It’s Not Chipper’s Time Yet

Chipper Jones, the face of the Atlanta Braves franchise and a star since 1995, recently met with Braves officials to discuss retirement at the end of the season. Perhaps Jones doesn’t wish to see his career end in the same fashion that Ken Griffey Jr.’s did with the Seattle Mariners. Perhaps he’s simply tired of baseball. However, if he feels that his performance is no longer at a Major League level, he should greatly strongly reconsider his plans.

Yes, Jones’s offensive performance has taken a dip this year. Thanks to a .236 batting average, mostly from a .255 BABIP, Jones’s wRC+ is down to 109, his lowest mark ever. Despite that, Jones still has strong peripheral stats. His 18.8% walk rate is the highest among qualified players and is the highest of his career. His .134 ISO is still slightly below average, but if those two marks are combined with a BABIP closer to his career norm (.315) or even last season (.285), and Chipper has a line closer to .260/.400/.420, it would make him one of the top hitting third basemen in the National League, behind Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, and the surprisingly hot Scott Rolen.

There’s also reason to believe that Jones can still hit for above-average power. All three of Chipper’s home runs before last night were easily out, according to HitTracker, including a 429-foot blast off John Grabow back in April. Last night’s shot off Lance Cormier was again to dead center, not an easy task at Turner Field. Again, given the fact that even with this low level of power so far this season, any sort of regression would only serve to place Jones among the top third basemen of the league.

Simply put, anybody that can still get on base like Chipper is right now is most likely good enough to play in the Major Leagues. His defense at third base has slipped but not to the point at which he needs to be moved off of the position; even with a -4.5 or -6.5 UZR, the range that his performance over the last two seasons seems to suggest, he’s still more valuable on defense than the average corner outfielder. He’s on pace to post 2.5 WAR this season if he can reach 600 plate appearances, which is of course no guarantee, but it is a pace that suggests that Jones is still an above-average player. Even without regression in either his batting average or his slugging, Jones can still be an above average player.

If Chipper Jones feels that he must retire for personal reasons, then that’s his prerogative. There’s no doubt in my mind, however, that Jones is still a high quality major league baseball player. It would be unfortunate for both the fans as well as the Atlanta Braves if he were to end his career with quality baseball still ahead of him.

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31 Responses to “It’s Not Chipper’s Time Yet”

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  1. DonCoburleone says:

    But the whole thing with Chipper is that he doesn’t want to be just an “above average player”. He’s said repeatedly that if he can’t live up to the standard he has set for himself, he’ll retire. He doesn’t want to have 2 years where he’s performing at or below the level of freaking Casey Blake. He’s Chipper Jones dammit! A 2.5WAR season is just not an acceptable level of production in his eyes.

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  2. Phantom Stranger says:

    This is where the numbers really do not tell the whole story. Watching him daily for his entire career, the bat speed from the left side is just gone. That forces him to cheat, but even when he makes solid contact it likely ends up being a soft single or double. And he should not be playing third base anymore. His defense has fallen off a cliff this year. Poor lateral movement, combined with hands that are now leading to miscues and bobbles that regular thirdbasemen handle with ease.

    Chipper basically knows he is done with the bat, and is actively up at the plate looking for a walk. Because he is a future Hall of Famer, the umpires are still giving him a strike zone almost as small as Bonds had in his heyday.

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    • Josh says:

      Yeah… that’s it. Give umpires credit for Chipper’s plate discipline. Brilliant.

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    • Bill@TDS says:

      When people say things like this, it’s much more likely that their own subjective observations don’t tell the whole story.

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      • Bronnt says:

        It’s possible that someone can tell if a Major League player has lost 3% of his batspeed from simple “Naked-eye” observations. It’s extremely unlikely, since a 98 MPH fastball looks remarkably similar to one thrown 95. However, someone breaking down film might be able to recognize the difference at close inspection. You can’t completely rule out that someone might notice this.

        Of course, when that person is making wild generalizations about the type of contact that is being made and claiming the strike zone is catering to Chipper (rather than the other way around), you can basically rule their opinion nearly void. It doesn’t help that they seemingly frown on “stats” and aren’t citing specific examples.

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    • Mat Gonzales says:

      phantom phoolishness.

      I really loved watching him daily his whole career .”

      You need to get in touch with Frank Wren, maybe let him know what you see in Chipper’s soul as well. Give him your take on how Larry Wayne is feeling.

      Honestly man, the egoism of claiming the numbers do not tell the story, but your TV/bleacher observations do is more than a little arrogant.

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    • Mat Gonzales says:

      I love people like Kyle who point to things like batting average and “clogging the bases”. Clogging the bases? Is Kyle actually Joe Morgan?

