September 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm by David Lee under Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones
As I linked to in the news post today, Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote a great piece on the biggest accomplishments of Chipper Jones’ career, getting the opinions of several around the organization. It’s well worth a read in full, but I want to focus on one aspect that was mentioned on Twitter after the article was posted.
Feat No. 5 in Stark’s article is titled, “The greatest No. 1 overall pick ever.” Such a big claim is worth looking into deeper. Braves.com’s Teddy Cahill and I spoke back and forth briefly on Twitter yesterday after he brought up the topic, and you can follow the link to read our conversation in full. But this really highlights the point of it: “Right. Which makes this a philosophical question and there’s probably no right answer.”
So while I’m looking deeper into the topic, this isn’t an end-all post on the subject. People view the purpose of the draft in different ways. One way is that you try to get the most potential value for your big league club that will stay in the organization as long as possible. Another way is that you try to get the most potential value for your big league club by utilizing the draft selection in whatever way necessary to get equal value, such as trading him or receiving draft compensation as a free agent.
Chipper’s situation with the Braves obviously falls into the first category. He has played 18 seasons for the Braves, compiling a total of 90.3 fWAR, with a career line of .304/.401/.530 and .398 wOBA and 142 wRC+. He earned all of this for one team as a No. 1 overall draft pick. If that isn’t the very definition of value from a draft pick, I don’t know what is.
From Stark’s article: The GM’s take: Maybe Griffey and Alex Rodriguez can stake their claims to the title of Greatest No. 1 Pick Ever. But at the very least, says Braves GM Frank Wren, Chipper is the guy who’s had “the greatest value to the organization that picked him. How about that? I think you could make that case, from a standpoint of, he’s spent his whole career with one organization, and had a Hall of Fame career, whereas other guys haven’t necessarily done that.”
So yes, there’s no doubt Alex Rodriguez is the greatest No. 1 overall draft pick as a player. He has compiled 114.7 fWAR with a career .300/.384/.561, a .404 wOBA and 146 wRC+. He’s the best player to ever be chosen No. 1 overall in a draft.
But Rodriguez only gave the Mariners seven years of these numbers. Take away his two years of getting his feet wet as a teenager and he gave the Mariners 37.2 wins above replacement. Rodriguez then bolted for Texas and that mammoth contract, leaving Seattle with draft pick compensation in the form of Michael Garciaparra and Rene Rivera. Garciaparra never made the majors. Rivera played 53 games for Seattle and is currently a minor leaguer for the Twins. It’s safe to say the Mariners didn’t get as much value out of Rodriguez as the Braves did Chipper.
Then there’s Ken Griffey Jr., who is the best contender for Chipper’s title as most valuable to his team. Griffey’s final numbers were 83.9 fWAR, .284/.370/.538, .385 wOBA and 133 wRC+. But he gave the Mariners 11 years at a total of 73 wins above replacement.
Griffey was traded to the Reds at age 30 season for Brett Tomko, Mike Cameron, Antonio Perez and Jake Meyer. Tomko’s final value with the Mariners was exactly replacement level while throwing only 127 innings over two seasons. Neither minor leaguer ever pitched for Seattle.
Cameron, on the other hand, gave the Mariners his best years, earning 19.7 fWAR over four seasons. If you add that total to Griffey’s, the two combined for 92.7 fWAR, surpassing Chipper’s mark with the Braves.
So that’s something to think about. What defines value from a draft pick? As Cahill said, it’s a philosophical question, and people will view it in different ways. I’m of the opinion that what Chipper gave the Braves himself as a first overall pick has meant the most among the three. Others may think differently. That’s what makes it interesting.
September 4, 2012 at 1:35 pm by David Lee under Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones
Much was written on the heroics of Chipper Jones blasting that two-out, three-run homer off Jonathan Papelbon to beat the Phillies on Sunday. However, unless you dig deeper into the numbers, it’s tough to judge how that play compares to his previous heroics. I have done just that.
Based on the game logs I sifted through, it appears Chipper’s home run Sunday was the most valuable play of his career, thus making it the most valuable game of his career. The list I compiled below is the evidence.
As a note: The stat that this post is centered around is Win Probability Added (WPA). Considering I use it every day to recap game threads, I assume most of CAC’s readers have a general grasp of the stat. For those who don’t, FanGraphs has a great glossary for such things, and I recommend giving it a quick read to understand the list in more detail.
Without further ado, the 10 most valuable games of Chipper Jones’ career, according to WPA:
1. Sept. 2, 2012 (WPA: .875). 8-7 win vs. Phillies
Key play: Three-run homer with two outs in the ninth, down two runs, to win 8-7 (wWPA: 86%).
