Chipper Jones Facts: He Stole Bases, Too

Throughout this season, I'll be posting occasionally about some of the coolest, quirkiest, and most remarkable statistics from the career of our favorite near-retiree, Larry Wayne Jones.

I'm sure if you're reading this post, you've already read two dozen or so other Chipper Jones tributes in the last 24 hours or so. Thus, I'm not going to repeat the most obvious of Chipper's statistical achievements here. Rather, I'll try to delve into one of the less-noted (but still incredible) aspects of Chipper's superb career. Namely: he was a very effective base-stealer.

It's easy to forget this, but Chipper has stolen 149 bases in his career. That's not a ton, but it's not nothing either. What makes these steals more impressive is that Chipper has only been caught 46 times--that's a very good 76% success rate.

Chipper's combination of savvy base-stealing and home-run power puts him in some very elite company. Here are the only players* to have at least 400 career homers and 100 career steals while being successful in at least 75% of their steal attempts:

* since 1951, when caught stealings were first tracked reliably

Rk Player HR SB% SB From To Age
1 Barry Bonds 762 78.473% 514 1986 2007 21-42
2 Hank Aaron 755 76.677% 240 1954 1976 20-42
3 Willie Mays 660 76.644% 338 1951 1973 20-42
4 Alex Rodriguez 629 80.688% 305 1994 2011 18-35
5 Mickey Mantle 536 80.105% 153 1951 1968 19-36
6 Chipper Jones 454 76.410% 149 1993 2011 21-39
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/22/2012.

Obviously, Chipper has fewer steals and a lot fewer homers than the other 5 players... but that's some pretty good company, isn't it? You could make a case that those top 5 players are also the 5 best hitters of the post-integration era (though I'd rank A-Rod a bit lower than that, for now). So even if Chipper comes out on the short end of the stick compared to the other 5, it's very impressive that he's even in a position to be compared to such all-time greats.

Even if you judge based exclusively on stolen base success, Chipper still rates historically well. After all, he's had an amazing 11 different seasons in which he stole at an 80% rate or better. In fact, Chipper is one of a select few to have 10 seasons with at least 4 steals and a success rate of at least 80% (again, since 1951):

Rk Player Yrs From To Age Seasons
1 Tim Raines 15 1980 1999 20-39 Ind. Seasons
2 Rickey Henderson 12 1983 2002 24-43 Ind. Seasons
3 Paul Molitor 12 1980 1998 23-41 Ind. Seasons
4 Stan Javier 11 1986 2001 22-37 Ind. Seasons
5 Barry Bonds 11 1986 2007 21-42 Ind. Seasons
6 Eric Davis 11 1984 1997 22-35 Ind. Seasons
7 Willie Wilson 11 1979 1991 23-35 Ind. Seasons
8 Joe Morgan 11 1967 1983 23-39 Ind. Seasons
9 Chipper Jones 10 1996 2010 24-38 Ind. Seasons
10 Johnny Damon 10 1995 2010 21-36 Ind. Seasons
11 Ozzie Smith 10 1979 1992 24-37 Ind. Seasons
12 Willie Mays 10 1952 1971 21-40 Ind. Seasons
13 Mickey Mantle 10 1952 1965 20-33 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/22/2012.

That's not a bad list, is it? Of the 12 players other than Chipper, 8 are in the Hall of Fame. Sure, Chipper isn't a high-volume base-stealer like most of these guys (with the exception of Mantle). What this list shows, however, is that he has been very, very smart at deciding when to run.

In fact, even after Chipper's speed deserted him (around the early 2000s), he still managed to steal bases at a good rate, if a lot less often. From 2004 to 2010, when Chipper was 32 to 38 years old, he stole 31 bases and was caught just 4 times. That's a whopping 89% success rate.

How rare is it to steal at that high of a rate at those ages? Here are all the players in MLB history to steal 30 or more bases with a success rate of 85% or greater from age 32 through age 38:

Rk Player SB CS SB% From To Age
1 Ichiro Suzuki 233 39 85.6% 2006 2011 32-37
2 Chico Walker 35 6 85.4% 1991 1993 32-34
3 Delino DeShields 33 3 91.7% 2001 2002 32-33
4 Chipper Jones 31 4 88.6% 2004 2010 32-38
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/22/2012.

Just 4 players. And 2 of those (Walker and DeShields) didn't make it past age 34, which limited the damage done to their steal rates by the age-related losses in footspeed. And even Ichiro might not be on this list when all is said and done; he's stolen bases at "only" an 81% clip the past 3 seasons and has yet to play his age-38 season. (Of course, Ichiro is in a class of his own when you consider just how many bases he's stolen.)

Obviously, I was a bit selective with the age cutoff, since Chipper went just 2/4 on steals in 2011, which drops his success rate since age 32 to 84.6%. But even with that, Chipper's late-career steal rate ranks very highly. Here are the highest steal rates from age 32 onward (min. 30 steals):

Rk Player SB% SB CS From To Age
1 Delino DeShields 91.667% 33 3 2001 2002 32-33
2 Ichiro Suzuki 85.662% 233 39 2006 2011 32-37
3 Chico Walker 85.366% 35 6 1991 1993 32-34
4 Chipper Jones 84.615% 33 6 2004 2011 32-39
5 Davey Lopes 84.574% 318 58 1977 1987 32-42
6 Roberto Alomar 84.348% 97 18 2000 2004 32-36
7 Terry Shumpert 83.673% 41 8 1999 2003 32-36
8 Dave Roberts 83.429% 146 29 2004 2008 32-36
9 Alfonso Soriano 83.333% 35 7 2008 2011 32-35
10 Tim Raines 83.108% 123 25 1992 2002 32-42
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/23/2012.

Obviously, that number could change in his final season, but Chipper has already played longer than everyone on the list except for Raines (who had just 1 steal attempt after age 39) and Lopes (who, amazingly, stole 47 of 51 bases in his age-40 season--that's 92%!). The point is that it's highly impressive for a player to steal at such a high rate in his mid-to-late 30's, even if it's a relatively small number of steals.

In a way, actually, Chipper's feat is more impressive in this context, since we know that he had far less speed than the other players listed above. He had to rely on instincts and smarts to be so successful.

Finally, let's look at the Braves' record when Chipper stole bases. Overall, they were 99-36-1 when he stole at least one base. That's a .733 winning percentage. Let's compare that number to some other Braves of the division-title-streak era. The Braves had a:

As another comparison, the Braves had a .684 winning percentage when Hank Aaron stole a base. Perhaps more interestingly, the Braves had a winning percentage of just .643 in games in which Chipper reached base but did not steal a base in the '90s (his stolen-base prime). They also have had a .630 winning percentage when Chipper is caught stealing.

I'm not sure what this says about Chipper, exactly. Probably all it means is that he had better teammates than Aaron and was a better overall player than the others. But it's a fun little factoid as long as you don't read too much into it.

Which, really, can be said for all of the stats in this post. We all know what really made Chipper great--being able to consistently hit for average, hit for power, and draw tons of walks. His stolen-base prowess was more like icing on the cake, even if it is some very interesting icing (on a very impressive cake).

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