Chipper on the state of the Braves

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of today’s AJC, which features a long Q & A with Chipper  (you can read it online if you have a digital subscription).

I don’t mind strikeouts either. I mind situational strikeouts. If you strike out 100 times, but your strikeouts are with two outs and nobody on base, those don’t bother me. Striking out bothers me when you’ve got guys on base and you’re making unproductive outs. When you’re leading off innings, that’s when it bothers me. There are times when you’re playing this game that you cannot strikeout, can’t. And those unproductive outs have hurt this team.

They’ve got a six-game lead (through Tuesday). They’re doing plenty of things right. They have a very subpar first-half start by the Washington Nationals to thank for that. But I still I worry about this team come crunch time late September, October when we’re talking playoff baseball. While I like the makeup of the club and I think it’s an exciting club, are they going to be able to make contact when they absolutely have to have it, against a premier pitcher. Matt Cain. (Stephen) Strasburg. Clayton Kershaw. …

We also learn that Greg Walker turned to Chipper for advice in getting B.J. on track.

I think sometimes we get caught up in the physical and we forget the mental. You can change someone’s mechanics by getting them to think more mental about each and every at-bat. If a guy is doing something mechanically wrong that he can’t feel, maybe you say, “Well, think about driving the ball through the wall as opposed to hitting the ball over the wall.” … Now B.J.’s a little more down and through and you’re starting to see his contact point pick up. You’re starting to see him center more balls and starting to see the average come up.

Open Thread, 9.28, Chipper Night

Random musings about the greatest Atlanta Brave:

  • I first saw Chipper play at Macon’s Luther Williams Field in 1991. Appropriate. Seeing a future franchise treasure at a treasure of an old ballpark. The 19-year-old Chipper was in his second season as a pro. Erratic at shortstop, there was never any doubting his wizardry with a bat. I’m no baseball scout. But it was plain to anyone who’d swung a bat or watched many others swing: this kid had a Tony Gwynn-type ability to consistently put the meat of the bat on the ball. It showed. Chipper hit .326 in Macon that year, and .346 in Greenville the next season.
  • In March, 1994, the rangy kid Jones was flying around left field in Fort Lauderdale against the Yankees. He radiated joy and skill. He homered and, I believe, doubled that night before crumpling to the ground trying to avoid a first baseman’s tag on an errant throw from shortstop. That first baseman: the despicable Leyritz, who seriously should probably be in prison. After the game, a friend asked Ernie Johnson Jr. about Chipper. Bad news.
  • Opening Day, 1995. CB and I sat in a FulCo that was not close to full after the players’ strike. No matter. We watched the rookie Chipper, now playing third base, hit third, single in a run in his first at-bat and later knock in another run and get another hit. Those were his third and fourth big league hits. Chipper would hit .265, with 23 HR and 86 RBI. He hit .364 in that championship postseason, and made several glittering defensive plays at third. Come to think of it, how many Hall of Fame players, or any players for that matter, played three different positions so early in their careers? Not many, I’d guess.
  • Chipper hit at least 20 homers and drove in at least 100 runs for the next eight seasons. He stole double-digit bases in five of those years.
  • Everyone knows Chipper buried the Mets in 1999. The Braves, of course, won the East and then dispatched the wildcard winning New York in the NLCS. The numbers were remarkable, though: in 12 games vs. the Mets, Chipper hit .400, with a .510 OBP, 7 homers and 16 RBI. Slugging percentage: 1.000, meaning he had 40 total bases in 40 at-bats. Let that sink in. In six games that effectively buried the Mets — the Braves went 5-1 — Chipper hit 7 homers, knocked in 12, scored 11 runs, hit .473 and reached base 60 percent of the time.
  • I don’t have time for an exhaustive list of Chipperthoughts here. We’ll keep those coming. But I’d just add to the recent list the two walk-offs against the Phillies. And, in recent years especially, his candor and thoughtfulness about baseball have made him an always interesting interview. (Here, O’Brien calls him the most pleasant player to deal with he has ever covered.) Finally, in all his years, he never came close to even threatening to leave the Braves. Some of that, no doubt, is because the Braves always made signing him a priority. But Chipper never once made any noises, that I can recall, about even considering playing elsewhere. Yeah, he had his share of injuries. Yes, his candor got him into a little PR trouble at times. And, yes, he had youthful indiscretions. Who among us wouldn’t if taken out of our small hometown and handed seven figures and a glamorous lifestyle? Chipper, farewell, friend. Thanks for all you’ve done for our beloved Bravos. We will dearly miss you.
  • Oh, yeah. Huddy pitches tonight against Jon Niese. We hope Bourn plays. We hope the Braves win. We hope Chipper goes yard, just like — as Maddux said at his number-retirement ceremony — old times against the Mets.

