Chipper Jones and age-40 WAR

If the first two Wild Card play-in games are any indication, losses will leave teams numbed by the suddenness of their seasons’ ends. Chipper Jones must feel it more than most. His season was a farewell tour meant to be savored, but a bad call and a series of defensive mistakes—his own included—made for an abrupt end. As Jones exited the ballpark for the final time, his fans littered the field behind him with bottles. The scene was at odds with the punctuation Jones put on his tremendous career.

Jones finished his career with 90.4 WAR, which is good for 33rd all time, and seventh among third basemen, leaving him in the company of many of the best players ever to play the game. Jones will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, though he will not quite qualify for the debate of the best players ever at their positions. However, Jones walked away from the sport in even rarer company.

Of the 23 third basemen who have a career WAR of at least 60.0, eight of them played in their age-40 seasons, Jones included. Jones has the highest combined WAR over 40 years old, delineated by seasons in which the players were 40 or older by May 1.

Third basemen with at least 60.0 career WAR who played in their age-40 season:

Name

WAR

Final Year

Final Age

WAR

over 40

Chipper Jones

90.4

2012

40

3.0

Edgar Martinez

69.9

2004

41

2.8

Graig Nettles

71.8

1988

43

2.5

Tony Perez

67.8

1986

43

1.6

Paul Molitor

75.3

1998

41

0.3

Tommy Leach

60.8

1918

40

0.3

Darrell Evans

67.9

1989

41

0.2

Wade Boggs

94.8

1999

40

-0.3

Jones actually tied both Martinez and Nettles with 3.0 WAR in their age-40 seasons, which would be excellent seasons by the standards of most players. However, those three were not most players. Jones had his best season in 1999 with 7.7 WAR. Martinez had his in 1995 with 7.5 WAR. Nettles had his in 1971 with 8.3 WAR.

By percentage of peak WAR, only Martinez was closer to his best in his age-40 season than Jones, and Martinez had become a full-time DH by age 32, so he should not really qualify. Jones, then, just completed the best age-40 season relative to his own standard of play of any great third baseman in history.

Third basemen with at least 60.0 career WAR who played in their age-40 season:

Name

Peak WAR

Peak Year

Peak Age

WAR

at 40

% Peak

at 40

Edgar Martinez

7.5

1995

32

3.0

40%

Chipper Jones

7.7

1999

27

3.0

39%

Graig Nettles

8.3

1971

26

3.0

36%

Darrell Evans

10.2

1973

25

1.5

15%

Paul Molitor

6.3

1987

30

0.8

13%

Tony Perez

9.0

1970

27

0.5

6%

Tommy Leach

6.5

1907

31

0.3

5%

Wade Boggs

9.4

1985

26

-0.3

-3%

Jones had an unprecedented season for a player of his position and age, and he stacks up well against the entire field, as well. I raised the standard to 80.0-WAR players who played in their age-40 seasons and ended up with 26 names. Jones ranks 10th in WAR over the age of 40, but every player in front of him on the list played in at least one additional season beyond age 40.

Players with at least 80.0 career WAR who played in their age-40 season:

Name

WAR

Final Year

Final Age

WAR

over 40

Luke Appling

84.7

1950

43

15.0

Honus Wagner

149.8

1917

43

13.5

Cap Anson

88.7

1897

45

11.5

Stan Musial

139.3

1963

42

8.5

Barry Bonds

168.2

2007

42

7.9

Ty Cobb

163.9

1928

41

6.8

Carl Yastrzemski

108.7

1983

43

4.6

Ted Williams

139.8

1960

41

4.4

Rickey Henderson

114.1

2003

44

4.2

Chipper Jones

90.4

2012

40

3.0

Hank Aaron

150.5

1976

42

3.0

Willie Mays

163.2

1973

41

2.8

Nap Lajoie

108.2

1916

41

1.9

Joe Morgan

108.0

1984

40

1.6

Pete Rose

91.5

1986

45

1.5

Tris Speaker

142.6

1928

40

0.5

Babe Ruth

177.7

1935

40

0.3

Rogers Hornsby

134.9

1937

41

0.3

Eddie Collins

134.2

1930

42

0.1

Frank Robinson

116.3

1976

40

0.1

Dan Brouthers

80.1

1904

45

-0.1

Bill Dahlen

80.0

1911

41

-0.2

Wade Boggs

94.8

1999

40

-0.3

Reggie Jackson

81.4

1987

40

-0.4

Cal Ripken

99.7

2001

40

-0.5

Ken Griffey Jr.

