Just How Good Is Chipper Jones?
Ken Griffey Jr. is about to hit his 600th home run. He has had a tremendous career and is a walk-in Hall of Famer. Griffey’s career has been lauded as one of the best ever. Rightfully so – Griffey is a terrific player, and has been most of his career. It will be great for him to reach 600 home runs and join a very small group.
Griffey is in the last year or so of his career. After the various PED scandals, Griffey is often anointed as the clean one from the era, and so he’ll get to be the face of “the best player” for the 1990s and 2000s. Mostly because he is much more popular than Alex Rodriguez.
Griffey has also been a centerfielder with the hitting career of a first baseman. The hitting he’s provided at his position only serves to maximize his value. He has always had a big defensive reputation, although many analyses have shown him to be just okay in his early career and downright awful in center late in his career. He’s been moved to right field, which helps his defense, but also increases the “requirement” on his batting performance at a time when his production is waning. Griffey’s bat has still been good coming into 2008, around average and above replacement level.
What does this have to do with Chipper Jones? Chipper is hitting a ton to open 2008, and even though it is just mid-May, articles have cropped up about the possibility of him hitting .400 for the season. Now, that is silly enough in its own right. The good news is it puts the spotlight on Chipper and gotten people to consider the quality of his career.
Chipper Jones is a great third baseman. He’s always been a top tier hitter and a solid fielder. While Chipper’s prowess with the bat is never questioned, his rank among great third basemen has. The problem is traditional metrics have shown Chipper to be a poor fielder. His Range Factor (Assists plus putouts per game) has routinely been below league norms. In the face of a significant groundball pitching staff with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and lots of left-handed pitcher innings, Chipper “should” have seen many more chances than league average. To be converting fewer outs than league average could only mean he is a poor defensive third baseman. Chipper being moved off third base in 2002 to a weak fielder position in left field demonstrated that even the Braves recognized Chipper’s shortcomings.
Traditional metrics are wrong. Chipper’s defensive play is one of the most misunderstood performances in baseball. Chipper’s defense has been below average exactly twice in his thirteen-year career. He’s averaged about +4 defensive runs per season. For his career, he’s about 50 runs above average defensively.
What does this have to do with Ken Griffey? Griffey is going to be considered one of the greatest centerfielders ever to play. He’s going to be mentioned alongside Mantle, Mays, Cobb, Speaker. Chipper may or may not end up being mentioned alongside Schmidt, Mathews and Brett. He could end up being mentioned with Brooks Robinson and Pie Traynor, or worse, Ron Santo.
Ken Griffey is playing his 20th season, and he’s had a great career. He has accumulated over 1000 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player from Baseball Prospectus) in runs. Griffey hasn’t been great overall with the glove, and he averages just -4 runs, plenty of that coming from his last few years in center. For Griffey’s career, which has seen its decline phase, he has 1017 VORP runs and -79 defensive runs saved. He will head to the HoF with approximately 938 runs to his credit, as he’s unlikely to improve either of those marks significantly.
Chipper Jones is headed toward summer hitting over .400. Well over .400. He has 888 VORP runs and 52 defensive runs saved. He’s got quite a few more runs to pile up this season, and will play several more seasons. Chipper already has 940 runs. In Chipper’s decline phase, his defense may regress, but he’s going to pile up many more offensive runs.
So what is a good VORP over twenty years? Griffey is number four in total VORP over the last 20 years, behind Bonds and Frank Thomas and ARod. Everyone over 800 VORP is a future hall of famer, with the exception of Rafael Palmiero. The top players:
Ken Griffey Jr., rightfully, will be recognized as one of the greatest players of this, or any generation, and will forever be lauded as one of the finest players ever – possibly inner circle. Chipper Jones has been every bit as good and so many people are unaware of what they are watching. Chipper isn’t just good, and he isn’t just great. Chipper is an all-time great RIGHT NOW. Hopefully he can chase .400 long enough so everyone remembers him that way.
Chris is a pharmaceutical research manager, which is good, because as a Mets fan, he knows where to find the anti-depressants. Turn-ons: Mets, defensive analysis, vodka. Turn-offs: The F'N Cardinals, feel-good stories, any form of adjusted Range Factor. His writings can be found at Baseball Think Factory. Consider yourselves warned.
(Ed. Note: For another exemplary Chris Dial work, have a look at this piece over at BTF on advanced defensive metrics.)