09 January 2012

Adam Jones' Potential

Well, this site is becoming Adam Jones Depot.  This past week Dave Cameron wrote an article on Adam Jones titled "Adam Jones, Unfinished."  The timing is right with such an article because there is a great deal of disagreement out there on Jones' current and future worth.  At the Depot, we tend to think of Jones as a promising left fielder while many professional view him as a promising center fielder.  I think that distinction is worth about 3-5 MM each season.  To me that means the Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado deal is about a lower top 100 prospect away from being an even deal or two lower top 100 prospects if you think Jones really is a center fielder.  However, there has been a great deal of backlash from the Braves followers that Jones is not Prado's equal, which seems to be a bit of hyperbole.  Many who follow the Depot appear to be fine with a Jones for Jurrjens deal, which I think is also problematic.

Cameron's article tried to suss out part of Jones' value: his potential.  This was done by making a:
a list of all player seasons from the last 10 years where the hitter was 25 or younger, swung at 50% or more of the pitches they were thrown, and posted an ISO of at least .150 (to eliminate the middle infielders and catchers who are simply in the sport for their glovework). This group is essentially a collection of athletic players who got to the show based on their physical skills, but showed a significant lack of polish early in their career.
This produced 24 players who are rather interesting with respect to their future performance.  So 14 of the 24 players listed are useful regulars or better.  Nine star level players are in the group, including Matt Kemp and Adrian Beltre.  Five good players come in the next tier, which includes Hunter Pence.  Nick Faleris has actually compared the Pence deal to what the Orioles should expect for Jones if he is dealt to a team who sees him as a center fielder.  The tradeoff being Pence's average for Jones' center field.  That trade involved Pence and cash to the Phillies for Jonathan Singleton (top 25/50 1B prospect), Jared Cosart (top 100 pitching prospect), Domingo Santana (raw power OF), and Josh Zeid (maybe middle reliever).  That deal is similar to what has been mentioned on the Depot as a potential trade framework of a top 25, 50, and 100 prospects for Jones.  I would say that Jones currently skirts the role player/good player level.  With respect to the Braves package, I would call both Jurrjens and Prado are role players.

I do find Cameron's method a bit crude, but it is a useful exercise.  The idea is to look over the entire cloud of possibilities and recognize that the tools Adam Jones flashes are tools that may take time to package together.  Torii Hunter didn't learn how to take a walk until he was 27.  Dale Murphy doubled his walk rate at age 26.  This made me wonder what exactly is a decent projection for Adam Jones over the next three years (his two years of arbitration and one free agent year, which would be a good idea for an extension).

I used selected all players from 1961 to 2008 who by the end of the age 25 year had at least 1500 plate appearances, an on base percentage less than .330, an isolated slugging greater than .140, a batting average greater than .260, and an OPS+ less than 110.  This results in the following list of players: Tony Horton, Rich Gedman, Tim Wallach, Dale Murphy, Larry Parrish, Lance Parrish, George Hendrick, Rocco Baldelli, Cliff Floyd, Juan Samuel, Carlos Lee, J.J. Hardy, Stephen Drew, Juan Encarnacion, Zoilo Versalles, Aramis Ramirez, and Juan Uribe.  Due to the special circumstances surrounding Horton's and Baldelli's health, I removed them from the list as an outlier.  Adam Jones, according to batting runs, would rank 10th out of 17 on this list.  Batting runs does not consider position, so it is a good representation of the worth of a bat outside of any context.  Jones, of course, would be worth more when his bat is combined with a glove that can cover center field.  Using rWAR, Jones is the second highest rated player in this group.

What I am interested in for each player is how his batting average, walk rate, strikeout rate, and isolated power changed from his 25 and under years to his 26-28 years.  Those differences may then be able to inform us as to what we could expect from Adam Jones.  The follow are how certain metrics change from those two data sets for each individual in those data sets:
On Base Percentage = 4.7 +/- 10.8 %
Isolated Power = 6.9 +/- 24.2 %
Batting Average = 1.1 +/- 10.9 %
Walk Rate = 26.5 +/- 26.9 %
Strikeout Rate = -0.7 +/- 19.3 %
What is interesting is that as a group, there was basically improvement across the board.  This included marginal improvements for on base percentage and isolated power, but also a substantial improvement in walk rate.  Adam Jones is likely to improve and is pretty much certain not to walk any less.  It also is informative that although walk rate improve drastically, it does not greatly improve on base percentage.  This illustrates how poorly this group earns walks during their under 26 years.

