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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