Thursday, August 12, 2010

ACL Takes Down Best Switch-Hitter of All-Time (Again)

Chipper Jones heard a “pop” in his left knee during a game on Tuesday versus the Astros, and afterwards, he was generously optimistic in saying he hoped it was “… just a sprain.” It was not. A popping sound rarely results in a simple strain, and this regrettably is not a rare case.

Rob Neyer has already posited that we’ve likely seen the last of Chipper on the ball field amidst his second ACL tear that will require season ending surgery. I will second that.

Chipper had already expressed a desire to retire at seasons end earlier this summer because he wasn’t playing to the caliber he was accustomed to. Despite his self-confessed poor performance, Chipper will end this season with a .381 OBP – good for 11th in the league. He quickly tabled the retirement discussion as it swiftly became (and would have continued to be) an unnecessary distraction during a pennant race. All things considered – a major knee surgery, arduous rehab, an already brilliant 16 year career with a World Series ring and MVP award, and a player already motivated to retire at age 38 – Jones is much more than just likely to be done. It cost him a season in 1994 when he tore the same ACL. This time it will cost him pennant race. But perhaps, it will also gain him an easy out when this country boy so clearly has a desire to head home to his ranch.

There’s something beautiful about a once elite player walking away even though they have just a little something left, just not enough to satisfy their intense perfectionism. Especially because there’s something ugly about a once elite player not walking away until after they have nothing left*. But I greatly respect either, and perhaps most importantly, certainly understand the decision to pursue the latter given the monetary carrot that’s dangled in front of today’s players.

*And there’s something annoying about Brett Favre’s variety – I’ll call it the Hokey Pokey.

Let’s see what he did between those two ACL tears. Chipper’s six All-Star appearances, two Silver Slugger awards and single MVP award don’t come close to doing him justice. This guy is a first ballot Hall of Famer, the best switch-hitter the game has ever seen. His numbers may not jump off the page for many of the curmudgeons from the Baseball Writers Association whom will actually vote for him (or not), but they do to me. And they certainly do (if I should be so bold as to say) for bright men like Rob Neyer and Bill James.

In terms of counting stats, Chipper amassed 2,490 hits, 436 HR, 37 triples, 493 doubles, 1505 runs, 1491 RBI and 147 stole bases with a career average of .306. I guess it’s worth mentioning he also walked 1,404 times.

But what will truly pop for a few of us is this: Chipper will finish with a career BB% of 14.5 (versus a K% of just 15.7), a .405 OBP, .536 SLG, .941 OPS and a wOBA of .402. These are incredible figures for a hitter, a switch-hitter at that. But what truly made him special was the balance he displayed from both sides of the plate. All too often a switch-hitter is incredibly adept hitting from one side and incredibly futile from the other – see Curtis Granderson. But turning Chipper around mid game wouldn’t do you much good, if at all.

As you can see, from the right side Chipper walked a little less often (though also struck out slightly less often), got on base slightly less often and didn’t have quite the power as he had from the right side. But he was no walk in the park to face from either side, and luckily given the scarcity of left handed pitching, batted most often from his stronger side. He was quite simply one of the most dangerous hitters in the game regardless of from which hand the pitchers he faced threw. This is the stuff legends are made of.

I’m optimistic about his future too. I’m not optimistic that Chipper will return, or that he won’t return. I am optimistic that Chipper will choose to do what he wishes, and not what he believes the Braves, fans or baseball wishes. Cheers, Chipper.

1 comment:

  1. You say best switch hitter of all time. I would rather have Mantle if I had a choice.