This player preview was written by Matt Davis, who posts here as The Keith Lockhart Era.
Seems like he should still be 25, doesn't it? Still wearing his socks high, still presiding over a dynasty while putting up MVP-caliber numbers every season? Well, Braves fans... Chipper's gonna turn 38 in April, three weeks into the season that marks 20 (TWENTY!) since we drafted him first overall in the summer of 1990. Though we'd all like to beg to differ, the MVP-level skill set Chipper has gotten us so used to over his fifteen seasons may have finally started to erode.
That's not to say Chipper is washed up, and I bet it would take some serious digging to come up with anyone who legitimately thinks that he is. The 2009 season saw Chipper play more games than any other Brave and steer clear of the major injury bug that has plagued him in the past, but it was an accumulation of little things that doomed his production line in ‘09. History has taught us that if we are going to get 488 at bats from Chipper Jones, we should expect a better line than .264/18/71. After all, Chipper hit .364 in 2008, and boasts a 162 game average of .307/32/108.
It has been well documented, on this wonderful site especially, what sort of a special player Chipper is. He's one of 14 people in the history of the game with a career .300/.400/.500 line, along with folks like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial. His career line would still be Hall-worthy had he chosen one side of the plate to bat from, but as a switch-hitter, he became one of the most prolific in the game.
If Chipper had walked away from the game after his sub-par 2009, his legacy would have still been secure. The MVP, the batting title, the ring, all stowed away under a superb career as the face of a single franchise. Our Cal Ripken. Our Mickey Mantle. Our latest incarnation of Dale Murphy (those Philly seasons not withstanding). But Chipper came back. He's got a fresh set of folks to prove wrong. He's turning 38, albeit an old 38. If Chipper was in one of those Tylenol pain relief commercials where "pain and pressure" spots are shown by color, I'm fairly certain his entire bottom half would be bright red. And after all, at 38, Mickey Mantle had been done for two years. Jimmie Foxx had gone away, come back and left again by 37. Eddie Mathews hardly went out with a bang at 36. So what can we legitimately expect from Chipper in 2010?
Chipper was not right in 2009, and would be the first to admit such. He'd also tell you that none of his day-to-day naggings should have affected his line in ‘09, that there was just something in his swing he couldn't get to click. That was clearly evident as the season wore on. While Chipper was hitting .301 on August 15th, he went into a tailspin after that, finishing the season mired in an 18-89 slump. An 0-18 skid mercifully ended with a pitch-hit against the Natinals on the final day of the season. Over our final 45 games, Chipper hit only three home runs, driving in only 17 runs. The man with a career average of .307 managed to hit over .247 in one month after May. Batting .236 with 30 RBI after the break? That's not the Chipper we all know and love, and it's not going to be the Chipper we see in 2010.
Chipper has applied himself with more than his usual diligence this off-season, and his seemingly-renewed vigor to return to success is more than enough to convince most Braves fans that he‘ll be back with a fury this season. Personally, I trust his word more than anyone else I've ever seen put the tomahawk across his chest. If Chipper says he's going to be right in 2010, then, By God, Chipper is going to be right in 2010. Fortunately, there's not as much weight on his shoulders this season, which is going to help his knees down the stretch. Many of the gasps and sighs in his supporting cast have been replaced by dramatic increases in competence. We've covered the Glaus vs. Kotchman, McLouth vs. Schafer, FUGA and FYF vs. live bodies argument, so I won't delve more into that part. Simply put, what it boils down to is that it ain't all Chipper anymore and, at 38, we shouldn't expect it to be. Chipper is surrounded by legitimate run producers almost across the board. That statement might be a bit generous, but who wouldn't be salivating about the maximum potential this lineup could bring?
Ask Chipper what he wants out of his 2010 and I'm sure that he'd view anything below .310/25/80 as a failure. What the Braves need from him to reach October is a slightly different matter though. If we keep Chipper on the field for 140 (relatively) healthy games, we should expect no less than a .300+ BA, 20+ homers and 75+ RBI. While we should still count on him as a dominant force in our lineup, not being THE guy enables him to relax and concentrate on getting back to his natural level of production. He is still a feared hitter. In the worst season of his storied offensive career, Chipper still walked 101 times. That final 45 games we talked about? Still walked 32 times. During that 18-89 stretch, he still had an OBP above the league average. If he even comes close to his career average, we will be playing meaningful baseball well into football season.
Another nice preview by Matt.