Chipper Jones: Why the Atlanta Braves' Oldest Player Is Also Their Most Vital

Herb HatleeContributor IIIJuly 31, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 13:  Chipper Jones #10 of the Atlanta Braves reacts after a solo homer in the sixth inning against the New York Mets at Turner Field on July 13, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In baseball years, Chipper Jones is ready for his walker. 19 years past his MLB debut, Braves fans cringe with each slide or dive Chipper performs—collectively hoping he gets up without hobbling or holding his knee. 

That wouldn't be the way the fans want to see their heralded future Hall of Famer leave the game. Win, lose or draw, the fans want Chipper's last game to be played on the field, not watching from the disabled list. 

But what can the organization and the Braves' faithful really expect to get from a player so far removed from his prime? 

Chipper Jones had miserable 2010 and 2011 seasons. When he announced that 2012 was to be his last, Braves fans were hoping for a special send-off for their favored son. One last hurrah. But with his previous dismal performance and nagging injuries in the previous two years, they had to wonder how much gas was really left in the tank? 

Like a much older and slower phoenix, Chipper has risen from the ashes of the disappointing recent seasons. While he doesn't have the legs he used to, nor the ability to play every game, his swing has returned. He is doing everything within his power to make this final season a magical one.

With team MVP candidates like Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, Jason Heyward, and Craig Kimbrel, what is it that makes Chipper Jones the most important player on the roster?

Coming into Sunday's game against the Philles, Chipper Jones had 249 plate appearances for the year. In those plate appearances, he has amassed 43 RBI. The MLB average for the same number of plate appearances is 27.

Fredi Gonzalez and Jones have taken the cautious route this season when it comes to keeping Chipper from becoming the Gipper. Giving him frequent days off increases his chances of actually making it through the entire season healthy enough to contribute in the playoffs.

While Jones has only played in 64 games this year, when he is in the lineup he has produced. At his current pace, if Chipper had played a full season to date, he would have 54 runs, 16 home runs, 68 RBI, and 24 doubles.

This season he has seven go-ahead hits, and none more memorable than his walk-off home run on May 2 against the Phillies.

When Chipper Jones starts, the Braves have a 36-21 record, a win percentage of .632. However, when he doesn't, the team is 22-23, a win percentage of just .489.

Dan Uggla is struggling yet again, Jason Heyward had a momentary return to his 2011 production level, and Brian McCann has had a miserable offensive season outside of these past three weeks. Despite these problems, the Braves are second in the NL in offense, scoring 472 runs so far this season. Chipper Jones is a major cog in the offensive wheel.

Jones has started 57 of the 102 games so far this season. In the 45 games Chipper did not start, the Braves have averaged 4.38 runs per game. In the 57 games he started, the Braves average 4.82 runs per game.

The offensive drop-off that Chipper's main backup, Juan Francisco, creates when he is in the lineup cannot be overlooked. Francisco's OBP is a pitiful .288 for the year. The struggling Dan Uggla is still able to muster an OBP of .343, despite his puny .212 batting average.

It is truly impressive that Chipper leads the team in batting average (.316), on-base percentage (.388), slugging (.513), and OPS (.901). Not bad for a player that is 19 years removed from his major league debut.

It is not just his presence in the lineup that gives Chipper value. His presence in the locker room is invaluable. He is the last remaining Braves player that was part of the 1995 Championship season. This current Braves roster is young and inexperienced.

The average age for the current 40-man roster is 28.1 years old. The average player was 15.1 years old when the Braves last made it to the World Series. Chipper was 27 at the time.

His offensive impact and his presence in the clubhouse makes Chipper the Braves' most important and valuable player in his bittersweet final season.