What do the future Adam Jones' lines look like?  The following are three lines.  The first line is if Jones meets the 85th percentile for each metric, the second is if he hits the 50th percentile for each, and the final is if he hits the 15th percentile for each.  I am unsure how linked the metrics are, so obviously these lines do not mean Jones has a 15% chance to be great or a 15% chance to be unplayable.  The range of performance is likely to be far narrower around the 50th percentile line here.

85th: 308/369/520; 18 WAR; ~80MM
50th: 278/334/451; 11 WAR; ~50MM
15th: 248/300/382; 4.5 WAR; ~21MM
As you can see, Jones profiles as a solid center fielder over the next three years and that has a lot of worth.  The key to Jones becoming a superstar involves one of two paths.  The Aramis Ramirez path is thought of as the more likely one and that is to experience a massive improvement in making not only contact, but meaningful contact with the baseball.  He increased his batting average by 17% with a 50% increase in his ISO, decreased his strikeouts by 36%, and also manage to eek up his meager walk rate by 31%.  The second path is the Dale Murphy path, which is to drastically improve your walk rate (47%). Carlos Lee actually managed to up his 71%.  To boil it down, Jones needs to see a significant increase in making meaningful contact and either increase contact in general or improve his ability to earn walks.  The paths are not common, but certainly are not rare.  At worst, Jones is someone over the next three years is a marginal all star.

Now, if you are the Orioles and thinking of an extension, then you would likely look to offer something in the neighborhood of a three years for 40MM deal or a four years for 55MM.  That would cover two years of arbitration and one or two of free agency. 
If you are the Orioles looking to trade Jones...then you are certainly asking for more than Jurrjens and Prado.

A final note: this of course is a statistical exercise using an informed selection process to predict performance and should be treated as such.


Anonymous said...

the orioles should get at least some quality players if they do trade adam jones i mean i can see them gettin like jimmy rollins or mike cameron or jacoby ellsbury or somebody else thats made a big name for themselves but i would love to see him stay in baltimore and hopefully get somebody that can back him up and not take his spot.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe there are Braves fans that think Jones is less than Prado.
Prado is a utility player, while Jones is an AS level CF. I realize, according to stats, Jones has had some issues on defense, but they are ignoring the fact that he's a CF, much younger, on a poor team, and still hitting for a solid average despite his recent weakness for the breaking ball.

Anonymous said...

Well i know as a former coach of Adam... i know he is working hard in his off-season to improve his all around game!Good things are coming for that young man take my word for it!!

oltrex said...

Ah yes, the Cameron "study". I wondered when that would show up here.
The basis of the study was to identify fairly young baseball players who swung at pitches over 50% of the time. This study yielded 24 players to compare to Adam Jones, and as some of the names include high quality offensive players like Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Justin Morneau and Aramis Ramirez, it sounds like Adam Jones is in good company to be a pretty good ball player, though Cameron cautions against comparing Jones and say, Cabrera.

The big problem I have with Cameron's study is that it focuses on an act (swinging at a lot of pitches) and not results. Unless you swing and miss with two strikes, there are no results to this ratio of pitches swung at to total pitches seen. If a hitter swings at a fastball right down the middle and hits it 450 feet or if he chases a slider low and away, it makes no difference in the ratio!

The purpose of the study was to try and suggest that Adam Jones had potential to be better. My question became just how much better might he be? Armed with Cameron's 24 names, I looked at what each of those players had done at age 25 and compared them to what Adam Jones had done at age 25 in 2011. The metric I used was the ratio of unintentional walks divided by the Plate Appearances w/out intentional walks.

The players who came closest to Adam Jones in that category at age 25 were Carl Crawford and Corey Patterson, both coming in within 5 % of Jones' ratio. Four other players had lower ratios with Robinson Cano closest at 22% lower. On the upside, there were no players within 20% of Jones' ratio of 4.4% unintentional walks / unintentional plate appearances.

I believe that Cameron's study and my own that built upon his published results are both about plate discipline, but from different ends. His yielded 24 names as high swinging comps. When you add in the unintentional walk metric, the two closest comps are Carl Crawford, possibly the biggest free agent bust of 2011, and Corey Patterson, one of the biggest high draft choice busts of recent times.
I would like to see a study done using similarity scores that took in all aspects of Adam Jones production to get a better idea of what he might be like down the road, but lack the time to do so at this point. The purpose of this was not to hammer Adam Jones or Dave Cameron; both can improve and do better. My advice to Jones is learn the strike zone and to Cameron is to use production based metrics in the future. A study that is broad enough to include Angel Berroa with Miguel Cabrera needs a tighter focus.