Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – After slumping through the second half of a career-worst season, Chipper Jones examined what went wrong and came to a couple of conclusions.
His swing was too long, and his strength was too low.
That’s why the Braves’ 37-year-old third baseman reported to spring training last week not only bigger and more muscular, but also accompanied by Larry Jones Sr., his father and personal hitting coach.
“We’re just going over some stuff, points of emphasis,” said Larry Jr., aka Chipper, who described what he and pops noticed.
“Early in my career I would keep both hands on the bat through the swing,” he said, “and over the years I’ve gotten a lot longer with my swing because I’m letting go.”
“I’m trying to get back to a shorter, quicker, more powerful swing left-handed by keeping both hands on the bat,” he said. “And it’s a little weird for me, but that’s what this [spring training] is for, to just get a ton of repetitions.”
Jones won a his first National League batting title in 2008, hitting a career-best .364 with 22 home runs, a league-leading .470 on-base percentage and a .575 slugging percentage.
His average plunged 100 points to .264 in 2009, and he had a career-low 18 homers, a .388 OBP (his lowest in five seasons), and a .430 slugging percentage that was 20 points off his previous worst of .450 as a rookie in 1995.
He’s the only switch-hitter ever with at least a .300 average (.307) and 300 homers (426). But Jones, who has a .541 career slugging percentage, was more than 100 points below that mark in 2009, including an anemic .377 slugging percentage batting left-handed.
“My bread and butter was always being able to drive the ball out of the ballpark to left, left-center and center,” he said. “And the last couple of years I’m not getting carry on balls like I used to. It’s not because I’ve lost bat speed. It’s not because I’ve lost strength. It’s just that little fundamental flaw, that bad habit that I got into.”
He also felt his strength was down late in the season, when his weight dropped below 215 pounds from his 225 spring reporting weight.
This season he’s at 232 pounds, and much of the weight is in thicker shoulders and arms. Before he began hitting four or five times a week with catcher Brian McCann after Christmas, Jones lifted a lot of weights in the gyms he has in his Atlanta home and Texas ranch.
“I lifted hard,” he said. “My workouts are not extensive; I’m not in there two hours. I’m in there probably 45 minutes or an hour. But when I’m in there I hit it hard. I can honestly say I got something out of each and every session.
“I’m as heavy now as I’ve ever been. I felt like I didn’t finish the year out strong, physically, last year. I just want to really try as best as I can to maintain my weight and strength throughout the course of the season.
“It’s hard because it’s so hot in Atlanta, and the last thing you want to do after a day game in Atlanta or after one of those rain-delayed games that gets over with at 1 o’clock (a.m.) is go in and work out. But I’m going try and stay on it as much as possible.”