A look back at Chipper Jones’ incredible numbers

When you think about the steroid era, you think about guys with over 60 home runs in a season like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. You also think of guys like Roger Clemens, who managed to win seven Cy Young Awards, including one at age 41. Yet, a kid born on April 24, 1972, in DeLand, Florida, played during this same time period and absolutely tore it up.

In his first year on the ballot, Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones Jr. is a lock for the Hall of Fame. Although he did not put up numbers as outlandish as his counterparts who used PEDs, Jones’ stats were absolutely remarkable for someone who was completely clean in a time where baseball was filled with corruption. Jones will be the second player in the history of the amateur draft to be selected No. 1 overall and reach the Hall of Fame.

Early Days

Larry Jr. was given the nickname “Chipper” at a young age by his family. They saw the boy as a “chip off the old block” and the name stuck. His dad, Larry Sr., who idolized Mickey Mantle, taught Chipper to switch hit just like the Yankee legend. In high school, he was a star pitcher, shortstop and outfielder.

As an 18-year-old kid, the Atlanta Braves selected Jones with the first overall pick in the 1990 MLB June Amateur Draft. He was drafted as a shortstop, but as he worked his way up the ladder in the Braves farm system, it was clear that third base was a better fit.

Here is an excerpt from SI’s article, “Chipper Jones is a lock for First-Ballot Hall of Fame election.

Ahead of the 1990 draft, he met with agent Scott Boras, whom he found “brash, abrasive, smug and cocky,” according to his description of their brief meeting in his 2017 memoir, Ballplayer. Instead, he hired childhood friend B.B. Abbott. A day before the draft, Jones ditched his prom weekend to meet with the Braves, who owned the No. 1 overall pick; Cox, then the team’s general manager, had scouted him. Over dinner at an Olive Garden in Daytona Beach, Jones agreed to a bonus of $275,000 with incentives that pushed the total package of $400,000.

Chipper Jones Hall of Fame

Young Chipper. (Photo from Online Athens)

In late 1993, Jones debuted as the youngest player in the league. The following season, after starting left fielder Ron Gant broke his leg in a dirt bike accident, it appeared Jones would have a legitimate shot to start. That was until Jones suffered an ACL tear in the spring of 1994. Jones missed the entire strike-shortened season in 1994.

 

As a rookie in 1995, he became just the fifth qualified rookie to get at least 23 home runs, 85 RBIs, 135 hits and 73 walks. That list includes Ted Williams, Al Rosen, Alvin Davis and Tim Salmon. Recently, both Aaron Judge and Kris Bryant eclipsed these numbers during their rookie seasons.

1995 was also the year that the Atlanta Braves won their third championship, and first since moving to Atlanta. In the NLCS, Jones hit .438. During the entirety of the 1995 postseason, the 23-year-old Jones hit .364 with 10 runs, three home runs and eight RBIs.

In 19 years, all with the Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones had a career average of .303, along with 2,726 hits, including 468 home runs.

 

Players to hit at least: 460 HR, 2,700 H, .300 BA, .400 OBP
BABE RUTH
MEL OTT
LOU GEHRIG
STAN MUSIAL
CHIPPER JONES

 

Numbers

Jones had five seasons in which he finished in the top 10 for batting average, and seven seasons in the top 10 for on-base percentage. He joined Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Mel Ott, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial as the only retired players to have a career batting average above .300, hit at least 465 home runs and a minimum of 2,700 hits and 1,600 runs.

Chipper Jones Hall of Fame

Eight-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger (Photo from CBS News)

Jones had five seasons in which he had 180 hits, 30 home runs, 110 runs and a slugging percentage above .530. Players who also had five seasons with these numbers include Stan Musial and Ted Williams. The only players with more than five of these monster seasons are Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

From 1995-2008, Jones had 14 straight seasons of at least 20 doubles and 21 home runs. Fourteen straight. His 162-game average, over a span of 19 seasons, was .303, 30 home runs, 177 hits and 105 runs.

In 1999, Jones won the NL MVP award. He hit .319 with 45 home runs and 181 hits. Jones also had a .441 on-base percentage, .633 slugging percentage, and an OPS+ of 169. The AL MVP, Ivan Rodriguez, had an on-base percentage of .356, slugging percentage of .558, and an OPS+ of 125. All stats lower than Jones, who was arguably the best player in the league in 1999.

PLAYERS WITH SEASONS OF AT LEAST 21 HOME RUNS, 20 DOUBLES, .390 OBP, .295 BA # OF SEASONS
TED WILLIAMS 15
BABE RUTH 13
LOU GEHRIG 12
CHIPPER JONES 11
MANNY RAMIREZ 11
ALBERT PUJOLS 10
BARRY BONDS 10
JIMMIE FOXX 10
MEL OTT 10
JIMMIE FOXX 10
STAN MUSIAL 9

During his career (1993-2012), Jones had the fourth most WAR behind Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols. He is currently 23rd in offensive WAR, which has him ahead of George Brett, Robin Yount, Pete Rose, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew and Carl Yastrzemski.

