21 March 2017

Smiling In The Bright Lights: What Will Adam Jones Do For An Encore?

Before I begin, I must eat a little crow.  Earlier this month, I confidently proclaimed that nobody cares about the World Baseball Classic.


In fairness, it was a tongue-in-cheek remark to begin with; obviously, SOMEBODY out there cares.  And, during last weekend’s WBC-action, that field of somebody’s expanded to include one more, yours truly.

It turns out that meaningful baseball makes for great television – especially when you sprinkle a little national pride on top.  And, for Baltimore Orioles fans, having outfielder Adam Jones prominently-involved in the outcome (a 6-3 Team USA victory over the Dominican Republic, the tournament’s defending champ) was an extra thrill - the juicy, red cherry on top.

In case you’ve been out of the country and haven’t seen the play, do yourself a favor and remedy that.  Jones makes a leaping catch - ala Mickey Hart - on a Manny Machado, homer run bid to right-center (in Petco Park, no less).  The forums lit up, brandishing him with a multitude of nicknames (personal favorite: “GI Jones”).

Such national acclaim has always seemed just out of reach for Baltimore’s star.  On one hand, he is a five-time all-star.  On the other, he’s finished in the top ten of AL-MVP-voting just once (6th in 2012).

As far as defense goes, he has four gold gloves to his name, but is often treated indifferently by advanced metrics (for more on Jonesie’s defense – and outfield defense in general - check out this article by Depot colleague, Matt Perez). 

A.J. has 150 home runs over the last five seasons, but has never even led his own team, in that span.  While he’s been the most consistent hitter during his Orioles tenure, it seems he has constantly been overshadowed by someone else’s career year – be it Luke Scott, Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz or Mark Trumbo (cut to a shot of Ty Wigginton shouting, “Hey, don’t forget about me!”).

Most recently, his star has been eclipsed by the incandescent light that is Machado.  The kid’s time has arrived, and soon the organization will have tough financial choices to make, regarding their star third baseman’s contract.  Jones may be a casualty of such economics, leaving fans to bid premature adieu to another favorite.  

Jones has two seasons left on the six-year, $85.5 million dollar deal he signed, in 2012.  And, from the club’s perspective, it has aged-well through the prism of inflation.  Would you rather have two more years of Jones for $33 million, or seven more years of Jason Heyward for *gulp* $169 million?

That said, Jones turned 31 in August, and there are signs he may be slowing.  Last year he was worth a WAR-total of just 1.4.  2016 was also his first sub-100 wRC+ campaign since 2008, his rookie year.  His .171 ISO represented a five-year low.

Also, while he has always displayed a bit of a reverse platoon-split, his numbers against southpaws were worse than ever (.580 OPS).  Was it just a down year, or a sign that Jones’ career is rolling towards the precipice of an Aaron Rowand-like cliff?

On the plus side, he did strike out a bit less and walked a bit more.  He also reversed a three-year downward trend in hard-hit ball percentage.  That, coupled with his .280 BABIP (.308 career) and 14.1% HR/FB (15.3% career), could indicate that he was perhaps suffering from a run of bad luck.

Hits will have to drop for Jones because, even with the free pass improvement, his OBP was still a pedestrian .310.  That number needs to come up, especially if Showalter is forced to pencil Jones into the leadoff spot again.

Also, his home run totals must not show a major drop-off.  Power numbers have been on the rise; 38 players hit 30 or more home runs in 2016.  In 2013, there were only 14 such players.  Jones just keeps chugging along, but the league’s trends have rendered his power totals from above-average to merely average.
He is under contract through 2018, so the Orioles do have some time to evaluate.  It will be interesting to see how they proceed.

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