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Griff says...Chipper Jones Forecast

Is there anyone around who is not a fan of Chipper Jones? Besides the fun in watching him hit, he is blunt, candid, realistic, plays with constant nagging injuries, never complains or criticizes, never is in the tabloids or rumors (except that one time years ago), plays with enthusiasm and pure enjoyment, and has evolved from a silent leader to a more vocal veteran leader. He’s been a career Brave and could have gone elsewhere for more money but he stayed. You got to like that in an era of dollar-chasing pro athletes and their agents who control them like puppets. But that’s another blog.

He’s fun to watch because he is a clutch hitter, extremely consistent over the years, hits for average, has power, and takes a lot of walks. If you go to the Park, his jersey is the most popular around every year. He hits with men in scoring position, hits to the opposite field and switch-hits. He has often been a very good fielder from third base and is one of the best at charging a bunt and throwing the runner out. He rarely fails at that play and it is about the most difficult for a third baseman. Last year’s fielding woes were likely a by-product of his hitting issues.

Chipper often displays his intimate knowledge of the game in interviews, particularly regarding hitting. One of the things I enjoy most about him is his love for the game. He really looks like he is having fun on the field and in the dugout. I’ll never forget his genuine raucous laughter last year when McCann belly-flopped into third, looking like a beached whale. Chipper was hysterical. Seeing athletes have fun makes it more enjoyable for the fans.

He did have a personal failing a few years back but few people remember much about it. Chipper, unlike most of the steroids confessors, was totally candid and sincere, left nothing to the imagination, took full responsibility and that ended all the tabloid talks and rumors. Since then he has walked a straight line and further endeared himself to fans.

Let’s break down what makes him a potential Hall of Famer. Some pieces were already mentioned but two notables are his power numbers as a switch-hitter and his career .307 batting average and .406 OBP, slugging .541 and .947 OPS. Those are really good. Also, his career BA is pretty even from both sides. You don’t often see that. Only Mickey Mantle has better power numbers for switch-hitters and Chipper has the better average. If Chipper works the count in his favor his lifetime averages are in the high 300’s. He has been successful as a guesser when he has the count in his favor. When not in his favor, not so much.

At one time he had tied the record for most consecutive years with 20 homers and 100 rbi’s. His unique toe-tap timing mechanism has proved to be consistent and effective, although requires perfect timing. When he slumps temporarily he works his timing out in the cage effectively. His work ethic and understanding of the game, and particularly his own game, has been exemplary. Throughout his career when he has had a slump, it has been typically no more than a week or two at a time. His prolonged slump last year had never happened before. He knows his swing so well that he has been able to go in the cage on his own and fix any mechanical flaws pretty quickly. In the worst case scenario, his father was called in and usually straightened him out. But the most critical factor that has led to his success from a physical standpoint is the many years of practice in the backyard each day growing up. His dad had him switch-hit from the start and each day Chipper practiced his swing. His dad was a pretty good player in his own right and once Chipper started hitting early, he gained the nickname from “chip off the old block.”
Over the years I have noticed he does a pretty fair amount of guessing on pitches in many situations. You can sometimes see him planning to swing at the first pitch, or expecting a certain pitch. His knowledge of the game, pitchers and situations is way above average even when compared to the veteran players.

It wouldn’t be accurate to call his swing beautiful but it is effortless and carries easy power because of his perfect mechanics. Sometimes we forget how big he is but he looks somewhat slim at 6’4” and about 225 pounds. When he is going right his timing is impeccable. He keeps his hands back when his body moves forward to swing and he gets tremendous power and torque by hitting off a straight and very firm front leg. Of course I’m mainly talking about his lefty swing now. He has considerably more power from the left side. When he is really on, he is easily lifting long fly balls the opposite way to left center field when he is batting lefty. From the right side he is a better average hitter but can show signs of power when he turns on the ball and pulls it. When his swing and timing are right, he is a hitting machine. From the right side when he is on, he is hitting line drives to right center and has occasional home run power to right center. Every once in awhile when he guesses right he turns quickly on the ball and bombs a homer to left field. When those happen it always looks like he knew what was coming.

