Chipper Jones is on fire.
From the good people at the Canadian Press:
Jones hit .410 in April – an average for the month topped by only one player in the last 10 years: Barry Bonds hit .472 in April, 2004. Vladimir Guerrero also hit .410 in the opening month in 2000.
As if to make the point his stellar April was no fluke, Jones has pushed his major league-leading average to .425 for the Braves, who were off Monday and open a home series against San Diego on Tuesday.
Actually, after tonight’s two-for-four outing, Jones is hitting .429.
Bearing in mind that it’s early – very, very early – in the season, let’s take a moment to talk about Chipper Jones and his pursuit of history.
But first, a little background.
Since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, nobody has hit .400. Five guys have had 500+ plate appearances and hit over .375. Stan Musial hit .376 in 611 at bats in 1948. Ted Williams hit .388 in 420 at bats in 1957. Rod Carew hit .388 in 616 at bats in 1977. George Brett hit .390 in 449 at bats in 1980. And Larry Walker hit .379 in 438 at bats in 1999.
Last September, Vegas Watch (one of my favorite blogs) did a post listing the ten guys most likely to hit .400. Miguel Cabrera topped the list, followed by Albert Pujols, Vlad Geurerro and Matt Holliday.
Chipper Jones didn’t crack the top ten.
I emailed Vegas Watch’s editor to ask why. Here’s what he had to say:
The only reason he wasn’t on the list was his age. It was the guys who had the best chance of hitting .400 over their career, so that had a large effect. Also, he hit .375 in September; when I did the post, I had his three year average at .318.
That’s fair enough, I guess. A little agist, maybe. But reasonable.
Earlier today, I sent out an email to the Umpbump staff asking for their feelings about Chipper’s pursuit of .400. Here’s what Paul emailed back:
hitting .400 is now a near impossibility. chipper’s always been a high babip guy, but come on. his pitchers per plate appearance is down this year, so it’s not that he’s being more selective either. his line drive rate is a little higher than usual, but not high enough to think that the babip even has a chance of staying so high. with that said, it’s worth noting that he’s striking out a lot less than usual – and he never was a strikeout guy to begin with – which, if this continues, could very well result in a career high for batting average for him (although topping last year is really, really, really hard to do).
i think i’ve said this before, but baseball isn’t the same anymore. teams have far too much statistics on hitters’ tendencies, defensive positioning has gotten too advanced, and pitchers have become far too good for a guy to be able to hit .400 any more.
Of course, Paul is right. Hitting .400 in 2008 is a lot harder than hitting .400 in 1941. And Paul isn’t the only one who thinks so. Here’s what George Brett had to say about today’s more specialized bullpens, and the impact that has on hitters:
“Taking nothing away from Ted Williams or any of the players that have hit .400 in the past, like Rogers Hornsby, but back then, starters would pitch nine innings practically every game,” Brett said. “Teams had four starters along with guys in the bullpen, but the reason they were in the bullpen was because they weren’t good enough to be starters.”
So with all that said, what do you think, blogosphere? Will Chipper hit .400?
Personally, I think he’s going to do it.
I think Chipper is going to hit .400 because he has health, he has motivation and, frankly, he’s just that good.
Let’s start with health. For a while there Chipper was developing a reputation as another J.D. Drew, a guy who couldn’t stay on the field, who found new ways to hurt himself weekly. But last year Jones played in 134 games, his most since 2004. Moreover, he seems to have totally overcome the foot injuries that plagued him prior to 2007.
As for motivation, consider this: Last month I wrote a post asking which Braves belong in the Hall of Fame. 184 people voted and Chipper got 72 percent of the vote. This is pretty consistent with the public perception that Jones is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. Now ask yourself this: would hitting .400 change that perception? Absolutely. Hitting .400 would stamp Chipper’s HOF ticket. And you better believe he knows it.
Finally, Chipper is good enough to hit .400. So far this season the switch hitter is hitting .440 against righties and .400 against lefties.
Here’s what AJC beat writer Dave O’Brien had to say about Hoss in an April 18 blog post:
In his past 200 games, since June 24, 2006, Chipper has hit .358 (273-for-763) with 61 doubles, 6 triples, 52 homers, 167 RBI, 113 walks, 104 strikeouts, a .437 OBP and a .658 slugging percentage.
And in 102 road games during that period he’s hit .376 (153-for-407) with 36 doubles, 5 triples, 29 homers, 86 RBI, a .445 OBP and a .703 slugging percentage. That’s a 1.148 OPS in his past 102 road games. Astounding.
Hoss is astounding. And the truly scary thing is, at the age of 36, he seems to be getting better.
That’s why I think Chipper’s going to be the first player since Ted Williams to bat .400. Because I don’t think his hot start is an anomaly. I think he has elevated his game. This isn’t a streak. This is a state of being.
That aforementioned Vegas Watch post started like this:
There is no such thing as a .400 hitter. Well, at least there never has been. People have hit .400, of course, but that’s always been something of a fluke. This is evident in the fact that Ty Cobb has the highest career BA ever, at “just” .366.
Like Cobb, Chipper isn’t a career .400 hitter.
But I think this season, Larry “Chipper” “Don’t call me ‘Hoss’” Jones will get there. And it won’t be a fluke.
Right now, he’s just that good.