November 29, 2010 at 8:21 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
Enough people share this dubious opinion for me to justify writing an entire blog post on the subject.
The reasons people think Chipper Jones should retire fall into two categories: uninformed and irrational. Those that subscribe to the reasons that fall under the former category are worth discussing the issue with, so this article will focus on those.
In the ‘uninformed’ category, there are basically two common fallacies: taking Chipper’s recent performance at face value and failing to understand the relationship between on-field production and financial value.
The first one is a bit more difficult to wrap your brain around. It’s been covered at-length in this space (primarily here), but I’ll re-hash and expound a bit more. A player’s observed level of performance is just a sample of data. As we accumulate more and more data we become more and more confident that the observed level of performance is close to his true talent level. A hitter may go 4/4 with 2 HR in his first game of the season, but he’s not really a 1.000/1.000/2.500 hitter and won’t finish the season with 324 home runs. It takes awhile for the observed level of performance to stabilize into something that resembles his true talent level. The question is, how much? The answer is more than one season. You’re never going to raise your confidence level to 100%, but 1 and 2 season samples don’t get you particularly close, either.
Take Chipper’s .265/.385/.429 line the past two years. Not that there’s anything wrong with having a third baseman whom you can expect to post a 123 wRC+, but there’s a good chance that line doesn’t accurately represent his true talent level for reasons discussed above. Considering he’s a career .306/.405/.536 hitter and hit .350/.446/.590 in 2007-2008, there’s a very good chance he’s a better hitter than his 2009-2010 results would indicate.
Then there’s the whole balls-in-play luck thing. Chipper has been extraordinarily unfortunate in this regard, something that’s less a function of his ability/performance and more a function of entropy. This was discussed in depth in the article linked above, the takeaway being: even if Chipper’s 2009-2010 performance equals his true talent level, we can expect his results to be better due to improved fortunes on balls in play.
Over the last two years Chipper Jones has been worth 5.6 wins above replacement according to Fangraphs. At $4.5 million/win, his services have been worth about $25 million. Guess how much he’s been paid over the last two years? Yep, $25 million. It’s certainly not like 2008 when he was worth around $35 million and paid $11 million, but to call Chipper’s contract a burden on the organization is 100 percent silly. The Braves couldn’t do much better than Chipper on the free agent market for $14 million–that buys you about 3.1 wins. If Chipper is healthy and ready to go in 2011, 3.1 wins is about the least I’d expect him to produce, including any aging, limitations due to the recent ACL injury, and the fact that we can’t expect him to play more than 120 games or so.
If Chipper can’t play, he won’t and the Braves will be able to reallocate the $14 million (they won’t be able to get a player better than Chipper for $14 million without trading prospects). If he can play, we’re looking at having a 3-5 win third baseman. Either way, if the Braves don’t have a successful 2011 season, it probably won’t be because of anything Chipper Jones does or doesn’t do. The list of contracts the Braves have to worry about now and in the future is not headed by Chipper Jones and still won’t be after Kenshin Kawakami is traded.
The best possible scenario for the 2011 Braves involves having a healthy and productive Chipper Jones, it does not involve him retiring. His recovery timetable suggests he’ll be ready for the start of spring training and barring any setback he should be in store for a (by his standards) healthy 2011 season. That’s what I’m hoping for, because that’s what gives the Braves the best chance of making the playoffs. They’re a better team with him than without him, because despite the fact that he probably won’t hit 20 homers ever again, he’s still really, really good at baseball.