It’s a steamy night in Miami Gardens when the Atlanta Braves make their return to Pro Player Stadium to face the Florida Marlins. The year is 2003, and nine year-old me is sitting ten rows up from the third-base dugout. I’m probably just waiting for the inning to end, so that I can run down to the first row and beg for a ball; nonetheless, I enjoy the intermittent baseball. With reference to no specific occasion, the story usually goes: the first inning starts with any combination of Rafael Furcal or Marcus Giles reaching base. As the lineup proceeds and the Braves make it down to the four-hole, I hear the Yamaha keyboard slowly whine over the speakers as the announcer readies.
“Now batting for the Atlanta Braves, left-fielder, Chipper Jones.” As instinctual as the birds who fly south for the winter, or the salmon who swim upstream to mate, I raise my thumb and pointer finger up to my face, pinch my nose as hard as I can, and to the tune of an old-foghorn yell “Laaaaaaaa-rrrrrryyyyy! Laaaaaaaa-rrrrrryyyyy!” as Larry Wayne Jones, better known as Chipper, steps up to the plate. And although I enjoy a few chuckles from nearby fans in the stands, it would be Chipper who gets the last laugh, as he effortlessly waves what looks to be a toothpick through the zone and whips a double off the Teal Monster, or wraps a homer around the right-field pole.
(The story ends with the Marlins getting the last-last laugh; that year, the Braves went 9-10 against the Marlins, and despite winning 101 games, fell in the NLDS to the Chicago Cubs. Weeks later, the Marlins took home their second World Series.)
On Wednesday, Jones received the call that he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The career Brave accrued unnatural numbers, slashing .303/.401/.529 with a wRC+ of 141. According to ESPN.com, Jones was voted in on 410 of 422 ballots.
Although the folks over at The Good Phight would probably like to stake their claim as the team most victimized by Chipper Jones, there is truth to the assertion that Jones can attribute a bulk of his Hall of Fame case to his success against the Marlins as well. In the Marlins’ comparatively brief history, Jones ranks among the best to hit against the Fish.
Chipper Jones vs. FLA/MIA Marlins
I think it’s no coincidence that Jones recorded 666 plate appearances against the Marlins; he was a devil against them. As you can see, Jones hit 25 percent better than average against the Marlins. Amongst hitters with 500 plate appearances against the Marlins, Jones ranks 3rd in terms of on-base percentage. Chipper’s 26 home runs against the Marlins ties for fourth-most, trailing home-run machine Ryan Howard, as well as Chase Utley and Ryan Zimmerman, both of whom have more than 100 additional plate appearances against the Fish.
Chipper didn’t just love hitting against the Marlins; he had a particular affinity for playing in Miami as well.
Chipper Jones v. FLA/MIA in Miami
While there was no place like Turner Field for Chipper, it’s clear that he was never intimidated by Pro Player Stadium. Jones’ wOBA of .363 at Miami ranks second-best amongst Fish Killers.
When it came to hitting Marlins’ pitching, Chipper wasn’t picky about who was on the mound either. He was pretty fair and even-handed when it came time to dish out punishment.
Chipper Jones vs. Noteworthy Marlins Pitchers
|Pitcher||Plate Appearances Against||BA||OBP||SLG||2B||HR|
|Pitcher||Plate Appearances Against||BA||OBP||SLG||2B||HR|
Far and away, Jones’ favorite pitcher to hit against was NL East veteran Livan Hernandez, who saw time with the Marlins, Mets, and Expos/Nationals. The outlier on the board is doubles; Chipper hit twelve against Livan in 100 plate appearances. In more than ten percent of his plate appearances against Livan Hernandez, Chipper made it to second base on one hit. Out of every five plate appearances against Livan, Chipper made it on base twice. Incredible consistency like this plays heavily into the equation of making it to the Hall of Fame.
On the other end of the spectrum, Josh Beckett seemed to have the most success against Chipper. Although Beckett faced him in 69 fewer plate appearances, he held Jones to a measly .161 batting average and .212 on-base percentage. Other pitchers who were relatively successful in limiting Jones’ offensive production were Kevin Brown, Ryan Dempster, and Hall of Fame Classmate Trevor Hoffman.
True to this article’s theme however, most pitchers had trouble solving Chipper. Jones recorded .400+ OBP’s against Al Leiter, Josh Johnson, A.J. Burnett, and Scott Olsen. Olsen was notoriously bad against Chipper; against Olsen, Chipper accrued a slash of .419/.444/.774 over 36 plate appearances.
Ricky Nolasco was also frequently victimized by Jones; in April of 2008, Chipper went 4-4, with two home runs and a double specifically off of Nolasco. In total, Chipper hit 4 home runs off of Nolasco, ballooning his slugging percentage against him to .727.
Brad Penny similarly got licked in his 52 plate appearances against Jones. Chipper slashed .326/.385/.587 against the big right hander.
Ultimately, the pattern elicited by the statistics is that Chipper Jones could get to a pitcher in many different ways. His inflated on-base percentage against some pitchers shows that he could paper-cut a team with singles and walks, while his slugging percentage against other pitchers demonstrates his ability to hit for power. As a switch-hitter, you couldn’t counter Jones with a bullpen move; he recorded a career wRC+ of 145 against righties, and 128 against lefties. He could beat a manager either way.
Rather than scoff at the admission of another Marlins rival into baseball’s most hallowed grounds, as any true fan of baseball should be, I am glad to see Chipper Jones join the ranks of the game’s greatest. Was he a huge contributor to my anguish over the years? Absolutely. I spent many of my formative years in the mid-2000’s watching Chipper torment the aforementioned pitchers. Just as I feel now when Daniel Murphy pokes a double over the second baseman and into the gap, I felt when Chipper Jones ran the bases at Pro Player Stadium. As a baseball fan in general, I am glad that I got to watch one of baseball’s elite do-what-he-did-best on a monthly basis.
But as a Marlins fan, the word that comes to mind about Chipper Jones is now “validation.” We knew that Chipper Jones was good. Ryan Howard was good. David Wright was good. Daniel Murphy is good. Ryan Zimmerman is good. We all know that the Fish Killers are good. But while these players have certainly made our NL East rivalries entertaining, can we say that any or all of them are Hall of Famers? I think that while cases can be made for most of the aforementioned names, it is generally fringy across the board.
For at least one player however, we now know. Chipper Jones wasn’t just good against the Marlins, he was a Hall of Famer. Ricky Nolasco didn’t just let up two home runs in a game against a good ballplayer, or a great ball player; he let up two home runs in a game to a Hall of Famer. Josh Beckett didn’t dominate just a great ballplayer; he dominated a Hall of Famer, and led the Marlins to the World Series in 2003. The distinction should not be treated lightly; the validation is real. From his 152 games in Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, to his four games in Marlins Park, we were all witnesses to one of the game’s immortal greats, and for that, we should be thankful. Congratulations Chipper, no thanks for the heartburn, but thanks for the memories.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com and Baseball-reference.com