Keeping Up With the Musials

It’s safe to say that Andruw Jones has been one of the most disappointing baseball players in recent memory. Just five years ago, Jones was in the middle of a fantastic season wherein he hit 51 homers with a .922 OPS (despite a .240 BABIP) and was worth 8.3 WAR. As recently as 2007, he slammed 26 long balls while driving in 94 and accumulating 3.8 WAR.

Then disaster struck. In 2008, after signing a two-year, $36 million with the Dodgers, Jones absolutely tanked, hitting just .158 with three homers and a .505 OPS; he struck out in more than a third of his at-bats and his once prodigious power disappeared, as evidenced by his Michael Bourn-esque .091 ISO.

In the 160 games Jones has played with the Rangers and White Sox in 2009-10, he’s regained some of his lost power, bashing 32 homers with a .244 ISO in just under 600 plate appearances. However, those numbers don’t seem particularly special for a guy who’s spent the majority of his time at first base and DH, especially when combined with a putrid .209 batting average. No one’s mistaking him for an All-Star.

And yet, there is no doubt that Andruw Jones belongs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Wait, what?

For starters, let’s not be too hasty and dismiss his earlier offensive accomplishments. In 12 years with the Braves, he averaged 33 homers and 98 RBI per 162 games with an .824 OPS. He hit the 20/20 club three times, including his 31/27 season in 1998.

His 403 career homers put him 46th all-time — ahead of current Cooperstown residents Al Kaline (399), Jim Rice (382), Ralph Kiner (369), and Albert Pujols (okay, so he’s not in the Hall of Fame yet, but I’m sure they’re already planning out his plaque). And while 31 was a tad on the young side for a complete collapse, don’t forget that he had established himself as a key part of the Braves’ outfield before he was old enough to drink. But all of that is just icing on the cake.

Forget everything he did at the plate, on the basepaths, or in the dugout; if for no other reason, Andruw Jones deserves to be enshrined because of what he did in center field. Jones isn’t just one of the best defensive outfielders of his generation — he’s arguably the best-fielding outfielder of all time, and surely ranks among the top glovesmen in baseball history at any position.

Jones won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1998-2007. Even opening it up to players who were honored in multiple, nonconsecutive years, that beats Ichiro (nine), Torii Hunter (nine), Andre Dawson (eight), Jim Edmonds (eight), Larry Walker (seven), and Kenny Lofton (four). The only outfielders who have ever done better are Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente (12 apiece), but I’m sure you’ll join me in condoning Jones for not quite living up to their lofty standard.

Of course, you could argue that Gold Gloves are a popularity contest, and aren’t necessarily the best way to determine the game’s best defenders (see “Kemp, Matt” and “Jeter, Derek” last year). It’s true, they don’t accurately describe Jones’ accomplishments — they don’t do them justice.

According to TotalZone (used for seasons from 1954-2001) and Ultimate Zone Rating (2002-now), Jones has saved 274.3 runs in his career with his glove. Two-hundred seventy-four point-three runs. That’s about 28-wins worth of value for his career without taking into account anything he’s done with his bat.

If that number isn’t terribly impressive to you, perhaps you should consider the context: it’s the best score of any outfielder in baseball history, and a look at the Top 10 shows that it’s not particularly close:

1. Andruw Jones 274.3
2. Roberto Clemente 204.0
3. Barry Bonds 187.7
4. Willie Mays 185.0
5. Carl Yastrzemski 185.0
6. Paul Blair 174.0
7. Jesse Barfield 162.0
8. Al Kaline 156.0
9. Jim Piersall 156.0
10. Brian Jordan 148.0

These statistics are far from perfect, and there’s definitely an argument to be made that the older numbers are particularly flawed. But even if we can’t use it to compare players of different eras (could the margin of error really be more than 70 runs?), we can see just how amazing Jones has been by comparing him to his contemporaries. If you noticed that the only other names of those 10 who played at the same time as Jones were Bonds (whose days as a serviceable fielder were numbered by the time Jones made his debut) and the woefully unappreciated Jordan, you can probably see where this is going.

