When Chipper Jones tore his ACL (for the second time in his career) in 2010, many (including myself) thought he would hang up his spikes for good and go down as one of the best switch hitters of all time.
But Chipper wasn’t going to leave the game until he could do so on his own terms, even if it meant a grueling recovery and playing for a manger other than Bobby Cox for the first time in his career.
When 2011 kicks off, Braves fans can expect to see Chipper playing third base and probably hitting out of the three spot in the lineup the way he has for over a decade.
But what should we expect from Chipper in 2011?
Before we get to stats, Chipper’s health needs to be brought up. Even before he tore his ACL, Chipper was accustomed to spending time on the disabled list. He hasn’t played 150 games since 2003 and has played more than 140 just once since then.
Even if he can fully recover from his torn ACL and avoid any future setbacks, Chipper will be spending some time on the DL in 2011.
I’ll set the under/over on how many games Chipper plays in 2011 at 120. Over the past seven years, he has average 122 so I think it’s a fair starting point.
Fredi Gonzalez has to be aware of Chipper’s health problems, and even if he were to avoid the DL all season he likely wouldn’t reach 150 games. Nagging injuries that could force him to miss a day or two will likely develop and he will probably get plenty of off days to try and keep him healthy.
Health aside, what kind of production can we expect from Chipper?
Since winning the batting title in 2008, Chipper’s offensive game has declined a lot. Not only is he no longer capable of providing plus power, he has hit .265 and .264 in the past two seasons. Granted, some of that probably has to do with bad luck (his BABIP in both years is over 20 points below his career average), but Chipper likely won’t hit as high as his .306 career average.
All that said, he still kept his on base percentage above .380, so he will have some value to the team even if his average continues to fall.
Power is another issue. Chipper slugged a career low .426 in 2010. He hasn’t hit 30 homers since 2004 and likely won’t approach that number this year even if healthy. In 2010 (granted, it was in limited playing time) he hit only 10 long balls.
There is, however, hope that Chipper will regain some of his form and help provide the Braves with some offense in 2011. From June 11 until his season ended on Aug. 10 (a two month period), Chipper produced a .307/.387/.520 slash line with seven homeruns and 24 RBI.
Chipper was off to an incredibly slow start, but looked like his old self before getting hurt. If he can avoid a slow start again in 2011, he could be a very productive third baseman when healthy.
Bill James predicts that Chipper will produce a .288/.401/.481 slash line with 17 homeruns and 66 RBI in 119 games next season, and I think his assessment is pretty good.
With a line like that, he wouldn’t be the Chipper of old, but would give the Braves a good on-base presence before Brian McCann and Dan Uggla while provide some pop.
My Prediction for 2010: 120 games, .290/.410/.490, 20 homeruns and 75 RBI
Think that I’m being overly optimistic or not seeing a huge resurgence coming? Let me know what your prediction is in the comments.