Last week, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones announced that he is retiring at the end of season. The seven-time All-Star and 1999 NL MVP is not only a no doubt Hall of Famer, but one of the greatest third baseman in history.
He ranks 34th all time among position players in Baseball-Reference WAR (82.7 bWAR) and ranks 35th in Fangraphs WAR (87.5 fWAR).
Mike Schmidt is just about a lock as the all-time greatest 3B, but in setting the 2-6 spots it's wide open between Jones, Eddie Mathews, George Brett, Wade Boggs and Brooks Robinson. Here are the all-time leaders in bWAR among those who played 50% of their games at third base:
Keep in mind that Alex Rodriguez lurks at 45% (1081 of 2402 career games at 3B). He should move onto this list after another couple of seasons at the hot corner. As it stands, 43.6 of his 104.6 bWAR (41.7%) have been accumulated since his move from SS to 3B in 2004.
Heading into his farewell season, Jones holds a batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage slash line of .304/.402/.533. Amazingly, only six other players with at least 10,000 plate appearances have hit the .300/.400/.500 mark:
Needless to say, that is incredible company. We're talking about five top-tier Hall of Famers and a soon-to-be one in Thomas.
Several other players join the list if you lower the PA requirement, among them are Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Edgar Martinez, Rogers Hornsby and Larry Walker. However, Jones reaching 10,000 speaks to his longevity and his ability to stay at peak performance for a long time.
After all that, the question I'm looking to answer today is "Can Chipper Jones maintain his remarkable .304/.402/.533 career batting line?"
His .533 career slugging percentage ranks 46th on the all-time list. He would have to have 562 consecutive hitless at bats to fall below the .500 mark, so he'll definitely keep that.
Keeping the .300 batting average is a little tougher, but very doable. He sits at .3042 (2615-for-8597) right now. Last year he batted .275 (125-455) and if he repeats that in the same number of at bats, he'll finish at .3027 lifetime. With 455 at bats again this year, he only needs to hit .222 (101 hits) to stay over .300. Of course, if he has fewer AB's in 2012, this season's performance has an even smaller impact on his career numbers, lowering the bar further.
While he'll definitely stay over .500 slugging and will almost certainly keep his batting average over .300, the last hurdle will be doing enough to keep his .4021 on base percentage over the .400 line.
He had a .344 OBP last year and if he repeats that over 455 at bats in 2012, his career mark will dip to .3993. He needs just a slight uptick in that category, or the same OBP over five fewer at bats to stay over .400.
So will he be able to get on base enough in 2012 to stay over .400?
Here are his 2011 AB and OBP totals along with ZiPS, Marcel and ESPN projections for 2012. The third column is what his post-2012 career OBP will be according to each projection:
As you can see, it's going to be extremely close and something to keep an eye on throughout the season. Whether or not he gets it, you can count on Chipper's induction at Cooperstown in the summer of 2018. Since this could also be the last season for Mariano Rivera as well, this distant class is already shaping up as a great one.