According to the baseball gurus, an All-Star type season means at least 5 WAR. Chipper Jones had eight seasons with 5.5 WAR. His 468 home runs are the most in the NL by a switch-hitter. Jones is arguably the second best switch-hitter of all-time, behind his dad’s idol, Mickey Mantle.

The Hot Corner

Jones spent the majority of his career at the hot corner, but also played left field in 2002 and 2003. He had seven seasons in which he finished in the top three for third basemen in WAR, including first in 1998, 1999 and 2008. From 1996-2001, Chipper Jones was the best third baseman in baseball. During this time, he led all qualified third basemen in WAR with 35.6. The second place finisher, Jeff Cirillo, had only 28.4.

A serious argument could be made for Jones as the best third baseman of all time. He is third all time in home runs for third basemen who played at least 1,500 games at the hot corner. When compared to Mike Schmidt, Jones has a higher batting average, more hits, more runs, higher OBP, higher SLG and a higher OPS. Chipper also has more home runs and higher OBP, SLG, and OPS than the great George Brett.

Jones is also one of the best postseason players of all time. He has played the ninth most games and ranks fifth in runs scored, fifth in hits, seventh in total bases, eighth in RBIs, seventh in singles and tied for first in walks.

Later Days

Chipper Jones Hall of Fame

A true legend. (Photo from The Sports Fan Journal)

Once he got a little older, Jones did not slow down. After turning 34, he had three seasons in which he hit .320 with 20 home runs and 20 doubles. The only other players with more seasons, at 34 years or older, are Ted Williams, Barry Bonds and Edgar Martinez.

 

At age 36, Jones won the batting title with a batting average of .364. He joined Tris Speaker, Ted Williams, Zach Wheat, Babe Ruth, Tony Gwynn, Barry Bonds and Eddie Collins as the only players 36 years or older to finish a season hitting at least .360. Jones finished his career with six seasons in the top ten for MVP voting and finished in the top 25 for nine straight seasons (1995-2003).

 

PLAYERS AFTER TURNING 35 WHO HIT .300, 110 HR, 160 2B
BARRY BONDS
STAN MUSIAL
EDGAR MARTINEZ
CHIPPER JONES

 

The 1999 NL MVP, 2008 NL Batting Title Champion, eight-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger and 1995 World Series Champion is an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer, whose numbers show that he is among the best players in the history of the sport.

 

Featured image from USA Today

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10-year peak WAR

What is 10-Year Peak WAR?

Just when you thought you had enough stats to last a lifetime someone had to come along and muck up the works with 10-year peak WAR.

As the most rabid of baseball stat junkies will tell you, wins above replacement (WAR) is a measure of performance that sets a player against the cumulative league averages to determine how much better or worse that player is compared to the “next best” option. Examining peak WAR as it is used currently, raises questions with about the validity of a player’s “peak” seasons as expressed through the 7-year peak WAR statistic.

My problem with 7-year peak WAR is that it does not give you a player’s peak production. It only tells you what his seven best statistical seasons were regarding wins above replacement. This is wrong for a couple of reasons. Allow me to explain my reasoning.

Peak is Prime

10-year peak WAR

Statistical anomaly, Brett Favre. (Photo courtesy of: The Guardian)

To me, peak is synonymous with a player’s physical prime. I would like to find common ground here because I hate to break it to the hardcore stat guys, peak does not mean seven best seasons. The definition of peak should be the same as talking about a player’s prime years, or when he is at his physical apex.

Settle down and let me finish before you go dusting off those torches. Don’t go thinking problems with peak WAR as it is currently considered is a challenge to WAR itself. Wins above replacement is very useful, especially when gauging a player’s Cooperstown credentials. My problem is with the way it is calculated with respects to a player’s peak.

I have spent countless hours poring over player data and calculating my own version of “peak WAR” and my application isn’t what might be usually expected. It’s hardly an attempt at reinventing the wheel though. Think of it as a minor tweak in how we view a player’s peak production. I must also add; the Cooperstown inductees have nothing to fear.

When looking at the peak of a pro-ballplayer, I don’t need to know what his seven best WAR seasons are, nor do I care. No, what I need to know is how well he performed through his physical peak. Here’s an example showing exactly what’s trying to be conveyed. Brett Favre in 2009 put up the greatest season of his entire career at 40-years old. Now tell me this, is this a guy in his peak? Or, is this an outlier of a season that happened outside of his physical peak? I’m going with the latter folks.

Let me get to the nuts and bolts. What I mean by physical peak is this: what is the player(s) production over his age 23-33 seasons when he is the strongest, fastest and fittest that he will ever be?