Darin Erstad (146.6)? Ichiro (120.2)? Carl Crawford (119.8)? Lofton (114.5)? Mike Cameron (110.7)? Walker (86.0)? Edmonds (57.5)? None of them even come close. In fact, Jones’ score is better than any two of those names’ combined.

It’s not just outfielders, either. Jones’ TZR/UZR is the second best of all-time, behind only Brooks Robinson. Compare his 274.3 runs saved with Cal Ripken Jr.’s 181.0, Ivan Rodriguez’ 156.0, Luis Aparicio’s 149.0, and Omar Vizquel’s 136.4. He even beats true defensive legends like Joe Tinker (180.0), Honus Wagner (85.0), and the amazing Ozzie Smith (239.0). If you can go toe-to-toe with the “Wizard of Oz” in the field, you barely need a pulse offensively to deserve a place in Cooperstown.

Jones hasn’t had time to slowly build up his score by being a consistently solid fielder; instead, he grabbed the bull by the horns and has enjoyed some of the best individual defensive seasons in baseball history.

In 1998 — at age 21 — he was worth 35 runs in the field, which at the time was tied for the second-best defensive performance since tracking began in 1950. In 1999, he promptly went out and beat that, earning 36 TZR. All told, he appears on the Top 80 list for single-season Total Zone Rating five times. And that’s not including UZR, which has been kinder to him than TZR since 2003.

Will the BBWAA vote him in when his time comes? Probably not. Even assuming the voters have learned how to use the newfangled defensive metrics by then (far from a sure thing, given that a majority of NL Cy Young voters implicitly declared wins to be the most important pitching statistic last year), there are too many reasons for them to doubt his candidacy.

While TZR and UZR make sense and are great tools for getting a general idea of a player’s defensive prowess, they’re too inconsistent for fans to take as the word of God (though, in my opinion, a 70-run lead is more than enough to cancel out the margin of error). Aside from that, you’ve just got a free-swinging, power-hitting outfielder (a dime a dozen over the last 20 years) who fell off a cliff right before his 32nd birthday. He’d have to return to his younger form and maintain it for at least a few more years in order to have a realistic shot at Cooperstown.

But, as the Beatles once sang, “all you need is glove” (unless I heard that wrong), and that’s what Ozzie Smith proved when he got more than 90 percent of the vote for the Hall of Fame in 2002. Combine phenomenal defense with a solid bat (remember those 403 homers?) and there’s no question Andruw Jones deserves a spot in Cooperstown.

Lewie Pollis is a freshman at Brown University studying political science. He also contributes to,, and Green Pages, the quarterly publication of the U.S. Green Party.

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Lewie Pollis is a sophomore at Brown University. For more of his work, go to He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @LewsOnFirst or @WahooBlues.

11 Responses to “Keeping Up With the Musials”

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  1. Cody Vaughn says:

    I was just looking at the UZR leaders of all time in each position not too long ago. Then I saw the preview of Andruw Jones being a disappointment and I was about to jump in wielding his glove as the second best glove in history. I was happy to see you recognized this fact and didn’t deem him a failure. Maybe it is my affinity for people who give spectacular defense (I was seeing who would be on my mental list of players I would pick for an all-time team), but he could bat at the Mendoza line and still be a Hall-of-Famer.

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  2. ingeindahouse says:

    great piece. This is definitely a bandwagon i can hop on to. Andruw Jones for the Hall of Fame in 2016.

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  3. lincolndude says:

    Don’t forget that if you’re measuring runs saved defensively, you probably need to throw the positional adjustment in there, especially when comparing a CF to other positions. And that pretty much knocks Bonds, Clemente, and Yaz out of the discussion, as well as anyone

    He’s got a strong case as the best defensive outfielder of all time.

    Great article.

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  4. lincolndude says:

    Was gonna add: “as well as any of the contemporaries you mentioned.”

