Every year, as the Hall of Fame inductions roll around, the Chipper Jones debate begins. Perhaps it is heightened living in the Atlanta area as I do, but each and every year as Larry Wayne Jones inches closer to possible enshrinement, the debate arises.
Is Chipper Jones a Hall of Famer?
I don’t understand how this is an argument. Some people will straight out tell you that he isn’t a Hall of Famer. Others will tell you that he is a Hall of Famer, but not a first ballot kind of guy. Then there are guys like me, who think you must have not watched baseball throughout the entire 1990s and 2000s if you truly think Chipper Jones is not a Hall of Fame caliber player.
I get the argument that some choose to debate. Baseball is and forever will be a numbers game. A career’s greatness in the NFL and NBA can change with the amount of rings you have on your fingers, but in baseball, all that matters is the stats. If that weren’t the case David Justice and Eric Hinske would be first ballot guys with all the consecutive playoffs and World Series they appeared in.
Chipper doesn’t have the numbers typically associated with a first ballot Hall of Famer, I will agree with that. The bench mark for “automatic” induction is 3,000 hits, Chipper had 2,726. The mark for home runs is 500, Chipper had 468. But when it comes to Chipper Jones, you have to look at the whole picture, and then you realize that his numbers are good enough for consideration.
Chipper is one of the greatest switch hitters of all-time and his numbers rank at the top of a list that includes the following names: Pete Rose, Eddie Murray, and Mickey Mantle. When it comes to the greatest switch hitters of all time, the conversation is Chipper Jones and those three. How are you going to keep a guy in that conversation out of the Hall on the first ballot? Are you kidding me?
Jones is 33rd all-time in home runs, 29th all-time in doubles (549) and 33rd all-time in RBI with 1,623. When you put him on an exclusive list of switch hitters, he is in the top five in nearly every category, including his impressive .401 career on base percentage, which was better than both Murray (.359) and Rose (.375) by a landslide.
As many of you know that follow this site, I am not entirely keen on WAR. I will bring it into the conversation because I know it is a necessary evil in today’s stat driven world, but I will again point to my biggest beef with trusting WAR as an end-all stat. Baseball Reference and FanGraphs — arguably the two most trusted sites for baseball metrics — have different equations and thus different values for a player’s WAR (Chipper is 85 on Baseball Reference, while 84.6 on FanGraphs, whereas someone like Beltre is 90.2 on B/R and 81.3 on FG, so it isn’t merely a round up, round down situation).
I like to look to wRC+ which — in easiest terms — is a metric to see how well you were at creating runs with the numbers adjusted accordingly to ball parks and the sorts. The average for a MLB player is 100. Chipper ended his career with a 141 wRC+. His contemporary in the third base department, Adrian Beltre who many feel is a sure fire Hall of Famer, sits at 115. The legendary third baseman before Chipper, Mike Schmidt, sits at 147. A defensive wizard at the hot corner like Brooks Robinson registered a 104 WRC+. You can see that Chipper hangs with elite Hall of Fame company and even bests most of them.
That being said, since WAR is the big todo, Chipper’s overall WAR according to FanGraphs is 84.6. That is better than Beltre’s 81.3 and Brooks’ 80.2, but worse than Schmidt’s astounding 106.5 WAR (that number is mind boggling). If you look at Baseball Reference, their formula rates Chipper an 87.4 oWAR (offensive WAR). That’s good for 25th all time. But, as some like to argue, Chipper doesn’t have the magical numbers.
The place where Chipper gets burned is defense. I mean it’s not even close. This is where I take the most heat in my soap box campaign for Chipper every time. It wasn’t simply that Chipper couldn’t hang defensively with some of the bigger Hall of Fame third baseman, it’s that he wasn’t even on the page. Baseball Reference has Chipper at a -1.6 dWAR (Defensive WAR). Take the same third baseman I compared him to earlier. Robinson, who’s Hall of Fame bid was mainly because of his defense, was the best at 38.8. Schmidt, who’s Hall of Fame bid came behind one of the biggest bats in the history of the game, was a 17.6. Beltre, who is the most well-rounded of the the four, is currently at 27.3. So, yes, Chipper Jones’ defense was atrocious.
But he made up for it on the offensive side of the plate. PLUS, the second that David Ortiz announced his retirement, the world over forgot his name on the alleged 2003 list of PED users and wanted him to be anointed into the Hall of Fame seemingly before he swung his last bat. Ortiz was an absolutely horrendous fielder and even playing first base in the limited time that he had to, he still posted a -21.6 dWAR.
Another fascinating aspect to Chipper’s game was that for all the teasing he received for being fragile and injury-prone, he came alive in his latter years. He posted an OPS above 1.000 in each of his age-34, 35 and 36 seasons, winning a batting title at the age of 36, leading all of MLB with a .364 average and a .470 on base percentage. His final season at the age of 40, he slashed .287/.377/.455 with 14 home runs and 23 doubles. If Chipper wanted the numbers, he probably had a year left to try and get them.
The thing is, Chipper could have signed a contract in the American League at any point in his career, especially the later years, and hit all the numbers that wouldn’t even make this an debate. He would have stayed healthier as a DH, not only giving him more at bats, but would keep him off third base, possibly improving that terrible dWAR.
He didn’t though. He stayed in Atlanta for the duration of his 19-year career. He would give the retirement speech for Bobby Cox, the man that drafted him first overall in the 1990 draft and would later manage him to an MVP Award, a World Series ring and make him the centerpiece of the team that completely dominated the NL East for a decade and a half. We will never see anything like that ever again. Even Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, whom many feel may be the last of the breed who sticks with their same team for the duration of their career, were drafted or signed by Gene Michaels, sent back to the minors by Buck Showalter, managed to greatness by Joe Torre, and then retired under the helms of their own former teammate Joe Girardi when it was all over. Chipper and Bobby spent day one to day none together. It was a beautiful thing to see, and Chipper was probably my least favorite Brave during those years.
We will never see another run like the 1991 to 2005 run of the Atlanta Braves. And the one consistent of that offense — no matter how known they were for their rotation — is a no-brainer, sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer. Especially when he is one of the best three switch hitters to ever rip a baseball.