2. Sept. 11, 2005 (WPA: .841). 9-7 win vs. Nationals
Key play: Two-run homer with two outs in the ninth, down one run, to go ahead 8-7 (wWPA: 74%).
3. July 1, 1998 (WPA: .813). 6-5 win vs. Devil Rays
Key play: Two-run homer with two outs in the ninth, down one run, to go ahead 6-5 (wWPA: 70%).
4. Aug. 9, 1998 (WPA: .750). 7-5 win vs. Giants
Key play: Two-run single with two outs in the ninth, tied at 5, to go ahead 7-5 (wWPA: 41%).
5. June 7, 2009 (WPA: .685). 8-7 win vs. Brewers
Key play: Three-run homer with two outs in the fifth, down one run, to go ahead 5-3 (wWPA: 39%).
6. Sept. 14, 2007 (WPA: .594). 8-5 win vs. Nationals
Key play: RBI double with one out in the ninth, down one run, to tie at 5 (wWPA: 39%).
7. May 17, 2006 (WPA: .591). 6-4 win vs. Marlins
Key play: Three-run homer with no outs in the 11th, down one run, to win 6-4 (wWPA: 47%).
8. April 6, 2005 (WPA: .567). 2-1 win vs. Marlins
Key play: Solo home run with no outs in the 13th, tied at 1, to go ahead 2-1 (wWPA: 34%).
9. Sept. 22, 2004 (WPA: .546). 11-8 loss vs. Reds
Key play: Three-run homer with two outs in the seventh, down one run, to go ahead 8-6 (wWPA: -51%).
10. Aug. 22, 2005 (WPA: .543). 4-2 win vs. Cubs
Key play: Two-run homer with one out in the ninth, tied at 2, to go ahead 4-2 (wWPA: 41%).
Notes: wWPA is the winning team’s win probability added. Therefore, the minus on No. 9 shows how much it affected the Reds’ chances of winning. That loss was the result of a John Smoltz blown save.
Two of the three key plays against the Nationals were off Chad Cordero.
The key play against the Cubs was off Kerry Wood.
The one game on this list that was more of a compilation than final at-bat magic was No. 5. Chipper went 4-4 with a walk, triple, two homers and five RBIs.
Among the top 20 WPA games in his career, he never had more than three in one season. He had three each in 1998, 2005 and 2010.
Counting back the top 20 WPA games in Chipper’s career, 10 of the games were before he turned 30 years old, making it an even split. However, as you can tell from the list, only two of the top 10 were before his age 30 season.
September 2, 2012 at 9:25 pm by David Lee under Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones
Game MVP: Chipper Jones, .895
Least Valuable Brave: Paul Maholm, 14 game score
Most Valuable Phillie: Ryan Howard, .124
Least Valuable Phillie: Jonathan Papelbon, -.966
1st – (PHI) Ryan Howard two-run double for a 2-0 Phillies lead, .133
1st – (PHI) Erik Kratz three-run double for a 5-0 Phillies lead, .128
9th – (ATL) Chipper Jones three-run homer for an 8-7 Braves win, .872
Chipper Jones produced an .872 WPA on the game-winning home run, which is probably the highest WPA play I’ve ever seen. To compare, Brooks Conrad’s grand slam against the Reds in 2010 was worth .803. It nearly doubles Chipper’s previous high WPA play going back to when FanGraphs starts recording the data in 2002. It’s also the highest individual WPA in a game I’ve ever seen.
Of course, Jonathan Papelbon’s WPA is just ridiculous.
If you’re choosing a signature moment in Chipper’s final season, you could do a lot worse than tonight’s home run.
Also, you might remember a crazy 15-13 win over the Phillies back in early May. If not, here’s a refresher. The game-winning home run in that game came off the bat of Chipper Jones.
If you’re a Braves fan, or just a baseball fan, I hope you’re storing these memories of Chipper. It’s something to tell the next generation.
October 22, 2009 at 5:46 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones, Stat Leaders, Statistical Analysis
When you mention “2008″ to a Braves fan, he usually thinks of a few things. First off, how bad that team was. They finished with a 72-90 record, their worst since 1990. Fundamentally, they weren’t that bad, but it was such a large deviation from the norm that Braves fans remember it distinctly. A 72-90 season is nothing to a Reds fan, it’s quite a big deal to a Braves fan. Secondly, they remember how the pitching staff was slowly dismantled by injuries. First, predictably, Hampton, then Moylan, then Smoltz, then Glavine, then Hudson, etc… There were virtually no noteworthy performances among pitchers apart from a rookie and a 29-year old minor-league free agent Mexican League veteran. Again, this is a huge deviation from the norm. For 15 years the Braves had one of the best staffs in baseball, they had one of the worst in 2008. Third, they remember the team’s terrible fortunes in 1-run games. An 11-30 (.268 winning percentage) record in 1-run games kept any false hope for that team to make the playoffs at bay. Fourth, Jeff Francouer. Everything about him. How he was so fucking terrible but idiotic fans were too fucking dense to realize. How he was an insufferable fucking jerk, a complete son of a bitch, whining about getting sent down and refusing to admit he was hurting the team with his sub-.290 OBP. How the organization was so god damn slow reacting to it. How they immediately caved to his (or perhaps his sponsors) desires and recalled him nearly immediately after sending him down when it was beyond clear that he didn’t belong on a MLB roster. Just Jeff Francoeur in general.
