Adam Jones’ Mysterious Progress

The Baltimore Orioles’ seemingly endless Mystical Quest for .500 is, to the surprise of not many, falling short yet again in 2011. While the Orioles have had many disappointing performances this season, there have also been some bright spots. Among them has to be the offensive contributions of Adam Jones so far this season. Stardom has long been predicted for Jones, who is just 25 years old. But a look at his peripherals raises the (honest) question of just how much progress he has made.

There’s no doubt that Jones is having the best offensive season of his career. Since being traded to Baltimore by Seattle prior to the 2008 season and taking over in center field full time, his previous seasonal wOBA have been .313, .343, and .333, respectively. This season, he’s at .354. The improvement is even more dramatic when compared to league average with wRC+: 85, 103, 103, and now 121. In 2009 and 2010, Jones had 1140 plate appearances worth a total of 9.1 batting runs above average. In 299 plate appearances in 2011, he’s already at 8.2.

This is all easy enough to look up. What is of interest to us is how Jones is doing it and whether he is “for real,” i.e., whether the improvement is sustainable or just random variation. This is of particular interest in Jones’ case because he hasn’t yet become the “superstar” many thought he would. One shouldn’t be taken up too much in “trends,” (despite Jones’ general slow trend upward) while players generally improve offensively as the move through their early twenties, individual players rarely improve in a simple linear fashion. Part of that is that not every player develops the same, part of that is that even seasonal sample sizes are small enough that the player’s true talent could be “really” improving while variation makes it seem otherwise.

Getting back to Jones: the “quick indicators” don’t indicate a lot of “luck” (shorthand for random variation from true talent). His BABIP so far this season is .319, which is right around his careeer average of .321. He is striking out a bit less often this season — and while strikeouts themselves aren’t significantly worse than other outs, the more the ball is in play, the more chances you have for hits, and Jones’ batting average (.293) is the highest of his career so far. Notably, his contact rate is up to almost 78% this season — still below average, but also the best of his career and the likely reason for the slight decrease in strikeouts.

However, simply making slightly more contact does not explain everything (it would be glib [not to mention inaccurate] to simply say “the rest of the league got worse and Jones stayed the same). Jones’ isolated power is up to .176 from his previous three-year average of .156 (although he had a .180 in 2009). Improving power is also something we’d expect from a player at Jones’ age. However, Jones’ biggest problem in past seasons — plate discipline — seems far from being solved. Yes, his 5.4% walk rate is up from last season’s miserable 3.7%, but is still far from good (league average is 8.4%), and hardly better than his 5.0% average from 2008-2010. Indeed, Jones is swinging at more pitches than ever: 57.3% versus a career average of 54.3% and 2011 league average of 45.7%, which goes a long way to explaining the lack of walks.

Swing percentage by itself is simply a peripheral stat, but combined with Jones’ still-unimpressive contact skills, it does raise concerns about how much he’s actually improved regarding his Achilles Heel — his approach at the plate. No one should be complaining about the results Jones is getting so far, of course. A player who held his own against major-league pitching at 22 and was above average at 23-24 holds a lot of promise based on what we know about how hitters usually progress in their twenties (Jones’ trajectory in the field is a matter for another time). While plate discipline is probably the single most important skill for the majority of hitters, there are many examples of hitters who have done well without it. Jones might turn out to be one of those players. Perhaps when he does make contact he just hits the ball so hard that it’s more likely to fall in — or go out (although his 15.9% infield fly rate this season should raise some eyebrows). However, those players are the exception, not the rule.

As I hinted in the introductory paragraph, I honestly don’t know whether this is an “optimistic” or “pessimistic” post on Jones. That is a confession of confusion. On the pure level of results, Jones is having a good season. However, it’s not clear to me from the numbers that his skills have actually improved. If I had to choose, I’d say I’m optimistic rather than pessimistic because of his age. But Jones’ continued struggles with plate discipline have me flummoxed. I’m sure Orioles fans hope that either Jones improves his strike zone judgment or that I continue to be confounded (and it would hardly be the first time).