Number 10

Jayson Stark summarizes Chipper’s greatest numerical feats:

Chipper’s likeness, as plowed by a Loganville couple
  • Jones hitting left-handed: .304/.405/.542. Hitting right-handed: .305/.391/.499. What it means: There have been 106 switch-hitters in history who came to the plate at least 5,000 times. Only two of them hit .300 or better from both sides. One was Frankie Frisch, whose career ended 75 years ago. The other: Chipper Jones.
  • Jones’ career on-base percentage: .401. His career slugging percentage: .530. His career homers: 468. All as a switch-hitter, of course. What it means: The list of greatest switch-hitters in history obviously includes men like Frisch, Pete Rose, Eddie Murray and even Lance Berkman. But only two switch-hitters are in that .400-.500-400 Club. One is Mickey Mantle. The other: Chipper Jones.
  • 1,622 RBIs for Chipper — and still counting. What it means: In the history of baseball, only three players ever drove in more than 1,500 runs while spending most of their careers playing third base. Two were George Brett (1,596) and Mike Schmidt (1,595). You can learn all about them in Cooperstown, N.Y. But who’s the all-time leader in RBIs by a guy who mostly played third base? Chipper Jones. That’s who.
  • Here Jones is, after more than 10,000 trips to the plate, still able to say he has piled up more career walks (1,505) than strikeouts (1,409). Hard to do. What it means: More than 130 active players have hit at least 100 homers in their careers — but only three of them have walked more than they’ve punched out. Albert Pujols and Todd Helton are two of them. The other: Chipper Jones.
  • In the final season of his career, at age 40, here’s the stat line of the great Chipper Jones: 106 games, 427 plate appearances, .295/.382/.470. Oh, and there’s also this: He leads his team — a team headed for the postseason, by the way — in OPS (.852). Amazing. What it means: There have been many, many great players who played into their late 30s and early 40s. Pretty much none of them had a final season to rival this one. With the help of the Elias Sports Bureau, we looked at all Hall of Fame position players since 1900 who finished their careers at age 37 or older. Exactly one of them had a say-goodnight season that resembled Chipper’s grand finale. That would be a fellow named Ted Williams, who hit .316/.451/.645 in 1960, at age 41 — but in only 390 plate appearances. So it’s Ted … and Chipper. Two guys who didn’t just know when to turn out the lights. They also knew how. Did they ever.

The promotions department should try thinking for a change

CD and I will be at the game tomorrow night to fete Chipper, but is Friday at 7 p.m. the best time to hold a ceremony honoring the greatest Atlanta Brave? (Speaking of, it would be nice to see the Hammer on the rostrum.)

UPDATE: Hank will be there, according to Bowman. Quite a cap tip to Chipper, considering Henry does not show up for many of these things.

Rush hour traffic is at its worst on Fridays, so while the game is sold out, you won’t see a full house at 7. Why not hold the ceremony on Saturday, when traffic is not an issue?

Bring it, Chipper!

Sorry, Chip, had to watch replay of the Buffalo-UGA tilt on TV and then catch up on all the high school games I DVR’d.

Actually, the announced attendance of 16,686 was far from the worst in baseball Tuesday night and, considering how poorly they played, the Braves should be happy there were few witnesses.

On the other hand, the Rays drew about a 1,000 more, albeit with the Yankees in town and a division title yet to be decided. I’m sure 15,000 of them were rooting for the Bombers.

Golden Age, eh Bud?

LaHair over Chipper, Bourn? Ben Sheets??

Whenever I see Tony LaRussa I’m reminded of Corky St.  Clair’s famous admonition:

Picking Bryan LaHair, a nice story who has cooled, over Chipper and Bourn is absurd. Chipper has played in 24 fewer games but has as many RBI as LaHair. With Starlin Castro on the team there was no need to pick a Cub. But the stubborn and smug LaRussa decided to make the fans choose Chipper. His competition in the fan vote includes Bryce Harper, so vote early and often. Nothing wrong with sentiment.

