16. Can Chipper Jones bounce back?

The Braves must have a resurgent season from Chipper Jones in 2010. Can it happen?

Well, he's got to bounce back. Chipper Jones just has to recover from arguably the worst season of his potential Hall-of-Fame career.

Jones had his lowest number of home runs (18) and RBI (71) in his career. His batting average dropped 100 points (to .264) from his batting title season in 2008, and it was the second lowest average in his career. And his OBP was under .400 for the first time in five seasons and for only the fifth time in his 15-year career.

And the amazing statistic is Jones had these subpar numbers in a season where he played in the most games (143) in a season since 2003.

Despite more numerous injuries, Jones stayed in the lineup more, but his production was just really off. And that's not something you want to see from a soon-to-be 38-year-old who just signed a contract extension to stay with the Braves through the 2012 (and possibly the 2013) season.

Jones was so upset with his season that he admitted late in the year that if his production did not improve next season, he could walk away from the final years on his contract and retire.

But can Jones recover? He is no longer the 30-home run threat he was in the 1990s. In fact, Jones hit 30 home runs or more just three times in the 2000s. Jones use to be a perennial 100-RBI slugger, but he's had more than 100 RBIs only once in the last six years.

The average drop off may be the most alarming statistic. Even with his power production off in the last few seasons, Jones' average kept on rising. After a disappointing .248 average in 2004, Jones batting average went to .296, and then .324 in 2006, .337 in 2007, and his league-best .364 in 2008.

To see that average drop off 100 points is downright scary. That's just not Chipper Jones.

What's also scary is to see how the poor season unfolded. Jones hit very well in April and May (.316), but then had a horrific month of June (.247). Jones bounced back with a .284 average in July, but from August 1 until the end of the season Jones hit only .225 with 5 home runs and 22 runs batted in.

Many fans say it was simply a bad second half of the season, as Jones hit .236 after the All-Star Break. But it's just more of a story when you're talking about a guy who will play most of next season as a 38-year-old third baseman.

Remember, third basemen don't play regularly at that position at that age very often. So it becomes even more of a challenge for a player to maintain his level of skill as he grows older.

Jones has refused any notion of changing positions, and that is a shame. If he switched to first base, as George Brett (a player often compared to Jones) did late in his career, Jones could perhaps have an easier time grinding out a 162-game schedule. But Jones has said he will not play first base.

Such a move of Jones to first would actually help the Braves a great deal. With Freddie Freeman perhaps a year away, Jones could hold down the position until a future star arrives on the scene. Also, a move to first would allow the Braves to go ahead and find their future third baseman. And we know it's not going to be easy to replace a player like Jones at such an important position.

Another issue that could help Jones next season is his placement in the batting order. He is no longer a number three hitter, and if Bobby Cox continues to put him there, it's going to create issues for the Braves lineup. So we'll have to see if that's something that could change in spring training.

Bottom line is Jones has got to bounce back with better production next season. He's still a very important part of this team, and if the Braves are to be successful, Chipper Jones must have a better 2010 season. If not, his career could be coming to a close faster than expected.

Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.

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