Print This Post



Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


31 Responses to “Adam Jones’ Mysterious Progress”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Dash says:

    What I gathered from this is that Jones isn’t as good as his results would indicate this season. You’re better off looking at his 3-year power trend than this year’s because of how long it takes to stabilize. Also, he’s an objectively awful center fielder.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • David says:

      -3.5 career UZR/150 is “objectively awful”?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Piccamo says:

        -7.8 UZR/150 since 2009. His career UZR/150 is bolstered by the only full season of his career where he was rated as above 0.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jeff says:

        You can’t just ignore a full season of data because it doesn’t prove your point, that’s ridiculous. There’s a reason you want 3+ years of sample for UZR

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Larry says:

      It’s true he might not be a “great” center fielder, but he is average. He has a great arm arm, and has made some absolutely sensational plays over the years.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Piccamo says:

        Mark Reynolds has also made some sensational looking plays. Jones just doesn’t have the range for center field, especially after he bulked up.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Colin says:

    He’s probably marginally better if only due to slightly increasing power as he gets older which could even continue to some degree. Do not see much else to be excited about. I would be surprised at this point if he ever became a “superstar”.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Mike Green says:

    If you look at it from a comparable perspective, Jones started the season about halfway between Corey Patterson and Chili Davis. I still have doubts that he’ll manage the type of career that Davis had in his 30s as a DH, but I am pretty sure that he will do better than Patterson did.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. eliasll says:

    Great article.
    Adam Jones awful CF? I checked his advanced fielding stats and it seems range is his problem.
    http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=16157031
    http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=15694117

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • David says:

      he sometimes takes bad routes to the ball, and has problems with positioning (in the past, he always played too shallow therefore missing a lot of balls near the wall). I haven’t seen enough O’s games this year to judge accurately, but I think his positioning’s better at least.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Albert says:

      He used to play unbelievable shallow for no discernible reason. He’s been better positioned this season. Could be Showalter.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Sockmonkey says:

        I think he’s been better positioned, too. However, the defensive metrics ALL have him as worse this year, probably because he can’t get to as many bloops, because he’s not playing as shallow. So, maybe you and I are wrong, and the data is right.

        The one thing about the data that surprises me is that they seem to be giving him fewer runs for his throwing than usual, though he’s got way more assists per inning than any previous period.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. GTW says:

    “However, simply making slightly more contact does not explain everything (it would be glib [not to mention inaccurate] to simply say “the rest of the league got worse and Jones stayed the same).”

    This sentence made me think of AJ’s Twitter handle, @SimplyAJ10.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. supgreg says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb on this:

    “However, simply making slightly more contact does not explain everything (it would be glib [not to mention inaccurate] to simply say “the rest of the league got worse and Jones stayed the same).”

    “He is striking out a bit less often this season — and while strikeouts themselves aren’t significantly worse than other outs, the more the ball is in play, the more chances you have for hits, and Jones’ batting average (.293) is the highest of his career so far.”

    I think the actual minor progress Jones’ statistics have made can actually all be summed up in his increased contact rate. The article could have stopped in paragraph 3, instead of going in circles pointing out incremental gains in all of Jones’ peripherals.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. GiantHusker says:

    I have no opinion about Adam Jones.
    However, the Orioles stood out to me as the most overrated in FanGraphs pre-season organizational rankings as they clearly had less chance of success by any reasonable definition than most of the teams ranked below them.
    So far, the results strongly support my position.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. e says:

    Great article, really enjoyed it.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. a.jones fan says:

    as i read this, jones hit a HR. i like stats as much as the next guy, but some things cant be broken down into a stat. kids got game and is still younger than some rookies in the league–he’ll figure it all out slowly but surely.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Random Guy says:

      So you saw the guy hit a home run — well, that settles that!

      If only there were some kind of methodology for, you know, counting the frequency with which things like home runs happen so we could accurately judge just how good players are. Alas.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Antonio Bananas says:

    I can see him being moved to a corner as he gets older, slower, bigger, and stronger. He’s only in his age 25 season. His average has went up every year even in his partial years. He hit 19 the last 2 years.

    With his arm I can see him being a very productive RF during his prime. Maybe .285, 25 HR, maybe even a 30 HR season during a career year. He’s not bad at all.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. JRM says:

    The “Blog” of “Unnecessary:” Quotation Marks is calling.