      Kyle, “clogging the bases” is only to be used when referring to Bengie Molina who is so big he can not get out of his own way.

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  3. Bronnt says:

    I’ve been telling this to plenty of fans who are so caught up in the unsightly average that they can’t really process what’s going on with Chipper. He’s had some rather awful luck this year on balls in play, which is extremely striking since the memory of his .383 BABIP performance in 2008 is still fairly fresh for me. Aside from the HR and double last night, he also nailed a ball hard into left field that Carl Crawford ran down.

    He also smoked a HR to straight away center (off of a RHP, Phantom)-two batters later, David Ross creamed a pitch to the exact same spot and didn’t quite have enough on it, and it was caught on the track. It’s clear that even if he’s suffering from reduced bat speed from the left side, he’s still got more power than even good Major League hitters.

    Chipper has said that he’s not going to hang around and be a mediocre player, but between some poor luck and the injuries to his hands, he’s not demonstrating his true skill level to this point during this season. Despite that, he’s still putting up a useful .338 wOBA, which is not what the Braves want from a man who is still supposed to be their best hitter, but getting on base 38% of the time in front of Brian McCann and Troy Glaus is extremely useful. Plus, hey, he’s stolen 3 bases without having been caught, so he’s still able to move around at least reasonably well.

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  4. SF_Matt says:

    I suspect that a Hall of Fame caliber player takes very little consolation in having a high walk rate, an unlucky babip, or .338 wOBA. I can see how it would be frustrating for him to have so few HRs and such a low batting average compared to 2008, and considering his injury history I can’t blame him for hanging up the cleats.

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  5. Kevin S. says:

    If a player wants to leave while he’s still (relatively) near the top of his game, I can respect that. If a player wants to hang on and scrape every last little bit of baseball out of his body, even if it’s in the independent leagues, I can respect that, too. Ultimately, as long as he doesn’t feel he’s entitled to playing time his current talent level doesn’t warrant, I’m not going to say what a player should or shouldn’t do in regards to retirement.

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  6. Bodhizefa says:

    Doesn’t this argument ignore his health issues? Just imagine how frustrating it would be if you were a writer and one of your hands was constantly injured while typing. You’d be limited to maybe 50% of your normal typing speed from when you were younger. And then arthritis started setting in. And then you lost a finger or two to diabetes. And there was no hope of it ever getting better, just worse.

    I think I’d find something else to do, too.

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    • Bronnt says:

      It does anything but ignore his health issues. The final paragraph says that Chipper can retire for whatever personal reasons he wants, but if he’s retiring because he doesn’t think he’s a contributor any more (and there’s plenty of Atlanta radio personalities who think it’s the case) he really isn’t doing himself justice. Give him some fairly neutral luck this season and he’s got some great numbers, with that extreme BB/rate.

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  7. Gina says:

    from the entire mets fan base:

    chipper, it’s your time brah.

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  8. Franco says:

    I love hating the guy as a Mets fan. I hope he hits 300 the rest of the way with some pop and the rest of his team stinks up the joint for a third place finish. He named his kid Shea. I want to boo this guy for another 3 years.

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  9. Kyle says:

    Chipper went from hitting .364 to .264 to .234, and you think he’s still one of the top hitting third basemen in the National League? I doubt the Braves are paying Chipper to bat third for his walks. The guy is on pace for 11 homeruns.

    He’s not the adept baserunner he used to be, so he clogs up the bases. His defense is worse than ever while Troy Glaus might be better at defense at this point in his career. He only had 7 errors in 2008…

    Jones is only slugging .366 which is good for 20th out of all starting third basemen(in the National League.) Prado is a career .314 hitter who would be an upgrade, and deserves to be batting number 3 right now. Rolen, Wright, Sandoval, Zimmerman, Polanco, Reynolds, Freese, Cantu, and even McGehee are better third baseman right now. Jones is already a first ballot hall of famer, and doesn’t want to be a crappy player. Right now, besides walks and veteran leadership, what does he contribute to have him batting third?

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    • Kevin S. says:

      so he clogs up the bases.

      Right, because Troy Glaus and Brian McCann are going to run into him when he’s got 110 feet and a running start on them.

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      • Bronnt says:

        It’s funny that you responded to that because I thought it HAD to be a joke.

        I mean, how can it possibly be serious while posting on fangraphs, citing batting average as decline in ability, frowning on walks, using the phrase” clogging the bases,” citing errors as a measure of defensive prowess, and he uses slugging % entirely on its own as a comparative measure.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Unfortunately as Fangraphs has gone mainstream, it’s no longer safe to assume that such posts are jokes anymore.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    Chipper, reportedly, is one of those guys that can recite, from memeory pitch sequences from at bats in previous seasons. He’s very much in tune to how pitchers pitch him and how well he strikes the ball.