But this is not a Jeff Francoeur post. There are a few other things fans recall. Trading Teixeira, Kotsay, Bobby breaking the ejection record, etc. But that’s generally the taste of 2008 Braves fans have in their mouth. I intentionally left something to remember off my list, though. Chipper Jones winning the batting title.
Not just Chipper winning the batting title, Chipper’s season in general. Chipper Jones hit .364 in 2008. .364. Take a minute to let that sink in. That .364 figure ranks 3rd this decade by a NL hitter, behind Barry Bonds’ .370 in 2002 and Todd Helton’s .372 in 2000, which shouldn’t really count with Coors Field and everything. Though Helton did hit .353 and post a 1.074 OPS away from Coors that year, it’s not like he was a bum who got really lucky, though the Coors effect does cheapen it.
But stop and think for a second, Chipper Jones hit .364. That’s not just a high batting average, that’s not just a batting title-worthy average, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime average for the best of hitters. Chipper Jones was hitting .400 on June 18. Halfway through the season, he was hitting FOUR-HUNDRED. I’m being intentionally emphatic here because I feel like Braves fans tend to view everything that went on in 2008 as pejorative and, thus, we look at Chipper’s season and say, eh, “he only played in 128 games” or “his OPS was only 1.044″ or “he only hit 22 HR”. It doesn’t matter, .364 is something that speaks for itself, regardless of everything else. I talk about secondary offense a lot in this space. But this isn’t intended to be one of those super-analytical pieces that scrutinizes walk rate and HR/FB ratios, this is art. Chipper’s batting title was beautiful. One of the greatest seasons by an Atlanta Brave ever.
More impressive than Chipper’s .364 batting average was his .470 on-base percentage. Let me repeat that. Chipper Jones posted a .470 on-base percentage in 2008. He safely reached first base in exactly 47 percent of his plate appearances. It’s often stated that the gold standard for the slash stats is .300/.400/.500. .300 is the gold standard for batting average, .400 is the gold standard for on-base percentage, and .500 is the gold standard for slugging percentage. Only 9% of players each season post a .400 OBP or better. Getting on base at a .400 clip is, in itself, both an outstanding accomplishment and sufficient to make one a productive player. Chipper didn’t just post a .400 OBP, though, he posted a .470 OBP. As Joe Posnanski notes, Chipper’s numbers are sometimes easily forgotten because of the era in which we play baseball–the era of huge power numbers. He’s overshadowed by the Griffeys and the A-Rods, etc. Posnanski writes:
Chipper Jones’ numbers seem classically understated. He is like a superstar from a different age, Musial in a minor key. He has played his whole career with one team (and not just any team — the Atlanta Braves, a team that made the playoffs every one of his first ELEVEN seasons). He has never hit more than 45 homers and never fewer than the 18 he has this year. He has never struck out 100 times in a season. He has hit more doubles than homers, walked more times than he has struck out, and scored more runs than he has driven in.
There’s just a beautiful balance in his numbers. And maybe that is what makes him so easy to miss.
Posnanski is writing of Chipper’s career in general, but I think it’s applicable when discussing 2008 as well. Because the Braves posted their worst record since 1990 and because he only hit 22 home runs and because the Rays were stealing all of the baseball attention and for many, many other reasons, Braves fans are guilty of not realizing just how incredible of a season 2008 was for Chipper Jones. At 36 years old he managed to reach first base in 47% of his plate appearances. That, in itself, is an amazing statistic. It needs no context. A .470 OBP isn’t just good, or MVP-caliber, or HOF-caliber, it’s historic.
How historic, you ask?
Chipper Jones’ .470 OBP has been equaled or bested by an NL player exactly 9 times during the live-ball era by only four players.
Rogers Hornsby – 1924, 1925, and 1928.
Hornsby posted a .507 OBP in 1924. That year he hit .424 which, along with his OBP, led the league and slugged .696, which also led the league. He also led the league in total bases, hits, walks, doubles, runs scored, OPS, and OPS+. For some reason, he was only 2nd in MVP voting that year. A 28-6 record, a 262 ERA+, and 30 complete games was enough for Dazzy Vance to win it, despite Hornsby putting up the greatest offensive season ever seen to that point.
