08 June 2016

Adam Jones is Back

Adam Jones is a remarkably consistent player.  From 2011 to 2015, he hit at least 25 homers, scored at least 68 runs, drove in at least 82 runs, never had an OPS under .780 or wOBA under .334, and played fewer than 150 games only once.  Over that time frame, Jones also put up three 4+ WAR seasons and established himself as one of the best outfielders in the American League. He may not be elite and he does some maddening things (flailing at sliders in the dirt is never a good look), but he's very good.  Certainly good enough to be a multiple time All-Star and the face of the Orioles franchise for the better part of a decade.

This consistency, however, belies what has been a slow but steady decline in nearly every stat category.  Since 2012, his games played, plate appearances, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, wOBA, WRC+, runs, and stolen bases have ALL declined in each season. Save for one more home run in 2013 than in 2012 and a .314 BABIP in 2013 as opposed to a .313 mark in 2012, the pattern exists for dingers and BABIP as well.  In 2016, this decline has culminated in what would easily be Jones’ worst season since at least 2009. 

So far this season, Adam Jones has been worth less than a replacement player, and he is at career lows in nearly every rate stat.  For two months, he was bad.  Not just bad for Jones, but bad for anyone.  A quick look at the differences in his batting average by location between this season and last tells us all we really need to know.


Jones has struggled mightily with pitches on the corners.  He was able to turn on pitches inside last season to great effect and had decent plate coverage on the outside corner, but both of those abilities seem to have left him in 2016.  One of the biggest criticisms that Jones has faced in his career is an inability to lay off pitches down in the zone, particularly down and away, and he’s done nothing to dispel that so far this season.  Unfortunately for Jones, even pitches in the strike zone have proven more challenging this season than last.  While he has done well up and low and away in the zone, Jones has struggled with pretty much every other pitch location in the strike zone.  That's a good way to hit .240 with 9 homers.  

The reality that Jones is a 30 year old center fielder with over 1200 games under his belt and declining statistics across the board. His body may also be beginning to break down, as Jones has struggled with injuries the last two seasons, missing 25 games in 2015 and 4 so far in 2016 (though he played through a rib injury early in the season that clearly affected his game).  While his BABIP is over nearly 50 points lower than his career, he did put up a below career average .286 BABIP last year as well.  He has certainly gotten somewhat unlucky with his batted balls this season, but he also has a career low line drive rate and a career high ground ball rate.

Over the last two weeks, however, Jones has looked much like his old self.  Manager Buck Showalter (somewhat inexplicably at the time) moved Jones into the leadoff spot on May 27, and since then, Jones has hit a much more Jones-like .306/.327/.612 with 4 home runs, 12 RBI, 11 runs scored and 3 doubles.  While the .327 OBP isn't an elite mark for a leadoff hitter, not to mention the fact that changing lineup spots and immediately improving seems a little bit like a spurious correlation, it is clear that Jones has begun to rediscover his old stroke.

A closer look under the hood supports this, and not just in the last twelve or so games.  Jones currently sports the highest walk rate of his career AND the lowest BABIP.  He is hitting the ball harder than in 2014 and 2015, has the lowest pop-up rate of his career, and is 2 percentage points below his career HR/FB rate.  Even more interesting is the fact that he is swinging at fewer pitches out the strike zone than in any year since 2009 and is basically in line with his career swing and contact rates overall.  Essentially, he has been the same player he’s always been and, in some ways, even better.  While he has struggled to put up the kind of numbers we are used to seeing from him, there is certainly reason to think that the past two weeks are the start of an overall positive trend.

In all, the 2016 season offers both hope and worry for Jones and his future production.  It would not be a stretch to call his season unlucky by any means, and he has begun to put up the kind of stats we would expect to see.  It is, however, difficult to ignore the fact that his offensive game is in decline overall.  Combine that with increasing injury concerns and age, and it is more than possible that we have seen Jones’ best work.  That said, I think he can stave off Father Time for a while longer.  He's hitting the ball with more authority and looking much better at the plate than he did early in the season, not to mention the fact that his surface stats are finally starting to catch up with his peripherals.  With Manny Machado likely facing a suspension for charging the mound against Yordano Ventura Tuesday night, the O's are going to need the current Adam Jones to keep being the old Adam Jones for a while.


Matt Perez said...

Do you think that Adam's struggles against left handed pitching is a problem? His numbers against righties are within career norms but he's doing terrible against lefties.

GRob78 said...

Can't we all agree that this is another testimony to the genius of Buck Showalter?

Joe Wantz said...

Yeah, it's not something I went into in the post, but that is a big and weird issue. I'd argue, though, that it's even more cause for optimism. There's no way he's this bad against LHP.