    –JRM

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Ray says:

    I don’t get it. I mean, you say he’s striking out less, his contact % is up, he’s walking slightly more than career avg, his BABIP is within his career norm, and his IsoP is slightly better than his career year average…yet you’re unsure if he’s progressed? I don’t get it, are you saying that he might regress to what he was in previous seasons, that what he’s done this season may not be a new ‘true talent level’ for Jones? It seems to me he’s taking baby steps, so the numbers are all a tick better but nothing jumps out at you as ‘damn, this kid has it figured out’.

    I think I’m as confused by this post as you are by Jones. Seems to me he’s slightly improved this season, but it’s nothing to get super excited about if you’re an O’s fan.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Michael Bourne says:

    Somebody compared him to Hunter Pence projections for offensive production. Hunter Pence is out-producing those numbers of course, but Jones is still on pace for a nice 20-25/15 year with a .290 BA and balanced R/RBI numbers.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Milk Steak says:

    As an Orioles fan who’s watched him this year the answer is simple. He’s laid off the low and away breaking pitch more than he used to. He still forgets on occasion but some how some way he seems to have realized that swinging at that pitch will only get him out.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • a.jones fan says:

      I think the other important thing is that when he is swinging at that away pitch, he isnt trying to pull it. hes driving the ball. the past two nights hes taken pitches to the oppo field for a HR. the one on Volquez last night was especially impressive as he took a low and middle-away 95 mph (looked 2-seam) fastball and drove it to the oppo field bleachers for a HR. to me, that coupled with the increased OBP has been THE reason for the success. he always hit for a decent avg, but he didnt walk enough, pulled too much, and as a result would get mired in long cold streaks; this year, he has been much more consistent(outside the 1st month).

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Ryan Waltman says:

    sounds like Adam Jones just found his “MOJO”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. lex logan says:

    Can anyone suggest a plausible trade for Jones from the Reds? Alonso, Cozart, who else?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dave says:

      Reds probably don’t have what it takes to get him. You’d need to give up at least 2 or 3 Grade A prospects. Nothing I’ve seen says the Orioles are remotely interested in trading Jones. Now, maybe if they can’t get the extension done this off-season, that would be a possibility. But certainly not right now.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Jones is too young and cheap to trade right now. The Reds definately have the prospects, if it’s not quality it’ll be quantity, they have at top 5 system. I just doubt the Os would give up a cheap young guy with a potential to get pretty good.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. excatcher says:

    Personally, I think Vlad has given him some protips on how to make contact with the balls out of the strike zone that he loves so much.

    But seriously, I recall the spring of 2009 when AJ was either smoking or pulverizing baseballs for about 2 months, then went into a horrible slump. I think the boy is streaky.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Sockmonkey says:

    Here’s my ex-post narrative of what’s happened with Adam Jones, FWIW. The Orioles staff tried to get him to hit like Bernie Williams, or Kevin Youkilis (or many other terrific hitters): look for a certain pitch or location early in the count, think along with the pitcher, keep your swing mechanics the same…walks and power ensue.

    Well, it was a disaster for Adam. He seemed to make up his mind before the pitch whether he was going to take or possibly swing. So, he took an awful lot of fastballs early in the count, and swung at an amazing number of sliders out of the strike zone. He was always, always, always in bad hitter’s counts. He seemed to lose confidence, and think himself in knots…on a better team, he might have thought himself onto the bench or AAA.

    At some point mid-late 2010, the Orioles just turned him loose…maybe it was Buck or the departure of someone. Jones’s hot streak at the end of last year was clearly a different approach…see ball, hit ball. This continues into this year, though pitchers have adjusted somewhat. He got a handful of bunt base hits and maybe he’s gotten some benefit from 3B playing closer…though I haven’t seen it. Confidence has returned, pitch recognition comes and goes but is improved overall.

    It’s an interesting case study, IMO. Not everyone can hit the same way. Jones’s upside is probably limited by his approach, but IMO there’s still considerable upside there as a hitter. I agree he’s probably gotten too big to be an elite CF, and he takes good enough routes now and probably can’t improve that enough to offset his inevitable decline in speed…but that’s a few years off, probably, and there’s nobody to dislodge him in CF for now, anyway.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>