Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where Chipper Jones ranks all time

Chipper is one of my favorite baseball players. He came up right when I was starting to pay attention to the game and following the Braves. So his career has pretty much exactly coincided with my relationship with the game. The same goes for my other favorite player, Ken Griffey Jr. But unlike Griffey, Chipper isn't widely considered to be a lock for the hall of fame. David Schoenfield gives us the numbers and ranks the top 3B:

2. CHIPPER JONES

"It helps that he has some ridiculous gifts. He was in a visiting clubhouse a while back, reading the crawl on a cable channel from about 30 feet away. A teammate said, 'You can read that?' Jones thought, You can't? He can remember hundreds, maybe thousands of at-bats, what he hit off whom. One night last week, after a game in which he saw two dozen pitches, he could remember in detail all but two or three of them: count, pitch, location, result. He watches game tape like a detective, and if a pitcher tends to slightly open his glove before throwing a curve, Jones knows it."
--Michael Bamberger, Sports Illustrated

Career: .305/.403/.533, 2359 G, 449 HR, 1549 RBI, 1550 R, 142 OPS+, 82.0 WAR
Best five seasons (2007, 1998, ’99, ’08, ’96): 34.9 WAR
Best 10 consecutive (1998-2007): 57.5 WAR
Best 10 hitting seasons: +444 runs above average

Chipper’s game was consistent excellence over a long time. His peak seasons may not quite match those of Brett or Mathews, but he’s never had a bad season. He’s had some injury issues later in his career, but through age 32 he averaged 153 games per season. Brett, meanwhile, battled injuries throughout his career (the turf in Kansas City didn't help); he played 140-plus games nine times, but four of those came after he moved to first base or DH. Considering Chipper’s adjusted OPS is actually greater than Brett’s and Brett moved to first base in his mid-30s, I give Chipper the slight edge.

The call over Mathews is a little tougher. Chipper had the weakest glove of the six, while Mathews was regarded a solid glove. (Baseball-Reference gives Mathews a five-win advantage over Chipper for defense over their careers.) Chipper’s adjusted OPS is actually nearly identical to Mathews’ and right now Baseball-Reference has Mathews as creating 550 runs above an average hitter of his era, Chipper at 549. Yes, Mathews has a good edge in career WAR. I think it’s close, and maybe I’m succumbing to era bias here, but I’m going Chipper by the length of a Louisville Slugger.

There seems to be little doubt that he is one of the top 5 best 3B ever. Once you accept that I'm not sure how you keep him out of the hall of fame. Even looking at his numbers without regard for position I think he has a strong case. All time, he is 51st in WAR, 35th in WAR for position players, 26th in offensive WAR, 49th in OBP, 46th in SLG, and 31st in OPS.

Aside from the numbers, I loved watching him play. I still do. He has such a pretty swing from the left side. And even though I'm not wild about his swing from the right its effective. The fact that he was a switch hitter made him unique. I can't think of a current switch hitter nearly as good as him. He could be the last great one. According to Schoenfield Chipper wants to play next year. I was skeptical that he could come back this year and bring value. But having seen him prove he can still play fairly well this year I will welcome him back.

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