Does Chipper still have something left in the tank?
Based on what we’ve seen over what has amounted to nearly a full calendar year, it’s hard to imagine that Chipper Jones is just two years removed from his first career batting title.
Dating back to June 9 of last year, Jones has hit .229 with 12 homers, a .363 on-base percentage and a .357 slugging percentage.
Among every other Major League player who has compiled at least 450 plate appearances during this span, Lyle Overbay (.228), Clint Barmes (.221), Carlos Pena (.216) and Brandon Inge (.208) are the only who have posted a lower batting average. Barmes, Inge and Pena have done so while totaling at least 20 home runs.
Jones’ .357 slugging percentage ranks as the 13th-worst mark posted during this span. To provide some clarity, he has produced less power than Michael Bourn (.365) and just slightly more than David Eckstein and Ronny Cedeno, who have both posted .354 marks.
But as Marlins right-handed reliever Brian Sanches showed while issuing Jones the go-ahead, four-pitch, bases-loaded walk in last night’s victory, the Braves 38-year-old third baseman is still being pitched to in a cautious manner.
The 100 walks that Jones has drawn dating back to June 9 have been trumped only by the totals that have been issued to Albert Pujols (104), Adrian Gonzalez (103) and Chone Figgins (102). His 33 walks this season rank fourth in the Majors and equal the total drawn by the great Pujols.
It’s almost as if pitchers feel like they’re still facing the same guy that hit .352 with a .448 on-base percentage and .618 slugging percentage during a 358-game stretch that extended from June 26, 2006 through June 8 of last year.
Within this stretch that extended through four seasons, nobody compiled a better batting average or on-base percentage than Jones. His .618 slugging percentage was bettered only by the .620 mark posted by Pujols.
Then seemingly overnight everything changed for Jones. Through the first 47 games he played last year, he hit .331 with a .451 on-base percentage and .567 slugging percentage. While the power was off slightly, the numbers were at least somewhat comparable to the ones he’d produced over the course of the previous few years.
At 38 years-old, it’s understandable that Jones is no longer producing the same kind of numbers that punched his ticket to Cooperstown. But along with age, maybe his struggles are a product of the fact that he no longer is protected by the same kind of threat that Mark Teixeira provided while he was hitting cleanup in Atlanta.
There seems to be a popular opinion that it is time for Jones to move out of the third spot in the lineup to make room for Jason Heyward. While I see this as a logical option, maybe there’s reason to keep Jones where he is and give him the protection Heyward would provide while manning the cleanup spot, a position that would give the 20-year-old phenom more RBI opportunities than he has had since moving into the two hole.
Like I said last week, attempting to find the best makeup of this Braves lineup is like attempting to piece together a large jigsaw puzzle that has no corners or ends. But Martin Prado has proven to be the best option in the leadoff role and with the belief that he will start to hit consistently, I think Yunel Escobar might be best served to bat second.
There might be some late-inning matchup problems if Heyward and Brian McCann (who would bat fifth vs. RHP) were positioned together in the lineup. But to give Jones one last attempt to prove he still can be a productive threat in the middle of the lineup, I think it’s at least worth seeing what he could do with Heyward sitting behind him for at least a week or two.
If this wouldn’t work, then Jones certainly needs to move down to the sixth or seventh spot of the lineup. But before completely giving up on him with the assumption that age has been the primary factor in his decline, it’s seemingly worth giving him a shot to see more hittable pitches.
Tonight’s matchup: Looking to conclude this road trip with a 4-2 record, the Braves will conclude this three-game series against the Marlins by sending Tim Hudson to the mound to oppose Ricky Nolasco. As many of you likely remember, Nolasco notched 16 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings when he last faced the Braves on Sept. 30.
Nolasco had totaled 16 strikeouts in his three previous starts against the Braves last year. The right-hander posted a 1.82 ERA in the five appearances (four starts) he made against Atlanta during the 2006 season.
But in his past seven starts against the Braves Nolasco is just 2-3 with a 6.02 ERA.
Hudson is 8-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 15 career starts against the Marlins. In the eight career road starts he has made against them while pitching for the Braves, he is 6-1 with a 2.44 mark.