Bourn, on pace for more than 200 hits, deserves it on merit. Especially over LaHair.

Meanwhile, the Braves have signed Ben Sheets, who was injury-prone when he was healthy and in his 20s, to a minor league contract.


A message for Jamie Moyer

Chipper’s reaction to Jamie Moyer’s sign-stealing accusation reminds me how much we’ll miss his candor.

“See, this is what happens when you get a pitcher who comes from a team that [relays signs] constantly — the Phillies,” Jones said. “And he is so paranoid that every single team does it, which is not the case. Because the only people that I ever remember doing it in this organization were [Jeff] Blauser and [Mark] Lemke. Those are the only two guys that I ever knew of that would either give location or give signs from second base. Since then, nobody’s ever done it [with the Braves].

“I’ve never asked for a location, I’ve never asked for a pitch, and I’ve never given one.”


All that was missing was a Rick Camp homer

Tough to argue with that one:

Roy Halladay gave up eight runs.
The Braves bullpen allowed seven.
Durbin and Livan didn’t allow any.
Carlos Ruiz drove in 7 (two more than Albert Pujols has all year) and his team lost.
The Braves were 7-for-13 w/ RISP and almost lost.

But the future Hall of Famer wasn’t going to let that happen. Not tonight.


The Braves at 20

The ’82 team won its first 13. This year’s version dropped its first four. After 20, the ’82 Braves had just two more wins than the current squad. In the ’82 team’s 20th game, Joe Cowley pitched 7 shutout innings to secure win No. 15, aided by homers from Murph and Horner. Biff Pocoroba slugged two doubles among his three hits en route to a 3-0 victory over Fergie Jenkins and the Cubs before 8,802 at Fulco.

The 2011 Bravos were 8-12. They lost Game 20 to the Dodgers when Fredi foolishly let C. Martinez pitch to Matt Kemp. Game over. Chipper led the local nine in hitting with a .275 BA; this year’s line-up boasts four starters with a higher average. Nate McLouth struck out three times and RF Matt “I never hit a ball out of the IF” Young finished 0-for-5. Linebrink gave up a run in 2/3 of an inning.

The ’95 Braves didn’t play their 20th game until May 16th, thanks to the strike. Chipper, the Crime Dog and Justice combined for 11 hits and 8 RBI en route to a 15-3 rout of the Rockies, improving the world champion-to-be’s record to 11-9. The late Mike Sharperson drove in 2 with a double and the late Jose Oliva hit his 4th homer for Bobby’s boys. Three future Braves — Walt Weiss, the Big Cat and Vinny Castilla — started for the Rockies.

Arguably the best Braves team of them all, the ’93 version, was also 11-9 after 20. Their 20th game was played prior to the Crime Dog trade, hence the loss to Omar Oliveras.

The last team to be 13-7? The ’99 Braves, the last to reach the World Series. Their 20th game also came against the Pirates, behind two RBI by Chipper. Just like tonight.

(Actually, the ’07 Braves were also 13-7, but they finished with only 84 wins. Ending with the ’99 Braves makes for a more optimistic narrative.)


Bravos at 40

Happy birthday to Chipper, one of the few players to reach his 40th while playing for the Braves.

We’ll be happy if he matches the Hammer’s output at 40: .268-20-69 in 112 games, with a .341 OBP and .491 slugging percentage. The year before Aaron homered 40 times with a 1.045 OPS.

Julio Franco was 42 when signed out of the Mexican League in 2001. He surprised everyone hitting .300 with a .376 OBP in 101 AB’s. He spent 6 years with the Bravos and nearly matched his career BA and OBP.

In 1969, Braves GM Paul Richards traded 20-year-old Mickey Rivers (who hit .295 and stole 267 bases in 15 big league seasons) for 46-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm, who helped the Braves win their first division title in Atlanta but arrived too late to be eligible for the postseason roster. They could’ve used him — in Game 1 against the Mets the Bravos led 5-4 going into the 8th but Luman Harris, with few options in the ‘pen, kept Phil Niekro in for one inning too many and New York would go on to sweep the series.

