old and watching what he has done his whole career gives me goosebumps to think about. He’s easily a hall of famer and one of the best 3rd basemen in the history of the game.

    I’ve never seen a writer on this site as unprofessional as you, Remington. To bring up his infidelity, which he has never hidden from anyone, he’s always been a man about it, but to think that would have any affects on his HOF chances is OBSURD…..Yeah the voters are gonna go “Yeah this guy is on of the greatest switch hitters or hitters period, never been linked to steroids, OH WAIT he was unfaithful to his woman, nah he’s not getting my vote”.

    No matter how ridiculous a light you want to paint him in, nearly any JOE in the south knows Chipper Jones fan or not…and any baseball fan can tell you there is no debate he’s a hall of famer.

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  11. Andrew says:

    Great post. Amazing player, surprised, like others here, not as much mention of his switch hitting amazingness. Not to be that guy but Chipper injured his knee Tuesday, not yesterday.

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  12. E Dub says:

    For pete’s sake, get over the infidelity remark. Questionable in its moralizing tone or not it’s part of Chipper’s bio, and aside from Wade Boggs and Margo Adams was there a more public episode of marital infidelity in baseball in the last twenty-five years? I doubt Chipper would take this degree of umbrage…

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      • ZacT says:

        Roger Clemens.

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      • E Dub says:

        I’ll give you A-Rod, though mostly because of the profile of his sexual partners. Clemens barely registered for most thanks to the streroid allegations. And neither was discussed in the same way as Chipper’s, possibly because neither had as much of an image to tarnish. Perversely, people seem to expect bad behavior from those two.

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  13. Josh says:

    This guy doesn’t know dick about Chipper or how to write.

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    • Tim says:

      Quit trolling. It was a fine article and it’s perfectly acceptable to MENTION the infidelity.

      You’re giving Braves fans a bad name by your language and tone.

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  14. Temo says:

    Watching baseball will never be the same without Chipper. I feel like whenever he retires, the last connection I have to my baseball-related youth will be severed.

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  15. PhD Brian says:

    For what it is worth, If I could I would vote for Chipper for the hall of fame.

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  16. TK says:

    The only “character” that matters in HOF voting is the white-wigged opinions of hypocritical baseball writers, not who a person actual is. The character that should count is the dedication and respect for the game a player brings to the field everyday. By that measure, Chipper has plus character, no question.

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  17. Cyril Morong says:

    Chipper Jones hit a grand slam off of Pedro Martinez in 1997. Only 3 other guys ever did. Here are the other three I found searching Retrosheet


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  18. Kyle says:

    Best Atlanta Brave ever? So let’s completely forget about John Smoltz… 213 wins, 154 saves, and a postseason record of 15-4 with another 4 saves and an ERA of 2.67. Or how about tom Glavine… 244-147 with Atlanta, 2 Cy Young awards, 9 all-star appearances, and an ERA of 3.41 with them(before going on to win 300 plus games.)

    Oh, and Maddux in 11 seasons went 194-88 with an ERA of 2.63 with one championship and 3 Cy Young Awards. Numbers Koufax would love to have…

    Jones is a first ballot hall of famer, but really, is he more important than any of those guys? Oh, and Eddie Matthews, Brooks Robinson, Boggs, and perhaps even Rolen(who could play both sides of the field), are better than Jones.

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    • Anon21 says:

      What’s with the avalanche of stupid, meaningless pitching statistics? And why are you favorably comparing Brooks Robinson, with his lifetime 104 OPS+, to Chipper Jones (career 142 OPS+)? The first part of your post seems serious but misguided; the last part seems like rancid trolling.

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  19. Absolutely incredible player. I think he is Hall of Fame worthy and I hope he makes it.

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  20. Mitchello says:

    Chipper’s 2010 WAR is the same as A-Rod’s WAR. I know Alex has had an off year, but still… Chipper still has at least 1 or 2 more years left in him.

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  21. CircleChange11 says:

    No one likes to say it but, infidelity is more common than chewing tobacco in baseball.

    Let’s see, the schedule is set up to where half the year they are out on the road, and their free time is late at night, they’re millionaires with nothing else to do, women flock to them … even the ugly ones (Ever see Pasqual Perez’s wife … hottie) … and then they expect them to be strong husbands and fathers.

    Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth still hold the all-time records for both drunkenness and infidelity … and it makes them endearing to us. *Shrugs*

    I’m disappointed that it was even brought up on this subject.

    We need to watch ourselves in these articles. The difference between us and the standard baseball forum/blog is shrinking. The absence of cuss words and the variance in favorite metrics is about all that separates the websites sometimes.

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    • Bronnt says:

      I mean, the infidelity thing is probably worth mentioning in his biography, if we’re writing, since it’s not like some big secret. I’m just tired of it because, as a Braves fan, I’ve been reading a ton of Chipper articles and comments over the past 24+ hours and so many of them mention that he fathered a child out of wedlock that it seems like people are bashing him. You can bring it up once, but if everyone brings it up once it ends up being talked about WAY more than the issue merits. Chipper isn’t perfect, but he’s a better man than a lot of athletes.

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      • E Dub says:

        I wonder who holds the individual record for just drunkenness (as opposed to combined with infidelity)? Sam McDowell? Grover Cleveland Alexander?

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