10-Year Peak WAR

10-year peak WAR

Not even Dave “Mr. May” Winfield had a higher 10-year peak than Koufax. (Photo courtesy of: Sports Illustrated)

Why pick 10 years as a sample? Firstly, this examination of peak WAR should only be used as a measure for Hall of Fame standards. The way I apply WAR should never be used on active players, unless you are comparing them with the career trajectory of a legend.

As I look at more and more data, those 10 years (23-33) look to be the general peak ages a player does his most damage. Granted there are players that don’t fit that criteria exactly, but these standards of peak envisioned here don’t care about that. If you enter the game at 24 years of age, like Kirby Puckett did for example, I take that as being a peak season. The reasoning is this, Hall of Fame players generally get to the bigs earlier and they stay longer.

Players should be rewarded for their production in their “non-peak” years as well. In my application of WAR, I generate two classes: 10-year peak WAR and Non-peak WAR. All 11 seasons that fall between a player’s age 23-33 seasons are his 10-year peak, and all other seasons up to age 22, and all seasons post-age 33 are calculated to be his non-peak WAR.

These calculations of 10-year peak WAR vs. Non-peak WAR speaks to one thing. Career Longevity. This is not to say that a player cannot be Hall of Fame worthy after playing a limited number of years, but generally, we all know that you need at least a decade of dominant play on your resume to get in to Cooperstown.

There are exceptions to every rule of course, but how many Sandy Koufax’s are there exactly? Koufax, by my system, had eight seasons of his 10-year prime only, and yet still managed a (50.2) WAR over that stretch.

It only becomes more impressive when you realize that in eight seasons from age 23-30, Koufax still put up better 10-year peak WAR than did Molitor, Stargell, Winfield and Puckett along with many more.

Non-peak WAR

10-year peak WAR

Paul Molitor has the highest non-peak WAR among HOF third basemen. (Photo courtesy of: Star Tribune)

This is where examining peak WAR takes a twist. A player should be rewarded for his length of career. If a player makes it to the bigs at 21 for instance, those first two seasons while he’s developing are tacked on to whatever production he shows from age 34 until retirement. This is what I call Non-peak WAR.

Consider my application of WAR as I have outlined it so far. What I am essentially doing, is saying how good were these guys, and for how long? I am favoring career length as much as I am favoring the player’s overall production and worth to his team. Trust me, the Hall of Famers still stand out. Start doing some calculations if you don’t believe me.

If you are a purest like me, Cooperstown isn’t for those that burn out after five seasons (unless you’re ridiculous like Koufax), Cooperstown is for those that do it better and do it longer. In case you are wondering what Sandy’s Non-peak WAR was, it was (3) and that’s not a typo either. The fact that Koufax made the Hall is a testament to how great he actually was.

Consider Paul Molitor. From 1980 through 1990, Molitor posted a (41.3) WAR. That’s damn good. But it’s also off the pace of Hall of Fame standards for third basemen using this version of 10-year peak WAR by nearly 10-points. It’s what Molitor did in those other 10 of his 21 big league seasons that truly sets him apart. His Non-peak WAR (34.2) is over two-times higher than Hall standard at his position (15.9). Molitor’s Non-peak WAR is so good, it puts him as the best of all time at third base in Non-peak WAR by nearly 9-points over Mike Schmidt’s (25.6) Non-peak WAR.

What it Means

10-year peak WAR

Larry Walker breaks toward first after making contact. (Photo courtesy of: Denver Post)

There really is no solid indicator for career longevity. Especially when you isolate a player’s seven best seasons irrespective of when they occurred in a player’s career chronologically. Those who play a shorter amount of time are going to have to be so good they won’t be denied. Like Koufax.

Falling short on one end of these WAR calculations isn’t scuttling a player’s shot at the Hall. But it is putting them to a higher standard to truly dominate for the brief moments they are playing.

What is harsh though, is Larry Walker only getting 21.9 percent of the vote in the most recent Hall of Fame voting. On his seventh ballot, mind you. Here’s a guy that finished with a 10-year peak WAR of (49.4) and a Non-peak WAR of (23.3). Not bad considering Hall average for RF is (52.6/20.6) by my system.

Walker is off the 10-year peak WAR of right fielders by 3-points, but he’s above Non-peak production by nearly 3-points. How is Walker not getting more than 1 in 5 Hall votes? And please, do not give me that, “He played in Colorado!” crap either. I’m not having it, where a player takes the field for their home games should not be looked upon as a sin. Furthermore, if that’s the standard we’re going by I feel bad for any great player that calls Coors Field home. Let’s not make Larry Walker another snub job that the Veterans Committee is going to have to fix.

Like the Alan Trammell debacle.

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Sports Illustrated)

 

 

 

 

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