Speaking of Knucksie, no Brave handled 40 more smoothly. He won 21, a heckuva feat on that team, and completed 23 games in 342 innings, nearly twice as many as Eddie (call me Buddy Jay) Solomon, second on the Braves in IP.

There’s not much to say about Darrell Evans and Graig Nettles, who celebrated their 42nd birthday as Braves, except I’d pay big for a “Bomb Squad” poster.

Did I forget anyone?

(Yes I did — a 40-year-old John Smoltz struck out 197 in 205 IP in ’07, winning 14 with a WHIP below 1.2.)


Chipper factoid du jour

In honor of No. 10’s triumphant return, we launch what will be an occasional series of nuggets from the career of the greatest Braves hitter of the Atlanta era. Chipper is one of 10 players in Major League history to hit 400 home runs with a career batting average of .300 or better and a career on base percentage of at least .400.

The others: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Stan Musial, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Manny Ramirez, Frank Thomas and Albert Pujols.

Offensive keys to the season: Heyward, Chipper

Heyward is obviously pivotal. He is one of the few real question marks in the lineup. Bourn will be solid. No way Prado doesn’t rebound. McCann will be McCann, and won’t fade late. Freeman could take a step back in year 2, ala J-Hey, but I don’t see it happening. Uggla will be Uggla.

That leaves J-Hey, Chipper and the shortstop. Ergo, your two keys to the offense. If Heyward reverts to his rookie form, this lineup is solidly six deep, at least. The last few practice games have been encouraging, as he’s launched balls into the universe like he did two years ago in Florida. Despite his struggles last season, the kid is only 22. Now, he could hit .240 with 17 homers. But something along the lines of .275-.280, 25 HR, 90 RBI, .385-.400 OBP is far more likely.

J-Hey does that, and we have just two iffy lineup spots.

One of those will be shortstop. Whatever offense we get there is fine, as long as Simmons/Pastornicky/Wilson catch the ball.

The other of those spots, on certain days, will belong to the 40-year-old Mr. L.W. Jones. The last 1990s MVP still active, Chipper was productive last year in 455 at bats in 126 games. He had the second-best OPS on the team, the third best homer-per-at bat ratio, and the best RBI per at bat ratio. RBI are dependent in part on other players, of course, but still, it’s a positiive indicator. Old No. 10 led the team in slugging percentage, and was intentionally walked 10 times, second most behind McCann. (Strangely, Uggla only drew two intentional walks.) Of his 18 homers, only 3 came when the Braves were ahead or behind by more than three runs, so most of them meant something.

The bottom line: if Chipper can come reasonably close to matching last season’s production and play, say, 115 games, it will be significant. There will be his production, obviously. That would also limit the plate appearances by the likes of Diaz, Hinske and Constanza. Jorge did some nice work last year, but those guys all represent a severe drop in ability from even the 40-year-old Chipper Jones. They are simply not players you want playing too often.

We welcome your thoughts.

No greater compliment

Here’s how the New York media reported the news of Chipper’s retirement:

‘Mets Killer’ Jones To Retire At Season’s End

They still remember 1999, which arguably stands as the greatest season by any Braves hitter — ever. It wasn’t so much his numbers, though they were scintillating — 45 homers, 41 doubles, .441 OBP, 25 steals. He carried that team on his shoulders after Andres Galarraga and Javy Lopez were sidelined for the year.

The Mets, who the Braves would defeat in the NLCS, might’ve won the division had it not been for Chipper, who had a 1.000 slugging percentage, 7 homers and 16 RBI in 12 games against them.

On Sept. 22, 1999, the Braves held a one-game lead as the Mets came to town feeling good about their chances.

The Mets entered town with the stronger lineup and deeper bullpen, ready to steal everything the Braves spent a decade building. But they could not stop Chipper Jones.

Jones, carrying more and more of the burden as more of his teammates have fallen off, continued his MVP-caliber season last night, burning the Mets for homers from both sides of the plate in a 2-1 win that knocked the Mets two games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East.

The Mets learned their lesson in the NLCS, walking Chipper nine times in six games.

For his career, Shea’s dad batted .318 against the Muts with 48 homers and 154 RBI. Chipper’s numbers against the Phils, Atlanta’s other chief divisional nemesis during his career: .332-46-144.