See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.
Switch Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Third Baseman/Left Fielder
Seasons With Braves: 1993; 1995-2006
Stats With Braves: .304/.402/.542 , 357 HR, 1197 RBI, 1188 RS
Chipper Jones has 1944 hits, 357 homers, and an MVP award, and has made $92,885,467 in his career. In a related note, I think Todd Van Poppel took my order at Jimmy John’s last night.
The Braves claim that they always were going to draft Chipper with the first pick in the 1990 draft, or at least that they were deciding between Chipper and Van Poppel when the latter announced he wouldn’t sign with a sad-sack organization like the Braves if they drafted him. This is nonsense; they were always focused on Van Poppel, and everyone was, and Chipper was a signability pick of sorts — even if he would have been taken second by the Tigers. Worked out pretty well — sometimes, you just get lucky.
At 19, Chipper was beating up the Sally League for Macon; at 20, he was in Greenville and doing much the same to the Southern League. At 21, he was an International League All-Star, and the only question was where the Braves were going to put him. Shortstop seemed unlikely, and then Blauser had a big year in 1993. Pendleton faded, and third base was the most prominent option, but then Ron Gant went dirt-biking. Chipper had the left field job sewed up in spring of 1994 when he bizarrely tore up his knee heading to first base on a ground ball and missed the “entire” season, opening the door for Klesko.
So he rehabbed, and Pendleton had another bad year and left as a free agent, and Chipper was inserted into the lineup at third base. He hit .265/.353/.450 with 23 homers and in a normal year likely would have been Rookie of the Year, but ran into the Nomo phenomenon. Chipper was probably a bit hit-unlucky; he has hit .295 or better in ten of the following eleven seasons, beginning with 1996 when he hit .309/.393/.530, made the all-star team, played shortstop when Blauser was embarrassingly bad and Pendleton was reacquired in trade, and finished fourth in the MVP voting.
After a power slump in 1997, Chipper bounced back in 1998 with another strong season. Then in 1999 he hit .319/.441/.633 with 45 homers, made the Mets cry, and won the MVP award going away, though the two fools who thought Matt Williams was the best player in the league should lose their voting privileges. (Not just for MVP, I mean they should lose all voting privileges.)
For the next two seasons, Chipper wasn’t quite as good, merely excellent, hitting over .300 with OBPs over .400 with over 35 homers. So they moved him to left field, for reasons that still aren’t clear. Vinny Castilla? Really? Chipper lost a bit of power in the move, but his average and OBP stayed the same. On the other hand, he started having leg problems that probably aren’t unrelated to the position change. Then Vinny left and the Braves, instead of moving Chipper back to third, tried to use Mark DeRosa there every day — thinking that sooner or later Andy Marte would take the spot. (Though, checking what I wrote in the DeRosa comment that year, I thought that the Braves really wanted someone else — Russ Branyan, Eli Marrero, or Wilson Betemit — to win the third base job that spring and only went with DeRosa when none of those played well.)
Anyway, that didn’t work, and Chipper was off to a terrible start in 2004, and finally after a stint on the DL he moved back to third base. His final numbers in 2004 look awful — .248/.362/.485 — but that is a fluke. The singles just didn’t fall, and his power and walks stayed constant. Unsurprisingly, he bounced back to his normal levels in 2005-2006, though he missed over 50 games each season with various injuries.
Chipper has passed Murphy for the lead in most of the counting stats; he is the Atlanta leader in hits, runs, RBI, total bases, doubles, and walks. As I’ve mentioned, he and Andruw will probably both pass Murphy on the franchise home run list this year, but with Andruw likely in his last Atlanta season Chipper should wind up the Atlanta leader there as well. He’s created far more runs in Atlanta, and is far more above-average, than any other player.
Chipper, oddly, has a Black Ink score of 0: he has never lead the league in any official category. On the other hand, his cumulative stats are quite good. His most-similar player is, as it has been for most of his career, Gary Sheffield, which seems odd but makes a lot of sense as both are high-walk players with good power, who came up young, played third base and outfield, and have missed time as they’ve aged. Chipper’s chance at the Hall probably depends upon how much he can stay in the lineup the next 3-4 years. He needs a few more 160-170 hit seasons to get to a Hall of Fame standard.