26 January 2018

Is Adam Jones Undervalued?

Last week, I examined the production by Orioles' corner outfielders over the last few years (2015-2017). I also included this breakdown by position in FanGraphs wins above replacement for O's in that span. Here it is, if you missed it:

C: 7.7 fWAR (8th)
1B: 8.4 (7th)
2B: 6.5 (17th)
SS: 4.8 (21st)
3B: 14.4 (7th)
LF: -1.8 (29th)
CF: 5.7 (23rd)
RF: 5.5 (t-17th)
DH: 0.2 (t-13th)
SP: 40.5 (27th)
RP: 22.6 (5th)

As mentioned briefly in that post, it's interesting to see that O's center fielders rank 23rd in fWAR. When you talk Orioles and recent center fielders, you're basically just talking about Adam Jones.

In the last three years, Jones has put up an fWAR of 7.0. Because Jones rarely misses time, his backups don't play much. But when they take over for him, they've been pretty awful. Looking at Jones's production (CF only) over the last three years, he's tied for 12th among qualified center fielders. If you expand that out to the last five seasons, he's fifth, with an fWAR of 16.3. That trails Mike Trout (40.4), Andrew McCutchen (25.2), Carlos Gomez (18.0), and Lorenzo Cain (17.6). Not bad!

Jones has fallen off a bit as of late, both at the plate and in the field. He did rebound offensively in 2017, improving his wRC+ from 97 in 2016 to 107. That doesn't mean he's back or anything, but it was a nice recovery.

With Jones entering the final year of his contract, it's worth noting that the Orioles have not been able to develop anything close to a competent, consistent backup in center field during his tenure. The O's have tried to sell players like Nolan Reimold, Dariel Alvarez, Joey Rickard, and a bunch of veteran options (Nate McLouth, Gerardo Parra, Julio Borbon, Michael Bourn, etc.) as capable of playing an adequate center field. Almost all of them lacked the offensive skills, and only someone like David Lough flashed enough leather to maybe stick there for a while. To be fair, Jones is almost always on the lineup card with the number 8 next to his name, but it's not like you could get excited about any of the names above having to take over for Jones for any extended period of time. (Unless you were a huge Felix Pie fan, or something.)

It's possible that things have changed and the O's now have some center field options to get excited about. Those two options are Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins. In recent top-100 prospect rankings for 2018, Baseball America ranked Hays 21st and Keith Law (ESPN Insider required) had him 79th. As Jon discussed yesterday, there's some debate about whether Hays has the necessary tools to stick in center field. As long as Jones is healthy, Hays is unlikely to see much time there with the Orioles this year, but perhaps he'll play there more in the minors.

Or maybe the O's view Mullins as the center fielder of the near future, with Hays playing right field. Mullins was not ranked on any of the top-100 lists, but he is faster and is seen as the more natural fit in center. It also doesn't hurt that he's a left-handed bat for an organization with a GM who can't stop talking about the need for more lefties. Mullins, who played all of last season for Double-A Bowie, got off to a scalding start but was hampered by a nagging hamstring strain that limited him to just 76 games and 350 plate appearances. But he seems to have an intriguing mix of speed and power, and as long as he's healthy, he could find himself in Baltimore before the end of the season.

The Orioles have had their issues developing players. They're often knocked for ruining pitching prospects, but they haven't done well in coming up with quality outfield options. Maybe they hit on both Hays and Mullins, and they'll become contributors soon. Maybe that even includes Ryan Mountcastle, who may not be able to stick at third base and could find himself in left field (with Trey Mancini getting more at-bats at 1B/DH). A Mountcastle-Mullins-Hays homegrown outfield could be pretty exciting. Perhaps you can throw D.J. Stewart in there, too. Go crazy.

Still, these are all just hopes. Meanwhile, Jones is close to walking out that door. Even if you've been frustrated by his free-swinging ways or postseason struggles, it's going to be weird when someone else ends up playing center field for the O's. Jones was never a perfect player, and it's pretty ridiculous when an all-time talent like Trout makes things look so easy and easily dwarfs the production of his peers.

Regardless, Jones has been very good for the O's for a long time. It's hard to imagine the O's could have done any better when they traded away Erik Bedard nearly 10 years ago.


Jan Frel said...

God would I love to have seen Adam Jones struggle in the post-season in 2016 and 2017 ;-)

I think Mullins isn't going to make it as any more than a guy who played in 75 games as the 4th-5th outfielder.

Stewart-Hays-Mancini sounds in the realm of possibility.

Pip said...

I thought Nate Mclouth was excellent;one of the genuine bright spots in Dan's pick-up history, his defense was excellent and he hit well too especially when(if I recall) he stopped trying for home runs and aimed for doubles instead. I thought he was really valuable, especially in 2015 for a mere 2.75 million.
Was I incorrect?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

It wasn't meant to be a dig at McLouth. His versatility to play center field was routinely mentioned, but he wasn't a good center fielder. That's all.

Pip said...

Ok, fair enough, he was one of my favorites on a team that was full of my favorites.
The last RBI that year came from the bat of Lew Ford.
I bet he's really happy to be the answer to a trivia question.

Unknown said...

The do nothing Orioles are headed for 100 losses, no one to blame but management. What chance Buck had to come back was ruined by failure to acquire ANYONE of significance.