Friday, August 3, 2012

Just how valuable is Chipper Jones?

Forty-year old Larry Wayne has been putting on a show, despite having no knees, being incapable of lateral movement, needing a wheelchair to push him around the bases after a home run several nagging injuries and a decaying body.  In his final year with the Braves, Old Man Jones is reminding everyone just why we considered him a future HOFer. With a .316/.391/.513 slashline, Chipper has exceeded even the lofty expectations people have set for him. The Braves will certainly miss him next year, and many argue that the value he brings is irreplaceable.

And in many ways, it is. It will be impossible to replace his legacy, his iconic status, and his leadership. His presence in the lineup has a reassuring feel, kind of like seeing Dad in stands during a little league game, and everyone else seems to perform just a little better when he's in the lineup. Nevertheless, it may be easier to replace his on-field production than it initially seems. Yes, he rakes the ball - but only when he plays. So far, of the 105 games the Braves have played, Chipper has only played in 66 (and only started in 58). At that rate, he will have only started in 90 games by the end of the season. Of course, he did spend a stint on the DL in the first half, so he may play games at a higher rate for the rest of the season (even though his record and age show he's liable to go on the DL at any second). Even if he ends up playing 120 games, he will still have spent approximately a quarter of the year on the bench, tremendously diminishing his overall value to the team. Even with his surpassing rate stats, his accumulated offensive value is lower than you would expect. So far this year, Chipper has 46 Weighted Runs Created (wRC), which is a metric that quantifies a player's offensive value and attempts to measure it by runs. This is tied with players like Kelly Johnson, Norichika Aoki, and Pedro Alvarez - who hit at way worse clips - simply because they can provide offensive value nearly every game.

So far, Chipper has been replaced by Juan Francisco or Jose Constanza in about 45% of the games. In games that they have started at 3B or LF (when Martin Prado moves in to 3rd to take Chipper's spot), they have accumulated 18.4 wRC. This makes Chipper and his replacements responsible for 64.4 wRC, which is around the number that players like Corey Hart, Derek Jeter, David Freese, Buster Posey, and Aaron Hill are putting up. That isn't to say the Braves would need a player of that caliber to replace Chipper because bench production, whether from Francisco, Reed Johnson, or another TBD backup outfielder will remain a constant next year. At his current pace - if, if he plays 120 games - Chipper will produce approximately 84 wRC. Last year, that mark was nearly matched or beaten by players with significantly worse rate stats: Dan Uggla, BJ Upton, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Young, Carlos Pena, and Torrii Hunter.

This is all overlooking Chipper's maybe average defense (yes, he's great at charging, but pretty pathetic laterally), and poor performance on the base paths. Find a player who can be as good or better in both areas and it really shouldn't be as hard as it seems to replace his production, if only because that player will actually be in the game much more. A quick look at the players who produced 80-85 wRC last year, and they hovered around .780 OPS (compared to Chipper's .904) with about 580 PA.

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