83.9

2010

40

-0.9

If I apply the same standard for Jones compared to these players as I did for Jones versus other third basemen, it reveals how impressive a season Jones had in 2012. Only Luke Appling in 1947 had a better age-40 season relative to his peak, and only Appling, Cobb, and Wagner had more WAR in their age-40 seasons than Jones.

Players with at least 80.0 career WAR who played in their age-40 season:

Name

Peak WAR

Peak Year

Peak Age

WAR

at 40

% Peak

at 40

Luke Appling

8.1

1943

36

4.7

58%

Chipper Jones

7.7

1999

27

3.0

39%

Ty Cobb

12.7

1917

30

4.8

38%

Cap Anson

7.2

1886

34

2.5

35%

Honus Wagner

12.9

1908

34

4.2

33%

Pete Rose

8.1

1976

35

2.2

27%

Hank Aaron

9.4

1961

27

2.4

26%

Stan Musial

11.5

1948

27

2.7

23%

Rickey Henderson

10.5

1990

31

2.4

23%

Willie Mays

11.5

1965

33

2.2

19%

Nap Lajoie

10.1

1906

31

1.6

16%

Joe Morgan

11.4

1975

31

1.6

14%

Carl Yastrzemski

12.1

1967

27

1.2

10%

Barry Bonds

12.9

2001

36

0.7

5%

Tris Speaker

11.0

1912

24

0.5

5%

Ted Williams

12.4

1946

27

0.4

3%

Babe Ruth

15.4

1923

28

0.3

2%

Eddie Collins

11.1

1909

21

0.2

2%

Frank Robinson

9.1

1966

30

0.1

1%

Rogers Hornsby

12.4

1924

28

0.1

1%

Dan Brouthers

9.4

1892

33

0.0

0%

Bill Dahlen

7.2

1896

26

-0.1

-1%

Wade Boggs

9.4

1985

26

-0.3

-3%

Reggie Jackson

9.9

1969

22

-0.4

-4%

Cal Ripken

11.1

1991

30

-0.5

-5%

Ken Griffey Jr.

10.2

1996

26

-0.9

-9%

Jones easily could have held on for another few years as his skills diminished, as many of his historical peers have done. I believe it is fitting that he retired when he did. The Wild Card loss will rob him of the chance to end his career with a World Series victory, but he still will walk away on top. His outstanding play made that happen.

References & Resources
Statistics from FanGraphs.

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Comments

  1. Chris g said...

    Darrell Evans had 4.8 WAR in what you would call his age 39 season, missing the cutoff by a mere 25 days.  I’m sure he had more WAR after turning age 40 than Chipper, but I’m not about to roll up my sleeves and prove it.

  2. Brian said...

    I think it is clear that Chipper could have hung around a season or two more, but chose to leave on his terms.  Congrats to Mr.Jones.  May he now go quietly into the nite as a hero in his time.

    A Nats fan

  3. bstar said...

    Scott, why include Tony Perez and Edgar Martinez as third basemen? Perez played 70% of his career at 1B, Edgar about the same at DH. Perez played his last season at 3B in 1971 and Edgar in 1992. I don’t get it.

    I only bring this up because omitting these two would make Chipper’s season look even better, wouldn’t it?

  4. rubesandbabes said...

    Yeah, I don’t get the Edgar Martinez thing either, but for sure if that’s the standard, then please include George Brett for his 1993 season.

    ==

    This list contains so many outlier WAR numbers at at glance, it’s hard not to notice the limitations (crudeness?) of the stat just going a little ways back in baseball history..

  5. Scott Spratt said...

    Brett actually missed the date cutoff for what I deemed to be an age-40 season (by less than a month, but I had to draw the line somewhere), or else I would have included him.  I opted to include guys that weren’t full-career third basemen because I found them to be interesting comparables.  Guys like Edgar Martinez moved off the position by age 40, but WAR makes position adjustments, so it still provides a fair estimate of their value to their team.  It’s up to you whether or not to give Chipper credit for sticking at third base until the end.

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