Hornsby repeated his OBP title in 1925, though this time he only hit .403 with a .489 OBP and .756 SLG%. Though he led the league in RBI, so he got the MVP that year.
In 1928 Hornsby produced his third and final season of reaching base more than 47% of the time, hitting .387/.498/.632 in his lone year in Boston. He finished 13th in MVP voting that season, despite leading the league in every slash statistic, which is an abomination.
Arky Vaughan – 1935
As a 23 year old SS for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arky Vaughan led the league in pretty much everything. He hit .385, that led the league. He posted a league leading .491 OBP, he slugged .607–that led the league, his 1.098 OPS and 190 OPS+ led the league along with his 97 walks. Another fun fact about Vaughan’s 1935 season, he struck out only 18 times. Somehow he only finished 3rd in MVP voting. There isn’t a strong argument for him not winning it other than the Pirates finished 4th in the league and didn’t have a particularly strong fan base (6th of 8 in attendance). Neither of which are good arguments.
63 years passed before someone else did it. Joe Morgan came close with a .466 OBP in 1975 and Gary Sheffield posted a .465 OBP in 1996, but it wasn’t until 1998 that the threshold was again reached.
Mark McGwire – 1998
McGwire’s 1998 season was more famous for a number of things than posting a .470 OBP, but nonetheless, he posted a .470 OBP. The .470 OBP is overshadowed by the .752 SLG% or record-breaking 70 Home Runs or 216 OPS+ or steroids he took, but it’s there nonetheless. Despite leading Sammy Sosa by 93 points in OBP, he finished 2nd in MVP voting to him. Something I can’t justify. One thing to note, he was intentionally passed 28 times that season.
Barry Bonds – 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004
In 2001, Bonds broke the home run record that was set just three years ago by Mark McGwire, hitting 73 HR–a record that still stands. In the process, he posted the highest OBP of the live-ball era to that point–.515. He also led the league in walks (177), SLG% (.863), OPS (1.379), and OPS+ (259). He was intentionally passed 35 times.
After that, pitchers pretty much stopped pitching to Bonds. In 2002 he hit .370/.582/.799 with 46 HR and 198 unintentional walks. Pitchers intentionally walked him 68 times, which led the league by a very wide margin. He was intentionally passed more times than ten other entire teams were. Take away Bonds’ intentional walks and his OBP is under .470. In fact, taking away intentional walks, the only season that Bonds would’ve posted an OBP over .470 was 2001, when it would’ve been .471. He won his second consecutive MVP that year.
In 2003 Bonds hit .341/.529/.749 with 148 unintentional walks and 61 intentional walks. He won his third consecutive MVP and fourth consecutive Silver Slugger that year.
In 2004 Bonds shattered his own single-season intentional walk record with 120, leading to a .362/.609/.812 line (all league-leading) with 232 unintentional walks (also league leading). The .609 OBP is largely a product of his IBB’s, but that is still, today, the single-season record and I have my doubts as to whether or not it will be broken.
And that’s it. Achieving a .470 OBP is so rare, it’s been done 10 times by a NL in over 100 years. Four times by who I think is the greatest hitter ever. He was also on steroids and he accomplished it in large part due to the fact that opposing managers elected to put him on first base rather than actually pitch to him. Once by a similar steroid user. Once by a 23-year old whiz kid who led the league in everything. Three times by the greatest second baseman of all time, 1st ballot hall of famer, and one of the best hitters in the game’s history. And once by Chipper Jones in 2008.
It’s amazing to me that Chipper finished 12th in the MVP balloting in 2008. Albert Pujols certainly deserved the award, but Chipper Jones was the next best candidate. Ryan Howard, who hit .251/.339/.543, finished 2nd. Ryan Braun, who posted a .335 OBP and played for a team that made a gutsy trade for CC Sabathia and barely squeaked into the playoffs, finished 3rd. Manny Ramirez, who played in only 53 games, finished 4th. CC Sabathia, who made only 17 starts, finished 6th. Brad Lidge, a RELIEF PITCHER, finished 8th. I don’t bitch about award voting a lot because I’ve accepted the fact that the voters are idiots. But god damn, if Chipper doesn’t deserve the award more than any of the above I’ll eat my dirty socks.
2008 was a bad year for Braves fans, but all wasn’t lost. We watched Jair Jurrjens and Yunel Escobar develop into young stars, we had a good draft, and, most of all, we watched one of the greatest NL seasons ever take place. It wasn’t just great, it was historic. We’re all guilty of not appreciating just how great of a season Chipper Jones had in 2008.
August 21, 2009 at 12:43 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones, Defense, Injuries, Statistical Analysis
I like defense. Most people don’t think about it when constructing a team, but it’s a lot easier to win with a good defense. It makes your pitchers better, energizes your team, etc. This year, the Braves’ worst positions defensively have been 2B, LF, and CF–costing the team a combined 26 runs. Third base has cost the team 5 runs. No other position is in the red.
