Chipper Jones

Chipper Jones makes for an easy Hall of Famer

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Some players kind of sneak up on the Hall of Fame.

Chipper Jones, who announced his intention to retire at the end of the season, never led his league in anything until he was 35. He was never even really all that close:

– His one year that he hit 40 homers, a couple of guys named McGwire and Sosa topped 60. Outside of that year, when he tied for third, his high finish in homers was eighth.

– He ranked in the NL’s top 10 in RBI just once in his career, finishing ninth in 2003.

– His high finish in runs scored was fourth, doubles sixth, walks third, games played fifth, hits eighth.

– Until he was 35, his high finish in batting average was fifth, OBP third and slugging fourth.

It was in 2007 that Chipper finally added some black ink to the record, leading the NL in OPS. A year later, he won a batting crown and finished first in OBP, though one could say those were tainted given that he played in just 128 games and had 439 at-bats. Albert Pujols finished a close second in both categories while coming to the plate an extra 107 times that season.

So, no, Chipper was never truly the NL’s best player. But the two guys who stood above him during his career, Barry Bonds and Pujols, rank with the greatest performers of any era.

And if Chipper wasn’t the greatest, he spent 13 years only a notch or two below. From 1996-2008, he hit .314/.411/.555 and averaged 30 homers per year. He received MVP votes in 11 of the 13 seasons, winning the award in 1999.

One of the things that stands out about Chipper’s career is that he’s always been an above average player. In 17 seasons, his worst OPS+ was the 108 he put up as a rookie in 1995 (and he still finished second in the ROY balloting that year). He’s had big problems staying in the lineup as he’s gotten older, but he’s always been an asset when able to play.

Chipper’s defense is more controversial. Most metrics say he’s been essentially average in his career, though some would suggest he was considerably worse. Oddly, there’s been no real arc to his career defensively. Most peak young with the glove, but Chipper has simply been steady throughout. The numbers say he was just about as valuable defensively in the seasons following his two-year left field hiatus as he was in the years leading up to it.

Because of his injuries, Jones will finish his career with fewer than 500 homers. Still, he ranks 33rd on the all-time list with 454 and should move up to 30th or 31st. He currently has exactly 1,561 runs and RBI, which rank 53rd and 40th all-time, respectively. His average stands at .304, having crept downwards these last three years, but there’s almost no chance of it falling below .300.

Those numbers would make Jones a pretty easy call as a Hall of Famer even if he spent his entire career at first base or in left field. At third base, he ranks third all-time in homers behind Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews. He’s third in RBI behind George Brett and Schmidt and he’ll pass both with just 36 this year. He’ll also pass Brett for first in runs scored with 23 more.

From an OPS standpoint, he’s first and easily so. His .935 mark trumps Schmidt’s .908 and Mathews’ .885. That’s largely a product of era, but even switching to OPS+ puts him in the same ballpark with those two. Schmidt’s tops at 147, followed by Mathews at 143 and Jones at 141. Next are Al Rosen at 136 and Brett and Home Run Baker, both at 135.

By pretty much any measure, Jones ranks among the greatest of all-time at a position underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. Some stooges might decline to vote for him because he didn’t have enough big years or because he got hurt a lot or just because they don’t want to vote for anyone who played the last 20 years. It’s not going to stop him from going in, though. It might not have been quite so obvious when he was 32 or 33, but Jones ranks as one of the clear Hall of Famers of this era.

Yu Darvish will report to spring training on time, hopes to begin mound work in March

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Rangers ace Yu Darvish missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery last March 17. Most starting pitchers take 13-15 months to fully recover from that procedure, and the Rangers aren’t counting on Darvish until sometime this May.

His rehab so far has gone on without issue.

Darvish offered some very positive updates Tuesday to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram …

Darvish, 29, boasts a 3.27 ERA and 1.196 WHIP in 83 career major league starts. He can also claim a whopping 680 strikeouts in 545 1/3 career major league innings.

Texas has him under contract for $10 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017.

Masahiro Tanaka throws off mound for first time since October elbow surgery

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According to the Associated Press — via Chad Jennings of The Journal News — Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka threw off a bullpen mound Tuesday for the first time since undergoing a cleanup procedure on his right elbow last October.

The throwing session took place in New York, and Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild later told the media in Tampa that all of the reports he heard were good.

Tanaka might be behind some of the Yankees’ other pitchers when spring training officially begins, but he should be ready for the start of the 2016 regular season.

The 27-year-old native of Japan posted a 3.51 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 139/27 K/BB ratio across 154 innings last season for New York. He owns a 3.16 ERA (123 ERA+) in 290 1/3 innings since becoming a major leaguer in 2014.

Tanaka is still pitching with a partially-torn ligament in his right elbow that could eventually require Tommy John reconstructive surgery. His surgery last October was of the arthroscopic variety and simply removed bone spurs.

Bud Selig to teach a class at Arizona State law school

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Before Bud Selig ultimately retired, he had a couple of false start retirement announcements only to have the owners beg him to sign on for one more term. In one of those false starts he talked about how the University of Wisconsin had set up an office for him in the history department and that he’d be doing some research and teaching a class now and again. And he has, in fact, taught some one-off seminars at Wisconsin’s law school and the like.

Now something a little more permanent along those lines is in the works for The Greatest Commissioner in Baseball History. The Arizona Republic reports that Selig will join the Sports Law and Business program at Arizona State University’s law school where he will teach and advise as well as start up a speakers series in which he will bring in high-powered guests. No word on how many speakers will talk about big, important historical sports law cases like, say collusion in baseball, which was orchestrated by an ownership class in the mid-to-late 80s, of which Bud Selig was far and away the most influential member. That could get sort of awkward, I suppose.

Either way, it’s a good way to keep busy. I mean, that’s what it has to be as he’s not hurting for cash, what with the obscene $6 million severance package the owners gave him to, I dunno, not give interviews about bad stuff that happened back in the day like Fay Vincent does all the time. Stuff like collusion. Maybe he gets the $6 million for some other purpose. Who can say, really? It’s never made any sort of sense otherwise.

Anyway, good luck in Tempe, Bud. Maybe I’ll stop by your office at ASU when I’m there next month — I always stay in Tempe — and we can chew the fat or climb that butte with the big A on it or something. First round at Four Peaks afterward is on me.

White Sox sign first baseman Travis Ishikawa

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First baseman Travis Ishikawa has agreed to a minor-league contract with the White Sox that includes an invitation to spring training.

Ishikawa was previously reported to have a minor-league deal with the Mariners last month, but the signing was never finalized. Now he joins the White Sox, who have Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche ahead of him on the first base/designated hitter depth chart.

Ishikawa had some big moments for the Giants in the 2014 playoffs, but he’s a 32-year-old journeyman with a lifetime .255 batting average and .712 OPS in 488 games as a big leaguer.

It’s possible the White Sox could keep him around as a bench bat and backup first baseman/left fielder, but Ishikawa seems more likely to begin the season at Triple-A.