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300/400/500

October 6, 2009 Leave a comment

chipperjones

Some day maybe I’ll figure out how to use career baseball stats to make the case for the greatness of one player or another. Back in 2004, when Mariner great Edgar Martinez was in his final season and his place in baseball history was being actively discussed — around here anyway — someone came up with a list of stats intended to prove that he was one of the greatest hitters ever. Which is true, of course, even if it’s not widely appreciated. I wish I remembered the details. Roughly speaking, the idea was to list all players who had a career batting average above .310, over 2200 career hits, over 300 career home runs, and so on, these numbers being carefully chosen to ensure that Edgar made the list but few others did. The upshot was that many of the all-time greats fell short in one category or another, so that only eight players were on it, including the likes of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Case closed.

When Bobby Cox announced less than two weeks ago that he would retire after next season as the manager of the Atlanta Braves, one of the articles I was reading about him had a quote from Chipper Jones, and it made me think, gee, Chipper sure has had a good career. I wonder just how good. And off I went to baseball-reference.com to find out. I had never been a big Chipper fan. I used to have the impression that he was over-rated, perhaps because the Braves got so much coverage in his early years, what with always being in the playoffs, and it seemed like broadcasters went on and on about him beyond what he deserved. In retrospect, I was wrong. He has indeed been one of the great players of our time. (Stats here.) Yet, I didn’t now how to prove it.

Now, thanks to Joe Posnanski, I can. At Sports Illustrated last week, Pos had a piece on the sustained excellence of Chipper and Bobby Cox and the Braves. And he knew just what career stats to use to demonstrate that Chipper is among the all-time great hitters.

There is a very short list of players in baseball history who over long careers hit .300, own an on-base percentage of .400 and slug .500. There are more complete ways to judge a player’s hitting talents, of course, but there’s something beautifully well-rounded about the .300/.400/.500 hitter. He hits. He walks. He pounds the ball.

Some of the greatest in baseball history couldn’t quite pull it off. Mickey Mantle and Al Kaline did not quite hit .300. Willie Mays and Hank Aaron didn’t have .400 on-base percentages. Roberto Clemente and George Brett, playing their careers in sluggish hitters eras, did not slug .500. This does not detract from their greatness, but it just goes to show you how hard it is to pull off those round numbers: .300/.400/.500.

How hard? Only 14 men in baseball history have played 2,000 games and pulled it off.

Who are the fabulous fourteen? I’ll continue with Posnanski’s discussion, covering up one name.

These include many of the usual suspects — Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Tris Speaker, Mel Ott. Harry Heilmann is on the list. From more recent times, you have Frank Thomas and Manny Ramirez and, you may be surprised to know, Xxxxx Yyyyyyyy, who is one of the more underrated hitters in baseball history.

And then there’s one more … Chipper Jones.

Are you surprised to see Chipper on this list? I was. For some odd reason, whenever I think of the great players of this generation, I always seem to forget about Chipper Jones. I mean, yes, I know how great he is. I know he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But other players just come more easily to mind.

Hard to argue. Chipper really is one of the great players of his generation.

So who is Xxxxx Yyyyyyyy? Edgar Martinez, of course. And that made me appreciate all the more Pos’s statistical insight. Let’s keep Edgar’s credentials in mind as the 2010 Hall of Fame balloting approaches. It will be Edgar’s first year of eligibility. (By the way, see here for Edgar’s stats.)

Categories: Baseball