Eventually, the Braves’ outfield will consist of–left to right–McLouth, Schafer, and Heyward. I don’t see any way this alignment is less than average. I strongly believe McLouth will be an above-average defender at a corner, Schafer will be plus, and Heyward will be plus.
Provided LaRoche leaves via free agency, the obvious solution to the hole is to move Prado to 1B and insert one of Kelly Johnson or Infante in at 2B. I have a different idea.
Chipper Jones has been awful at 3B this year, costing the team fourteen runs with his glove. 3B doesn’t rank as the team’s worst position because Prado has been very good there in a back-up role, saving the team 6 runs in only 184 defensive innings.
If you extrapolate Prado’s defensive prowess over a full season at 3B (which you can’t do, so I don’t for my actual calculations), he saves 32 runs at 3B, good for more than 3 wins. Chipper’s is good for -16 runs.
For how good Prado’s been at 3B, he’s been equally bad–for his entire career–at 2B. No matter what method you use, he’s been worth about -10 runs, or -1 win, at 2B over a full season. It’s pretty easy to see why. Prado moves better when he’s running forward (i.e. charging a bunt, something that you don’t do at 2B), but his lateral range is suspect. Plus his best asset is his throwing arm (which is a beauty). The arm is on display at 3B but wasted at 2B.
You probably see where I’m going at this point. The idea is simple. Play Kelly Johnson at 2B (I truly believe he is an above-average MLB 2B–with both the bat and glove–that fell on some bad luck this season), a position where he’s about average, play Prado at 3B, and move Chipper to 1B.
The question then becomes, how bad at 1B would Chipper have to be to make this defensive alignment a misallocation of resources?
Well, I’ve pegged Prado, for the purposes of conservative calculations, at +19 runs at 3B. I’ve got Kelly Johnson at +2 at 2B. I’ve got Prado at -10 at 2B and Chipper at -16 at 3B. Between the two positions, you’re looking at a 47 run difference, assuming whatever 1B we were going to use plays average defense.
So, you’re looking at a 47 run, or roughly 5 win, improvement just by shifting the infielders a bit. And Chipper would have to be 47 runs below average to make this alignment disadvantageous.
Mike Jacobs was the worst fielding 1B last year and he cost his team 20 runs. I think I may be on to something here. Unless Chipper is 27 runs worse than the worst, the alignment is, overall, helpful.
Then you get into injuries. Chipper’s most valuable asset is obviously his bat and you want to keep that bat in there at all costs. People suggesting moving Chipper to 1B to prevent injuries is silly for 2 reasons. 1) he hardly ever gets hurt in the field (usually swinging and missing). 2) 1B has way more chances than 3B, so I think the injury risk is greater at 1B. As I said, though, he hardly ever gets hurt in the field. Let’s assume, for a second, that the change in position will require Chipper to miss more time. Then, how much time will he have to miss to make the change in position counter-productive?
Over his career, Chipper has been worth approximately 0.26 runs above average (using simple wOBA extractions) with his bat every game he plays. Assuming he’s bottom-of-the-barrel bad at 1B, -20 runs, how many games would he have to miss to justify not making the change in defensive alignments?
The answer? 104.
It’s not that crazy. Prado is a very good defender at 3B, he’s a bad defender at 2B. The Braves have an average defender at 2B on their roster. And they don’t have a 1B. But they have a 3B who is 37 years old and costing the team runs left and right with his glove at 3B. It’s almost stupid not to move Chipper to 1B. Prado-Yunel-KJ-Chipper 3rd to 1st. I could live with that.
Of course this all hinges on Kelly Johnson hitting next year, which I think he will.
The solution at 1B may be internal for this club. I think it is. Keeping the pitching staff intact and using Chipper at 1st may be the key to getting back to the post-season.
July 21, 2009 at 4:24 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones, Injuries, Joke
Every blog needs an official joke according to Joe Posnanski, so I’ve taken a page out of his book and I’m pleased to present you with the official Capitol Avenue Club joke*.
*This isn’t the original form of the joke, but I’ve tailored it for my purposes and adopted it as my own.
Some time in the not so distant future, David Wright goes down south for a duck hunting trip one October. He rents a pair of waders, borrows a 12-gauge from Adam LaRoche, and gets all the camouflage he needs for the hunt at his local Wal-Mart. He spends the night at a hotel near the lake he’ll be hunting on, wakes up at 3:30 AM, gets ready, and heads to the lake. After he gets to his blind around 5:00 AM, he waits until the sun comes up and the ducks to start moving. For three hours he furiously pursues his limit, but to no avail. Just as he’s ready to call it a day, one duck shy of his limit, he sees a crippled wood duck flying and figures he might have a shot at getting his limit. He takes a rather long shot and somehow connects with the duck, sufficient to knock it to the ground, though it lands away from the water.
