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.