When it goes bad it is usually either the result of a physical injury that leads to mechanical flaws, or he is just trying to do too much and puts too much pressure on himself. But when he is bad it is hard to watch. He can look like an amateur or worse. When his timing is off, he can look absolutely sick when a low inside slider is thrown or a changeup. He will be way out in front of it and literally just wave weakly at it. Then he will be late on the fastball and foul it off. Or my least favorite to watch is when he tries to hit an outside pitch and pull it, but grounds weakly to first or second. I hate those. Why can’t he just try to take it the other way? Still don’t understand that. He must have been planning to pull, then was fooled.

Sometimes we forget he came up as a shortstop. He was a good fielder from the beginning but lacked top-rate defensive range and arm as a shortstop. He has good reactions and a decent arm and anticipates the plays really well. But when he is not hitting well I have noticed he has trouble holding up his defensive skills. He tends to lose focus and concentration and makes more bobbles, usually on routine plays.

As for last year, it made me nervous just watching his year unfold. After winning the battle title the year before, he came roaring out of the blocks and was hitting well over .300 into early June. Even Chipper is not sure what happened exactly from there. It appears that he started putting too much pressure on himself. Keep in mind, Kelly was not getting on base in front of him, and Prado was not playing full time. The pitchers stopped giving him good pitches to hit and began walking him to get to McCann or Anderson. At some point, instead of just taking the walks, he gradually started swinging at more bad pitches. That led to more guessing and flawed mechanics. You could see him getting his body and hands out too quickly and was unable to stop. Chipper can’t even explain it from there but it was a long, bumpy ride to the final games. There were a couple times where it looked like he was about to snap out of it when he had two good games in a row with multiple hits. But it just never came together.

Think back to the Braves offensive run in the second half and how close we came to the Wild Card until the last two weeks. Every game I kept thinking he would snap out of his slump, get hot and lead the Braves into the playoffs. But it didn’t happen. There is no doubt in my mind that if everything had stayed the same but Chipper had also gone on a hot streak that we would have closed strong and taken the Wild Card. Unfortunately we rarely got much from Chipper at all. He was often in key rbi situations the last month and performed marginally.

Now for the key question – what will 2010 look like for Chipper? When he was asked if there was something special in the offseason he was working on to fix last year’s problems, he said no. He decided that it was an anomaly and that it was better to forget about it and move on. It was clear in several interviews that he has not lost his confidence overall, even though it was apparent during last year’s slide that he had. Chipper said that he took a couple months off to do his usually hunting trips and just forgot about it. He has not gone back to analyze every detail. A couple weeks ago he began hitting in the cage again. He is so honest that I truly believe it is behind him and he will work hard this offseason to get his swing back. But by the last couple weeks of spring training I think we will know if he is back and what kind of year to expect from him. He rarely has a great spring, but just by watching his swing we will know. If he is hitting the ball the opposite way from time to time, not swinging and missing pitches badly and being fooled, and showing a couple home runs and sharp line drives, then everything will be fine.

My prediction is not that he will bounce back and have a stellar year but that he will be back to his old self and put up 25ish homers and hit .300 with around 100 rbi’s. He will hit in the clutch and take a lot of walks especially early in the year as opposing pitchers test Glaus. Keep in mind there are some critical factors that must take place that are out of Chipper’s control in order for that to occur. We need guys on base in front of him, and Glaus needs to prove early in the year that he can be dangerous following Chipper. Otherwise, if one or both of those essentials goes bad, it will be a difficult year for him and it may be the last we see of Chipper. But I don’t believe it will get as bad as last year in any event because he will see it starting to slide much earlier and prevent himself from getting into the bad habits he did last year. And hopefully his dad will call sooner if that happens. So, bring it on Chipper. We know you still have it. Show us. When it is all over this year, I believe the pieces will come together and the Braves will again be the NL East Champs. This year I am going to be a believer and not a naysayer.

My next blog will be on Thursday. The topic will be Cox’s Replacement. Griff says…later.

1 comment:

  1. what a great blog. Thanks Griff, for giving Chipper the props he deserves. As a fan since 1978, and also a fan of baseball just as long, i think people forget what a prime time player and classy guy he is. The fact that he played for the Braves for less, sometimes giving up money to keep other players, shows who he really is. Yes, he may be at the tail end of his career, but let's face it, he is the kind of guy any organization wants to have as the face of their team! Go Chip and Go Braves!