ChipperChipper 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.

LarryLet’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.

9 Responses to “Will Chipper hit .400?”

  1. Not a chance in #@$%^*&! that he hits .400 this year. In fact, if he does, I’ll walk from Tucson to Phoenix (100 miles) wearing a Chipper Jones jersey if by some miracle it were to happen. Look, he’s a very good major league hitter…a career .309 hitter is outstanding. But, don’t think there’s any way to go 13 years hitting just over .300 to hitting .400 in a season. I could be wrong…but hope that I’m not…that would be a very long and hot walk for me ;-)

  2. Nick Kapur says:

    Coley, you are on crack if you honestly think Chipper can hit .400. Even if we overlook the facts that he is too old, too slow, and that everyone is going to have a slump from time to time over a 6-month season, it’s actually kind of statistically impossible at a very basic level. I think Baseball Prospectus had an interesting article in their “Baseball Between the Numbers” book, which was very math-y and talked a lot about standard deviations, but in which the point was that it is a lot harder to dominate baseball today than it was in the early days, because the talent level of the players is more tightly grouped, ie the difference between the best player and the worst player is far, far less of a gap today than it was in 1930.

    There is a reason why in all the player-seasons since 1941 nobody has come even all that close to .400, beyond just better relievers and such. Namely, that the odds of such an event happening have drastically decreased at a fundamental statistical level.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    I don’t think Jones will make it either, Nick, but I think .390 is coming “even all that close to .400.”

  4. Brian Gibbons says:

    Nobody can hit .400 again. When Ted Williams played, fielders were wearing tiny hard pieces of leather on their hands as gloves. Most of the webgems you see on baseball tonight, particularly the diving catches in the outfield, were not possible when the splendid splinter hit .406.

  5. Coley Ward says:

    Ichiro hit .372 in 2004. He missed hitting .400 because he got off to a slow start, hitting just .255 in April. He hit .400 in May, .432 in July, .463 in August and .429 in October.

    Ichiro’s biggest problem is that he doesn’t walk enough and, because of that, he has to get a TON of hits in order to bat .400. In 2004 he broke the all time record for hits in a season and still fell 28 points short.

    In 2004, Ichiro walked 49 times. Last year, Chipper walked 82 timese. Because he walks more, Chipper won’t have to break the all time hit record in order to bat .400 (though, he’ll have to come close).

    Look, I know it’s a long shot. Hell, it’s a near impossibility. But I’m still betting on Chipper. And Andrew, if you think come October I won’t remember your promise to walk from Tucson to Phoenix, you’re crazy.

  6. Coley Ward says:

    Here’s another interesting tidbit. Ted Williams was the last person to hit .400. He did it in 1941, the same year Joe Dimaggio recorded his 56-game hitting streak. Cornell grad student Samuel Arbesman recently penned a piece for the New York Times where he demonstrated that 1941 was one of the least likely years for a player to record a record hitting streak.

    My point, of course, is that sometimes great players make history despite the odds.

  7. EddieRebel says:

    Braves homer here,

    Chipper is not hitting from the right side. His power is coming from the left. Hopefully he won’t face many lefties, and can keep his average up.

    No chance for 400 though.

  8. Coley Ward says:

    Eddie, his power is coming from the left, no doubt. But he certainly is hitting from the right side. He’s hitting .400 from the right side, in fact. I think that’s pretty good.

  9. BravesFan says:

    Chipper has hit exactly .400 from the right side of the plate since May 5, 2007…that’s more than an ENTIRE season of games.

    That having been said, it’s still going to be nearly impossible to do, but I’d like to see Andrew make the 100-mile trek.

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