Feeling Chipper again
Ten 30-something ex-stars who need to turn it on
Posted: Tuesday February 13, 2007 12:43AM; Updated: Tuesday February 13, 2007 8:47PM
If you sat down and tried to come up with the 10 best players in baseball today, it's a good bet Chipper Jones wouldn't crack your list. Even if you limited that little argument-starting exercise to the 10 best hitters, the Braves third baseman still isn't going to land on a lot of ballots. You could argue that with emergent talents like Miguel Cabrera, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman -- these are just the guys who play Chipper's position in his division -- Jones may no longer belong among the Top 10 hitters in the National League.
Then again, you could argue Jones has had a remarkable run in his 13 years in the big leagues, a career that has included a ton of playoff games, a World Series win (1995), a Most Valuable Player award ('99), a couple of Silver Slugger awards and plenty of Top 10 appearances on the NL's leaderboards. Taken as a whole, that constitutes a career that's probably bound for the Hall of Fame (which is more than you can say for those other guys right now). You could argue, really easily, that he can still hit with the best. Look at Jones' career numbers. Look where he stands on the list of current players in a key statistical categories [see charts]. This guy can rake.
At least when he's playing. That, as it works out, is the trick for Jones this year, as it has been for the past three. When Jones plays, he's been one of the best hitters in the game, with not much debate. He has patience and power. He's smart at the plate. He's a switch hitter, too, which earns him bonus points in his quest for the Hall of Fame
Still, these last three years have been a killer for Chipper's reputation. This might be painful to point out about anyone, but in all fairness, it has to be mentioned: In the past three years, J.D. Drew has played in seven more games than Jones. Now that's gotta hurt.
I bring this up because Jones -- as good as he has been, as good as he is and still can be -- has to be very good this season, not only to get his career back on track, but for the Braves to have a chance in the NL East. That's not to say that everything in Atlanta rests on Jones. The success of the starting rotation, specifically the rebounding Mike Hampton and the so-far disappointing Tim Hudson, is vitally important. Ryan Langerhans has to take charge in left field. The right side of the infield, penciled in as Scott Thorman and Kelly Johnson, has to be at least passable.
But, as much as anything, Jones has to be healthy and playing like he's healthy. Because when he's healthy enough to play, we've seen what he can do. Heck, even hobbled, Jones has been very good. Over the past three years, he's battled hamstring, oblique and foot injuries -- were oblique injuries even invented in the '40s, by the way? -- and he's still had an OPS of more than .930 (playing in 356 games).
Jones is 34 now (35 in April), which, historically speaking, puts him on the downward side of his career. That doesn't mean, of course, that he doesn't have plenty left. He probably does. It just means that he's going to have to show it or the Braves will be in big trouble ... and Jones will slip farther down on everybody's list of best players in the game.
Here are nine other 30-something hitters who need to turn it on again, for both their sakes and their teams'. (I looked at both leagues, but these guys just happen to all play in the NL):
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