So he gets in his boat and travels over to the shore where he anchors the boat and begins to look for the duck. As he’s heading in the general direction of the duck he sees a fence that encloses a rather large field. So, assuming the duck landed in the field, he starts towards the fence as a tractor, heading in his direction from the other side of the fence, becomes visible. As he approaches the fence so does the tractor and a man steps off to greet David. Low and behold, that man is Chipper Jones.
David says: “Chipper Jones! I haven’t seen you since you hit that walk-off go-ahead, decisive homer at Shea Stadium Citi Field in game 7 of the 2013 NLCS. How have you been?”
Chipper replies: “Not too bad, David. What brings you down here?”
“Well, I’m just trying to get my mind off of the massive meltdown the Mets just experienced again, so I thought I’d come down here and do a little hunting to clear my mind.”
“So I guess you’re responsible for this.”
Chipper holds up his right hand, which he has wrapped around the neck of a slain wood duck. David’s eyes light up, he’s finally found the duck and has his limit.
“Oh, great!”, David replies, “You found my duck.”
“What do you mean your duck?”, Chipper said, “it landed on my property.”
“Well I killed it, so it’s mine, right?” David replied.
“No sir. My property, my duck.”
“Come on, Chipper, that’s my limit you’re holding.”
“Nope. It’s my first of the day.”
“Chipper, don’t be an ass, or I may just call the police.”
Chipper sort of chuckles at the notion and proposes a counter-offer.
“I’ll tell you what, around here, we settle things by the 3-kick rule“.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You’ve never heard of the 3-kick rule?”, Chipper replies in shock.
“No, I’m afraid I haven’t.” David admits.
“Well, here’s how it works. I kick you three times, then you kick me three times. We go back and forth until someone “gives”. Whoever prevails, wins.”
David’s eye starts to sparkle.
“You mean to tell me that an old man like you wants to challenge me to a kicking contest?”
“You bet. You’ve got no idea what’s coming.”
“OK, then.” David replies, “You’re on”.
David stands ready with his hands covering his groin area as Chipper readies himself to commence kicking. Chipper takes a step forward and delivers a forceful kick–aided by his steel-toe boots–right into the kneecap of Wright. David keels over in pain and grabs his kneecap. Just as he bends down, Chipper comes back with another, this time right in the face. Wright leans back, nose bleeding and in an extraordinary amount of pain. Before he even realizes what happens, Chipper delivers a third blow right between the legs. Wright immediately falls to the ground and begins to vomit. After 5 minutes of recovery, Wright finally looks up and musters up what energy he has left and says in a raspy, barely audible voice,
“Alright you son of a b****, my turn now.”
Chipper sort of smiles at him and says,
“Nah, that’s alright”, and he throws the wood duck and hits David Wright in the side of the face.
“I give. You can have the duck”
May 30, 2009 at 4:08 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones, Front Office, Quotes, Statistical Analysis
Yes, this organization is fundamentally flawed. And by “this organization”, I mean the Atlanta Braves. No organization is flawless, not a single one. But a lot of organizations are fundamentally sound but flawed in the execution of their fundamentals or flawed in that they caught some bad breaks. Everyone catches bad breaks and everyone catches good breaks. We see it all the time in all aspects of baseball. How often do we see a set of 3 spectacular defensive plays that the team couldn’t duplicate if they tried, then during the following half inning we see an infield single, bloop single, wild pitch, and sacrifice fly to put your team down 1-0? It works both ways, every team catches good breaks and bad breaks, both on the field, with personnel decisions, etc. And I am of the belief that in the long run it all evens out. Regression towards the mean. But the teams that are met with the most success, despite their bad breaks, are the teams that are fundamentally sound. And we are not.
First of all, we haven’t always been fundamentally flawed. In the 1991 off-season John Schuerholz’s chief goal was to improve the defense. And it worked. Not only because the Braves went from 26th (of 26 teams) in defensive efficiency in 1990 to 4th (of 26 teams) in 1991, but because they went from the worst record in the majors in 1990 (65-97) to the third best record in the majors in 1991 (94-68) and won the NL West. Now, John Schuerholz had no idea what defensive efficiency was, I’m fairly confident the statistic hadn’t been invented yet, but he saw a problem with the team (defense, they weren’t turning balls put in play into outs) and he put his effort into fixing it. And it paid plenty of dividends. And for the next 15 years, the Braves were built around a model of pitching and defense. During ten of these years, they had the greatest trio of hall of fame pitchers to ever occupy the same rotation: Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Greg Maddux. And they always backed it with a great defensive unit. Because Schuerholz knew, in order for your pitchers to succeed, they need good defenders behind them.
