2004 BA/OBP/SLG: .248/ .362 / .485
Chipper Jones is the heart and soul of the current Braves team. He’s the leader of the team, and even when times were tough Braves fans could always count on Chipper…or so they thought. Chipper’s batting average was a career worst, 22-points below league average. For the first time in 8 years, he hit fewer than 100 RBI. A troubled hamstring limited the 155-game regular to a career low 137 games. As a Braves fan I have something important to say on this, 2004 was my favorite Chipper Jones season of all-time.
Chipper’s 2004 season was a disappointment to many, including Chipper; but, if this was a down year, wow this guy must be good. With an OBP of .362 and a SLG of .485, Chipper’s OPS of .847 was second only to JD Drew among the Braves everyday players. If you ever want to explain to someone why batting average is a poor metric of player performance, Chipper’s 2004 is a fantastic example. As a rule, team-OPS explains about 92% of variance of run per game, while team-BA explains only about 70%. This means that OPS captures more of the good things players do to produce runs. And while Chipper may have hit 8% below the league average BA, he was still 17% above in OPS. I think that is truly amazing, especially considering that Jones could have easily taken two months off to heal the hamstring that pained him all season. How did Chipper do it? Well, with 14% walk rate and a .237 isolated-power, he made the most of his plate appearances. When he didn’t hit, he walked a lot. When he did hit, he hit the ball hard. If he had been healthy enough to get his normal 550 ABs, he would have had 35 homers. Had he hit HRs at his 2002-2003 pace, he would only have had 23. As Chipper closed in on extending his streak of 100 RBI seasons, with runners on base he patiently avoided pitches sailed outside the strike-zone. Walks are valuable to your team. If you care about your team and winning, you may sacrifice opportunities for personal glory when personal goals conflict with the team. What an unselfish player.
2004 also marked the return of Chipper to third base, and boy did he look a lot more comfortable. Considering the Braves outfield depth, and Adam LaRoche playing well at first, I think Chipper will play 2005 in the same place. I think that is a good thing. Hopefully, his power resurgence is real. Maybe he learned something from that aching leg. A healthy Chipper with more power to too much to think about with spring training several months away.