Chipper Jones says he’ll retire if he continues playing as he has this season.
“I’m certainly not going to stick around for a big contract if I’m not having fun and not producing,” said Jones, hitting nearly 100 points lower than his .364 in 2008. “I’m not saying I’m retiring at the end of this year or the end of next year, but if I become an average player, I’m not sticking around.
“I’m not going to hamstring the ballclub with the money I’m making, and I’m not going to be happy being a mediocre player.”
It’s a noble gesture, but I think he’ll be sticking around. This season he’s posted a .268/.390/.437 line, which is significantly below his career .308/.407/.542. Even in a slump, he’s a well-above-average player. Yes, Chipper Jones is getting older and is no doubt declining, but it would be a mistake to take this season as full-proof evidence that he’s near the end. In 2004 Chipper posted a similar performance decline of .248/.362/.485 before rebounding to bat .332/.430/.585 over the next four seasons.
I remember at that time pundits saying Chipper was done. Having watched Chipper hit numerous at’em balls that seasons, I developed a method for measuring unlucky performance known as PrOPS, which showed that Chipper was underperforming relative to the way he was hitting the ball. (Here is a WSJ article that discusses the development of PrOPS.) The Hardball Times still reports PrOPS. Though it is based on some older numbers, it is safe to consult for examining deviations of PrOPS from OPS. In 2009, Chipper’s predicted batting line is .293/.413/.477—still below Chipper’s expectations, but more in-line with his past performance. Chipper is getting older, but he’s also been a bit unlucky this season.
I expect Chipper will have a better season in 2010, and I’d advise him to take the opportunity to move over to the soon-to-be vacant first base position. I think the Braves made a mistake moving him to the outfield, so I can understand his reluctance to move, but I think he’ll have an easier time at first. There is no shame in moving across the diamond in your late-30s.
And even though he won’t be the Chipper of the recent past, no one expected him to be. We all age, and Frank Wren knew this when he signed the extension. If the Braves want to compete next year, the team is going to need his production, even if it is reduced. An low-.800 OPS is still useful. I’d also appreciate it if fans would lay off Chipper given all his past good play and his willingness to restructure his contract to help the organization.