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40-players-in-40-days-the-third-baseman | November | 2009 Articles

2009 Archives

40 Players in 40 Days: The Third Baseman

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="by Keith Allison"]by Keith Allison[/caption]

Yes, that title says the singular "baseman," since, for a change, the Braves had just one player whose primary position was the hot corner, and we all know who that was.

Chipper Jones played in more games this year than any year since 2003, but his performance fell off drastically, to the extent that he actually bandied about the word "retirement." I don't think anyone's going to argue that Chipper is in decline: aside from his weirdly poor 2004 season, 2009 saw Chip post his highest strikeout rate since 1995, and his highest groundball rate on balls in play since Baseball Info Solutions started keeping BIP data (in 2002). Now it's admittedly not great analysis to just throw out his 2004 season, and people were yelling "decline" back then as well. But there are two key differences: first, he was just 32 years old in 2004, and now he's 37, which is a more normal time for a player's decline phase to begin. Second, he didn't see a huge drop in his isolated power back in '04, but this year his ISO fell below .200 (to .166) for the first time since 1997, and it's the lowest ISO number of his career by nearly 20 points. All those (the K's, the groundballs, and the loss of power) are signs that age is finally catching up to this franchise icon.

But I dispensed with the doom and gloom up front so I could save this for later: he's still Chipper Friggin' Jones. When we say he had a "poor" year, we are still talking an OPS over .800. And he's still the clubhouse leader that this young (and getting younger) team needs. And he's still got an unparalleled work ethic and sense of pride that mean he will work his butt off to ensure that his 2010 season isn't nearly as "bad" as his 2009 was. His BABIP was about 30 points below where it should have been based on his line drive rate, and it's important to note that his numbers took a huge hit over the season's final six weeks, as he hit just .173/.322/.266 in 42 games after August 15th. More rest in the earlygoing might help prevent a similar breakdown next year; before that he was hitting a solid .301/.414/.496. So he's definitely starting to show his age, but there are still grounds to expect a moderate bounceback in 2010. His glove is becoming an albatross at third base, and it would be lovely to relocate him across the diamond to first, but it's unlikely that he would be on board with that, so it appears the Braves will have to eat the defensive loss and focus on the significant offensive gain that Chipper Jones will continue to provide.

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