I moved to New Jersey in 2004 when Chipper Jones was already a decade into his Hall-worthy career, within a week of when his son, Shea Jones was born. Yes, Chipper named his son after an opponent’s stadium. As I began to watch local Met broadcasts, I heard about how Chipper was a Met killer of the highest order. Such a distinction may be true, or it may be the product of a series worth of big hits at a critical time, or it might just be made up – not on purpose, of course – but incorrect information about baseball is perpetuated all the time. Perhaps it’s said once, innocently enough, and then it’s repeated as truth for years or decades. Hell, many real baseball fans truly believe that a Civil War general named Abner Doubleday invented the game we hold so dear.
Anyway, with Chipper hitting the Hall ballot this winter, I want to examine both his qualifications for enshrinement and the idea that he was some sort of Met killer.
Chipper and the Hall
This is quite an easy call. I rank him as the seventh best third baseman ever, just behind Home Run Baker. Eric thinks he’s sixth, just ahead. Chipper absolutely belongs.
The guy’s traditional numbers are actually better than my translations. And he did the things voters like. He won an MVP and a batting title. He has impressive career numbers, including a .303 average and 468 homers. And here’s a fun one: only Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, and Stan Musial can match him in BA, OBP, SLG, HR, and H.
Just based on raw numbers, he looks like a slightly better version of Vladimir Guerrero. Except that Chipper could draw a walk, and he played a more important defensive position.
Chipper Vlad H 2726 2590 R 1619 1328 2B 549 477 HR 468 449 RBI 1623 1496 SB-CS 104 87 BA .303 .318 OBP .401 .379 SLG .529 .553 OPS+ 141 140 WAR 85.0 59.3
The comparison to Vlad understates Chipper’s greatness. He’s about the seventh best third baseman ever; I rank Vlad as the 27th best right fielder. Chipper wins everywhere but BA and SLG. And the kicker is WAR. The positional value of Chipper’s nearly 2000 games at the hot corner is tremendous. I think the next chart, just looking at guys with over 50% of their career games at the position, makes that point very clearly.
Chipper Vlad H 5 15 R 1 19 2B 4 13 HR 3 6 RBI 1 9 BA 11 10 OBP 4 26 SLG 1 3 OPS+ 3 10 WAR 6 15
Anyway, Chipper is considerably better than Vlad, and he clearly belongs.
Chipper and the Mets
Baseball Reference is good for pretty much everything. It’s particularly helpful and revealing when looking at split data. And to explore whether or not Chipper Jones was a real Met killer, that’s exactly what I looked at. What I did was look at all teams against which Chipper played at least one hundred games.
In a way, Chipper absolutely killed the Mets. Players as great as Chipper kill pretty much all teams.
- He hit .309 against New York. On the other hand, he was better than that against five teams.
- He got on base at a .406 clip against them. Then again, he was better than that against the same five.
- He slugged .543 against the Mets. And he topped that against four of the above teams.
So yes, Chipper posted a .300/.400/.500 line against the Amazin’ ones, but he did the same against five other teams. And against the Astros, Padres, Phillies, and Rockies, he did better in each triple slash category.
- In terms of runs, his 168 against the Mets was topped against only one team. His 49 homers were matched against only one. And his 159 ribbies were his third best against any team.
- However, while he scored runs at a faster pace against the Mets than all but one team, he homered at a higher rate against three teams, and he drove in runs at a higher rate against five.
A way to think about if it felt like someone was doing better than he really was is to look at BABIP. Against the Mets, Chipper got on at an ordinary .315 clip. He did better than that against seven teams. So compared to other teams Chipper faced a lot, it certainly didn’t feel like he was killing them.
My favorite category when trying to answer a question like we are today is tOPS+, which is OPS relative to the player’s OPS in general. A tOPS+ of 100 means the player performed as well against the team in question as he did overall. Higher means better, lower worse. Chipper Jones had a tOPS+ of 104 against the Mets. It was 108 against the Astros and Padres. It was 120 against the Rockies. And it was 123 against the Phillies.
I think we’ve answered our question. Sure, Chipper was a Met killer. But he killed a bunch of teams. If we want to say Chipper killed any team, it was the Phillies. So back in 2004 when Shea Jones was born, perhaps he should have been named Citizens Bank Jones.