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2008 Positional Preview: Third Base

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There are a couple positions on this team we'll probably be discussing until opening day, however one position we can pretty safely call right now is third base. Chipper Jones will yet again anchor Atlanta's offense after one of the better seasons of his storied career. In 2007 we saw Chipper put up MVP-type numbers with the bat and it might have been the best we've ever seen him in the field. The question mark for Chipper in 2008, as has been the case for the past couple seasons, is going to be the veteran third baseman's health. At age 35, Jones is coming off an '07 campaign in which he hit .337/.425/.604 with 29 home runs and 102 RBIs. In just over 500 at bats, he managed the third highest OPS of any full season during his 14-year major league career and his .337 batting average was a career-high. Not only was this one of the best seasons of his own career but it was one of the best seasons of the year throughout the MLB. His 1.029 OPS put him first in the national league in that category and fourth in the majors behind only Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, and Carlos Pena. His BABIP was .352 last year and while he is going to have an above-average number there, it is a long shot to see him repeat this kind of level. His career BABIP is .319, which includes a .251 mark in 2004. I'd guess that he'll probably be be in the .320-.330 range next season. A couple nice stats I see when looking at Jones' 2007 season are his strikeout and walk numbers. Jones saw his walk rate climb just about one percent to 13.8% and his strikeout rate decreased over three percent to 14.6%. Both are good signs for his average if he can keep those levels up. One of the main factors in Jones' production over the past few years has been his durability or lack there of. Last season, for the first time since 2004, Jones played in over 130 games. This was largely due to fewer problems from his feet and oblique muscle, which have put him on the DL quite a few times in recent years. The only problem that really had an effect was a nagging hand injury he suffered while diving for a ball. He missed some time from that but over the course of the season we didn't really hear much about his chronic pains. Obviously health isn't something that can be easily predicted. Even after a relatively healthy season, Jones still has to worry about the injury bug since he has become more fragile at this stage in his career. All we can do is hope that Chipper is close to last year's health. Defensively, Chipper enjoyed probably the best season of his career and a case could be made for him deserving the Gold Glove. This increased ability with the glove could very well have been a product of his health. Chipper has said before that his foot condition makes him feel like he's walking on a golf ball and the increase in his range last season seems like it could very well be related. Jones improved with the glove after moving back to the hot corner a couple years ago but his defense was still middle of the pack. In 2007, we saw him getting to almost everything hit his way and far less simple mistakes. Like his offense, I think Chipper's defense is very dependent on health, especially his feet. Can you see a trend there? His defense makes a big difference in the big picture. Tim Hudson and Tom Glavine both rely on the groundball quite a bit, so having a plus defender at third helps both out significantly. My outlook for next season is pretty good. He's got quite a bit more help with Mark Teixeira hitting behind him for an entire season than last year when Andruw Jones was batting cleanup for a good amount of the time, but again, the biggest factor is health. Bill James calls for a .306/.406/.542 line with 26 home runs and 90 RBIs over 128 games. I think this may be a bit conservative and I' m projecting him at .320/.415/.575 with 28 home runs in 130 games. I see another great and relatively healthy season for him in 2008, which is a key for Atlanta's chances in the NL East.

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