Chipper Jones announced his retirement today, effective at the end of the 2012 season. So now would be a good time to assess his career and see how he ranks among the game's greatest third basemen.
Here's a listing of career WAR among the top third basemen (according to Baseball-Reference.com):
1. Mike Schmidt: 108.3
2. Eddie Mathews: 98.3
3. Wade Boggs: 89.0
4. George Brett: 85.0
5. Chipper Jones: 82.7
6. Brooks Robinson: 69.1
7. Ron Santo: 66.4
8. Scott Rolen: 66.2
9. Home Run Baker: 63.7
10. Graig Nettles: 61.6
A few notes:
- We'll leave Alex Rodriguez out of this for now. As of now, he's played more games as a shortstop than as a third baseman, so I'm not ready to include him here yet.
- Adrian Beltre is still about 14 WAR behind, but he'll probably shoot up the list to number 6 or 7 before his career ends.
If Jones matches his 2011 season this year (2.8 WAR), he'll move past Brett to claim the number four career spot, but at age 40, he'd have to play out of his mind to surpass Boggs. Not gonna happen.
OK, so fourth or fifth by career value. Now let's look at peak value. How many 7+/8+/9+ WAR seasons did Jones have compared to the top six guys:
1. Mike Schmidt: 9/3/2
2. Eddie Mathews: 8/4/0
3. Wade Boggs: 6/5/1
4. George Brett: 5/4/1
5. Chipper Jones: 3/0/0
6. Brooks Robinson: 3/1/0
7. Ron Santo: 4/2/1
Hmmm, it turns out that Jones only had three 7+ WAR seasons and zero 8+ WAR seasons. Even his MVP year only ranks as a 7.0 WAR. I think the problem is that Jones ranks as an average to below-average fielder, which brings down his overall totals. By offense alone, that 1999 season scores as 8.2 oWAR.
So is this enough information to rank Jones confidently? In my mind, yes. By both career and peak value as a player, Jones clearly ranks below the top three of Schmidt, Mathews, and Boggs. And I think Brett was a much bigger offensive force than Jones ever was, and he was a better fielder to boot.
Which puts Chipper Jones as the fifth greatest third baseman of all time. Not shabby, not shabby at all. Next up: Cooperstown.
If you want to read a couple of other assessments of Chipper Jones, check out Rob Neyer and Cliff Corcoran. (Spoiler alert: They basically come to the same conclusion.)