Chipper Jones is currently hitting .394, though he's been sidelined for the last week or so with a strained quad muscle in his leg. Pundits around baseball have marveled that a career .310 hitter (nothing to sneeze at, mind you) could pull off three months of .400 hitting and about a .500 on-base percentage. I don't think it's strange at all, when you consider what the 21st century has held for the Captain of the Braves.
In 2002, the Braves brought in well-known Prima Donna Gary Sheffield. Chipper was moved from his customary 3-spot in the order (where he'd hit since his debut in 1995) to the cleanup spot, with perennial underachiever Andruw Jones behind him. Sheffield hit .307, with 25 homers and 84 RBI. Chipper, behind him, hit .327, with 26 homers and 100 RBI. The following year, still in the cleanup spot, Chip hit .305 with 27 homers and 106 RBI. Sheffield, in his contract year and hitting in the 3 spot, hit .330 with 39 homers and 127 RBI. Sheffield then left Atlanta for the Yankees, allowing Jones back to the 3 hole. Sheffield, by the way, has yet to hit .300 again.
In 2004, the injuries began to mount. The career-worst .248 season coincided with his return to third base, and JD Drew hitting behind him. Drew hit .305 (in his contract year, naturally) with 31 homers. He hasn't hit more than 20 since, by the way. Jones' worst season since was a .296 showing in 2005.
Chipper's cleanup protection the next two years was Andruw Jones. When he was good, he was great, and when he was bad, he was fat, lazy, and a free swinger. In the '05 season he hit .263 with 51 homers; in '06 he hit .262 with 41; and last year, in a strange contract year occurrance, he hit .222 with 26, free-falling to 8th in the order by the end of the season and swinging at throws to first base. Currently he is on the DL with the Dodgers, where he's hitting .143.
Currently, his protection in the lineup is Mark Teixeira, who's in his contract year (surprise!). Tex is hitting .271 with 15 homers this year, and 57 RBI. Strangely enough, with Tex behind him, who's not striking out at a record pace, his average is up and he's on pace to have his first 30-homer year since '04.
Chipper has spent most of the 21st century with primadonnas and free swingers and contract years hitting before and after him. Is it any surprise that with Tex behind him, and a lack of Andruw Jones dragging him down, that his average has gone up 60 points from last year?
And let me make this gripe: Derek Jeter. His career average is .316, and he's had a virtual all-star team hitting around him since he came up. He has over 200 fewer home runs, an on-base % twenty points lower, and an OPS over 100 points lower. Yet he's considered a first-ballot Hall of Fame player, while Chipper will probably have to wait a few years to get in. Why? Two reasons: One, AOL Time-Warner's budget restrictions on the Braves-they've only been to one Series since the corporation bought out Turner, and the free-spending ways of George Steinbrenner, who bought enough talent to win 4 series in the late '90s; and the propensity of the Braves to make some head-scratching decisions, which has resulted in some less than stellar guys being brought in (Quilvio Veras? Brett Boone? Marcus Giles? Michael Tucker?) and some others being inexplicably sent off (Jason Schmidt, Jermaine Dye-why, why why was he traded to Kansas City for Michael Tucker? Why?)
But Chipper's been the face of the Braves for 13 years now, and will be for several more-and perhaps as a first baseman in the future, much like Henry Aaron was at the end of his career. Now if he can just get healthy, and stay hot into the second half, there might be hope for the playoffs just yet.