    It’s been my experience that great baseball players consider retirement when average pitchers they used to rake are now getting them out.

    Chipper’s numerous comebacks from injury have to be exhausting. Combine that with a down season and it could just be frustration and fatigue talking. His performance and health in the 2nd half likely will have tremendous influence in his decision. Likewise if the Braves have a strong 2nd half showing and look like they will contend in 2011, that will also affect his decision quite a bit.

    Chipper is also one of hose guys whose bodies is 2-5 years older than the birth certificate shows. His retirement contemplation combined with Griffey’s retirement tells me one thing … I’m no longer young.

    I can still recall Mike Schmidt’s sudden retirement. When Joe Blows are getting you out consistently, it’s too much for the greats to take.

    I hope Chipper rebounds and comes back for 2011. He’s the type of player that deserves a “farewell tour”.

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  11. Cidron says:

    My thinking is twofold..
    1. The injury comebacks, painful, frustrating, annoying, etc etc….That takes a toll on the body, affecting performance etc. He doesnt have “star” ability anymore.

    But, the other reason, I didnt see much is..Its Bobby Cox’s last year with the team (in a manager capacity). The glory years are gone, and the uncertainty is ahead. The stars are all gone, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, AndrewJones, they are all gone. The last ones are Chipper and Cox. Cox is retiring, Chipper .. is “feeling” old due to all the past that is retired/retiring.

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  12. casey says:

    Chipper named his kid Shea because of this: .313/.407/.557 Lifetime at Shea, 323 at-bats. The guy shredded the Mets for years.

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  13. This is an intriguing topic because it speaks to the notion that, since many, many players are far removed from the stats we know and love, they themselves may have a skewed opinion about their overall performance.

    At first, that may sound absurd. Nobody knows Chipper’s body or current ability better than Chipper himself, but I can ASSURE you that Chipper is more concerned with his lack of extra-base hits and his inability to “be in the middle of everything” (as he told reporters yesterday) than he is with his BABIP on line-drives or a WAR metric that he could sleepwalk to.

    Players just don’t think like that. I don’t claim to be a master of the professional baseball player’s psyche, but I do believe it’s safe to say that a player like Chipper, one who has been the best-of-the-best since he was 7 years old, doesn’t take solace in the fact that his walk rate is extremely high and he hasn’t COMPLETELY lost it defensively.

    It’s interesting, because maybe if Chipper – and other players for that matter, knew more about the truer examples of value, they would think about issues such as these differently.

    Just my two cents.

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  14. And, just to clarify, I am not saying that extra-base hits and numbers with men on are the be-all, end-all.

    I am saying that 9 out of every 10 players playing the game value hard measures of performance such as those, over the more complex metrics that many who suit up, quite frankly, don’t understand.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I am saying that 9 out of every 10 players playing the game value hard measures of performance such as those, over the more complex metrics that many who suit up, quite frankly, don’t understand.

      Don’t attribute ignorance to the wrong group. If wOBA and wRC+ were the metrics that “paid the bills”, every MLBPA member would know them inside and out.

      But, players know that HRs, RBIs, clutch (close and late, BA w RISP, etc) is where it’s at … and what “pays the bills”.

      Note: It’s NOT the players that decide what is important to the organization, fans, and contracts.

      The more sabermetrics influence awards and contracts, the better the players will understand them. Funny how it works that way.

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  15. neuter_your_dogma says:

    If Chipper is remotely considering retirement, I am glad he made this public so that fans can pay proper “tribute” during the season. Even though a Phillies’ Phan with a partial season package, I will look to attend more games in early July when the Braves roll into town. And hopefully he will retire :)

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  16. Aaron says:

    Agree with the above poster who mentioned that health is not taken into account as much as it should be. You mention that his health has been poor, as a poster pointed out, but don’t make the obvious connection between that health, his age, and the peripherals. Would it not be a reasonable assumption to make that given an extremely low BABIP and ISO, and the fact that we know he is playing hurt (as always), that these numbers are getting hampered by his injuries? You would expect to see a lower BABIP and ISO for any player who is doing their Carlos Quentin impression, I guess its just that Chipper is hurt so often that we forget that he is mortal, especially at his age, and can be affected by these things too.

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  17. Coby DuBose says:

    These posts ignore the obvious consideration for Chipper. Retiring will leave him ample time for illegitimate child rearing and wanton waitress chasing.

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  18. LarryG says:

    Anecdotally, I recall seeing Chipper hit many a line drive deep into the outfield. If, as was pointed out, his BABIP is unusually low, it could just be bad luck. For those who think he has simply lost it, why do opponents seem to walk him so many times intentionally (or nearly intentionally)? Surely opposing managers are better judges of Chipper’s talents than those commenting on the web.

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