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  5. Bad Bill says:

    Excuse my skepticism, but I’m having a very difficult time squaring this analysis with the fact, easily verified via a number of sources, that for the large majority of the seasons in which Jones was reputedly a defensive whiz, he was playing for a team that was below average — sometimes way below average — at recording outs on fly balls. Jones was very good on defense; nobody disputes that. But to find him THAT good, in the face of a team performance that was perennially to the contrary, requires some explanation, and it isn’t just a matter of stiffs on either side of him, I don’t think.

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  6. Ray says:

    Bad Bill, which sources? I’m only looking at Baseball-Reference and ignoring XBH, but Atlanta’s flyball BABIP was roundly average from 2003 to 2007. The batted ball data there is too screwy and inconsistent in the years before that.

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  7. Jon S. says:

    Jones has a great case for enshrinement. Fangraphs has him down as 69.3 WAR on his career, and he’s not done yet. It would be a shame if he didn’t make it into the HOF.

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  8. CJE says:

    While I think Jones should probably make the Hall, there are a couple comparisons that don’t add to the point. One is comparing the runs saved in centerfield versus runs saved at SS. Andruw Jones has a positional adjustment of 14 during his career. Brooks Robinson’s was 66. That is the lowest of the other position players with every other hitting triple digits or more. When you factor the positional adjustment in, the middle infielders are considerable higher.

    You indicate that the defensive stats prior to 2002 may not be as precise, you fail to mention that they could be vastly underreporting the runs saved by those prior to 2002. According to TZ, Jones saved 30 less runs from 2002 on than UZR. We don’t also know the impact of the excellent Braves pitching staff on Jones’ pre-2002 numbers.

    He is no doubt an incredible defender and to be considered for the Hall despite a 337 OBA and a 352 wOBA speaks to that.

    In my mind he is behind Edmonds among this generation of centerfielders and he may have trouble getting into the Hall among people who revolt at seeing his 256 BA, but I have no problem with him getting in as long as Edmonds does.

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  9. Bad Bill says:

    Ray, I was looking at team stats at Baseball Prospectus, specifically the part showing percentages of outs made by various means — all easily verifiable by getting into all sorts of places’ game logs. That’s a somewhat different metric than fly-ball BABIP, although I would claim that your observation generally supports this one. Atlanta pitchers during Andruw’s stay there generally got well above average fractions of their outs from ground balls — hardly a big surprise since those pitchers tended to be very good, but difficult to reconcile with the notion of this all-devouring black hole in center attracting fly balls to itself.

    I repeat: any way you cut it, Andruw Jones in his prime was a very good defensive outfielder. But the way Atlanta pitchers got their outs, it is difficult for me to see him as being as good as claimed in this article.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    I thought this was going to be an article of how Stan Musial is generally over-looked despite his unreal statistical accomplishments.

    But, it was about Andruw Jones.

    far from a sure thing, given that a majority of NL Cy Young voters implicitly declared wins to be the most important pitching statistic last year

    Since, you brought up my pet discussion …

    The other big factor in FAVOR of Wainwright was his dominant performance down the stretch in a pennant chase. When TL55 went something like 3-6 and his ERA jumped up a full run+, AW50 held the opponents to 2 runs or less in all games except 1 from July through September.

    The 2 SF area writers voted AW50 first, and they cited AW50’s strong performance through the stretch run combined with TL55’s fading as the #1 reason.

    Things aren’t always as we want them to be.

    Dominant pitcher.
    Pitched outstanding down the stretch.
    Pitched for a division winner.

    IMO, those three factors were considered more than just “Aw, what the hell, he has 19 wins”. Of course, if that be the case, it’s not as easy to just hand-wave off the voting and/or chalk it up that everyone else is a moron.

    My diversion from the standard FG perspective, is that I have no desire to strip away all aspects of pitching except for those that we attribute to the “pitcher alone”. I take this stance, because the pitcher pitches as part of a team, and not as a lone individual being asked to do everything on his own.

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  11. Hurtlocker says:

    I saw Willie Mays play in his prime, Andruw Jones was a great outfielder (note I said was) but he was not better than Mays. (or Clemente) Stats obviously don’t tell the story that my eys saw first hand. HOF??? Only if he pays admission.

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