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.

2017 Preview: Chicago White Sox

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Chicago White Sox.

After a couple of years of an all-in approach with a core of Chris Sale, Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera, Todd Frazier, Adam Eaton and friends, Rick Hahn and the White Sox finally decided to tear it all down. And they tore it all down pretty productively, actually, dealing Sale and Eaton for a boatload of prospects, leading with Yoan Moncada, who has hit .287/.395/.480 with 23 home runs, 100 RBI and 94 stolen bases in 187 minor league games.

They also picked up righthander Michael Kopech who hits triple digits on the regular, one-time top prospect and still-promising Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and 2016 first-round pick Dane Dunning. They all join existing young talent like Tim Anderson, Carlos Rodon, Zack Collins, Carson Fulmer and Alec Hansen. The system, she is stocked.

 

In addition to all that new talent, the Sox have a new manager in Rick Renteria. What he’ll have to work with at the big league level is somewhat spotty, however, and could change pretty radically as the season wears on.

Still in house: Carols Quintana, Frazier, Cabrera and David Robertson, all of who are likely on the trading block (we know Quintana is). Hahn will entertain offers for anything not nailed down which, in this case, means anyone over the age of 25 or so. We could give a blow-by-blow of the offense, the pitching and the defense like we normally do here, but if you’re an obsessive White Sox fan you know that stuff already and if you’re not, all you really need to know is that between those inevitable departures and the loss of their ace in Sale and their best position player in Eaton, last year’s 78-wins are gonna seem like a distant memory.

Beyond trading stars for prospects, the White Sox have signaled that they’re in non-compete mode in other ways as well. New in the fold: Derek Holland, Peter Bourjos and Geovany Soto. Veterans who do a task or two well, go about their business and, if they have a super nice year, can get dealt at the deadline. In short, the lifeblood of a rebuild, not the stuff of greatness. There’s nobility in fulfilling that role even if there aren’t a lot of wins to be found in it.

Where are some wins to be found? Jose Abreu had a down year in 2016 and could be better this year. Both Holland and James Shields are capable of better years than they had last year. Indeed, it’d be close to impossible for Shields to be worse. They’ll have Carlos Rodon, who took a step forward last year and could be poised for a breakout. Quintana and company will be around until July most likely before they’re traded and before Hahn begins to call young dudes up for second half cups of coffee.

And that’s what this season is about, really. The cups of coffee. Seeing what the Sox have in their young talent, particularly Moncada, who has little left to prove in the minors, even if he spends some more time there and Rodon, who is already a key part of the big club. They may lose just as many games or more than they lost the past couple of seasons, but they’ll do it with more interesting players who fans can imagine being better in a White Sox uniform one day. And, heck, if someone develops a bit more quickly than expected, it could actually lead to good baseball. At least here and there.

Prediction: Fourth place, American League Central.

The Braves cave, a little anyway, on their outside food policy

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On Friday the Atlanta Braves announced a new policy for outside food, prohibiting ticket holders from bringing in their own. This was a reversal of their old policy — and the policies of the majority of teams around the league — which allowe fans to bring in soft-sided coolers with their own food and beverages, at least as long as the beverages were sealed.

The Braves claimed that the policy change was “a result of tighter security being put into place this season throughout the league,” but this was clearly untrue as no other teams are cracking down on outside food like this. If there are new security procedures, everyone else is able to accommodate them without an opportunistic crackdown on fans bringing in PB&J for their toddlers. It seemed more likely that this was a simple cash grab.

Today the Braves have reversed the policy somewhat:

While they’re looking for kudos here, this is likewise an admission that the “security” stuff was bull because, last I checked, security procedures aren’t subject to popular referendum and aren’t changed when people complain. What really happened here, it seems, is the Braves, for the first time in living memory, were called out by the public for their greed and realized that even they have some responsibility to not be jackasses about this sort of thing.

Still, a gallon bag policy is not the same as it was before. You could bring coolers into Turner Field and still can bring them into most parks around the league. But I guess this is better than nothing.