We were a fundamentally sound organization. We had a game-plan, we executed it, and we won. That’s the definition of being fundamentally sound. Developing, executing, and seeing positive results from an effective strategic plan. If a problem arose, we looked at it and fixed it, much like we did our defense in the pre-1991 off-season.
And our game-plan was good. Watching that team was very fun. That game plan, that model for success, that strategy won us 14 consecutive division championships. An unprecedented accomplishment that will likely never be duplicated. And it shouldn’t. Greatness like that is meant to last forever. And even if it is duplicated, when Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine go into the hall of fame, we will forever remember that magical 1991 team, that 1995 world championship, and that completely unprecedented run of 14 playoff appearances. It won’t be forgotten. It will last forever. 100 years from now, the 1991-2005 dynasty will be chiefly remembered as a trio of hall of fame pitchers with a good supporting cast dominating night after night, but it’s the strategy of pitching and defense that really should be remembered as well. The philosophy that took our team from worst to first and kept us there for 14 years. It should be remembered. It was an impeccable strategy. And we were fundamentally sound.
But everything has a shelf life. It’s only a matter of time before the faster, more capable, and more efficient microprocessor is released and your computer is out of date. Within 2 years, a computer is virtually worthless because people can buy a much better one for much cheaper than you paid. That’s what makes the decision to upgrade a computer, a fairly large investment no matter what type of budget you’re on, a very difficult one. The rate of technological growth in today’s society is remarkable. And our strategy was like the Pentium II, which came out in 1997. In 1991, it was so advanced, so much more efficient and capable than anything anyone had ever seen, nobody stood a chance. For a few years, people tried to duplicate it. The Pentium I came out in 1993, but it still paled to the Pentium II, and teams got close, but they were never able to reach our level of sustained success. In 1995, our Pentium II was still the hottest technology, and it took us to a world championship. In 1997, the Pentium II, the microprocessor that we were using, became available to the public. Yet we were still able to get by because we had 6 years of practice using it, it was brand new to the other teams. And we continued to dominate. But in 1999, the Pentium III came out, and we were behind by default. Fortunately, through the implementation of new RAM, a spiffy video card, and a new motherboard, we were able to more than keep up with our competition. Sure, maybe we aren’t as efficient and capable as the Pentium III, but we’re really good at what we do and we’ve upgraded what we have around our Pentium II such that we’re still good enough to stay in it. And this continued through 2004. And in 2005 we were able to squeeze that last bit of useful life out of that Pentium II and make one final playoff appearance.
The baseball community as a whole is largely superstitious towards unconventional thinking. And today the Atlanta Braves, for whatever reason, are a more traditionally grounded organization than most, and thus are even more superstitious towards unconventional thinking than others. In 1991 we weren’t superstitious towards unconventional thinking because there were no expectations. We had been so bad for so long that we might as well try something new and radical, because what did we have to lose? Nothing. We had absolutely nothing to lose. We had no past to live in, no proven track record of sustained success, and no pride whatsoever. It was the perfect opportunity to tear down the walls and try something radical. And we did. And it worked.
But since then we’ve won 14 consecutive division titles and become very “set in our ways” and opposed to unconventional thinking. And not without reason. When you do something well for 14 years and win your division 14 times, you’re usually going to keep doing it and it will usually be the best decision. Even if you’re using a Pentium II processor when the rest of the world’s running dual core. But you’re eventually going to find that in order to keep up, you’ll have to upgrade your processor. There’s only so far you can go with the Pentium II. It’s a matter of fact. And our fundamental philosophy has passed its day in the sun, it’s time to upgrade.
So why is our strategy not relevant anymore? What has changed in the baseball community? What “technologies” have been developed that make our fundamental philosophy flawed? The answer is advanced statistical analysis. The rate at which new statistical analysis is presenting itself is unprecedented, much like our stretch of 14 consecutive division titles. Statistical analysis has always been a part of baseball. And trying to quantify success and using numbers to predict the future is not a new thing, in baseball or in general. But the rate at which the field of advanced statistical analysis is expanding in baseball is completely unprecedented. New metrics, new research, and new important findings are discovered every day. Countless formulas, spreadsheets, and volumes of data are consumed and manipulated daily in an attempt to quantify success, predict the future, and try to answer subjective questions with entities that are non-subjective by definition– numbers. Much like from 1991 to 1998 we spent going from the 50 MHz 486 microprocessor to the 450 MHz Pentium II processor, statistical analysis didn’t advance much until about 2003. But from 1999 to 2004 we went from the 600 MHz Pentium III microprocessor to the 3400 MHz Pentium IV microprocessor, an unprecedented jump in efficiency and capability. Since 2003 statistical analysis has shot through the roof and is one of the driving forces in front offices around the country. And the teams that have been met with the most success since 2003 have been the ones that routinely employ statistical analysis in their decision making process throughout all aspects of the game. From ticket prices to managerial decisions to draft strategies to trades, statistical analysis is a must for an efficiently run and successful organization. And this goes for any type of organization, but especially a baseball organization.
Now, the Braves are not the team that is least apt to use statistical analysis. That would be the Minnesota Twins (which is interesting because their fans are some of the most educated and statistically savvy fans in the country), but to say the Braves aren’t big on statistical analysis is an understatement. They just prefer not to go there. I don’t see why. Maybe it’s because they think they’re “too good” for it or their old-world philosophy is impeccable and can’t be shattered by the wimpy application of mathematics and scientific process. I don’t know, but they don’t like to use it. Which is the fundamental flaw of the organization. Relying completely on statistical analysis would be an even bigger fundamental flaw, but largely ignoring it is a fundamental flaw as well. A happy marriage can be reached between statistical analysis and old-world scouting and player development. Unfortunately for the organization, that happy medium is yet to be reached.
Fortunately for the organization, however, statistical analysis suggests that everything Schuerholz did with regards to pitching and defense is what you have to do to win. For this reason, the Braves are never out of the race. They may not use statistical analysis, but they’re doing the same things that the teams that do use it are doing on the defensive side of the ball. Schuerholz’s strategy was brilliant. And it is still used today, with the support of statheads and meatheads alike. It’s the way you prevent runs. Pitching and defense. The way we teach our pitchers to work is also supported by statistical analysis. We teach them to get ahead of hitters. This is a proven strategy. And it works. You can see it or you can do a research study to prove that it works. It’s common sense, when you’re ahead in the count you’re going to have better results. Duh. That’s why our strategy of pitching and defense works. It works. We’re usually near the top of the league in run prevention.
But since the advent of rapidly expanding advanced statistical analysis, it hasn’t been good enough to excel on only 1 side of the ball. And this is the downfall of the organization. Statistical analysis tells us to do one thing on the defensive side of the ball. And that is to get ahead in the count by getting strike 1 and strike 2. Shouldn’t it stand to reason that on the other side of the ball you should probably try to get ahead in the count as well? I mean, using no research whatsoever, doesn’t that make sense? Research shows that hitters preform better when they’re ahead in the count. It’s always “advantage: pitcher” until the hitter gets ahead. Once you’re ahead in the count, you control the plate appearance. Once you’re behind the pitcher controls it. Universal truth. But getting ahead in the count isn’t something you can do on command. You can’t “make” a pitcher throw you ball 1 or ball 2. You just can’t do it. If a pitcher decides to throw a strike and properly executes it, you can’t get ahead. What you can do is be selective.
This next leg of the article I’ll start with 2 quotes. The first is from Bill James:
Well, it is hard for a power hitter to sustain production without selectivity. The pitchers probably know what you get your home runs off of. . .high fastball, late-breaking slider, spot the change early, whatever it is. If you’re going to swing at the first pitch, they’re not going to throw you your meal ticket on the first pitch. So. . .of course it’s a problem.
The second one is from Chipper Jones:
For me, plate discipline is being able to know what pitch you want to put in play before you step in the box and not swinging at anything else but that.
And finally, I get to my point. The manifestation of the fundamental flaw of our organization is our hitters’ complete disregard towards plate discipline and selectivity. The only two hitters that display any sort of selectivity at the plate are Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, both of whom are coached by their fathers. I’m not putting the blame on anyone here. I don’t necessarily think it is Terry Pendleton’s fault or Bobby Cox’s fault or Frank Wren’s fault, but something must be done. We must teach our hitters to be more selective at the plate. In the minor leagues at every level, from the Gulf Coast League to the International League, our coaches should be constantly preaching selectivity at the plate, as they should be at the MLB level.
Selectivity doesn’t necessarily mean drawing a ton of walks. It means picking out your pitch and swinging at the pitches you can do something with. If the pitcher walks you along the way, so be it. Or if he throws you two fastballs that knick the outside corner and you roll over a breaking ball and ground out, so be it. Because there’s nothing you can really do with a fastball on the outside corner anyway. Even if you know it is coming. Waiting on a pitch that you can do some damage with it the key to success at the plate in baseball. And our organization isn’t doing a very good job of getting this into the heads of our hitters. Something needs to change. And it needs to start with the front office. I don’t know if we need to make personnel changes or if Frank Wren just needs to have a meeting with all of the involved parties and say, “look, we’ve got to be more selective at the plate, and I want our hitters focusing on that at every level of the minor leagues and with the big club”. But something needs to change. And it needs to happen soon.