Over the last three years, Adam Jones has hit between .280 and .287, launched between 25 and 33 homers, and stolen between 12 and 16 bases. Considering the way team performances vary from year to year, the fact that he’s managed between 152 and 208 runs and RBI combined is pretty steady as well. But before we pencil him in for more of the same, we should probably give him a workup. After all, he’ll turn 29 next season, and age comes for us all.
One thing that sticks out — in a negative way — from Jones’ otherwise standout real-life production is his lack of patience. He hasn’t walked even 5% of the time since 2009. His career rate is under 5%. And he swings through a ton of pitches, too. His swinging strike rate is eighth-worst over the last two years. But somehow his strikeout rate is better than average, and somehow the package works.
Let’s look at some comps based on his plate discipline. Just for kicks. Here are batters that walked less than 6% of the time, struck out less than league average, and still had better than a .170 isolated slugging percentage. Since strikeout rates have been changing rapidly recently, let’s limit the scope to the last ten years.
You can see immediately why people doubt this approach. His comps don’t produce a list of heavy hitters. Jose Guillen and Juan Uribe are even mocked for the same free-swinging approach that Jones has used. And you can also see immediately why it’s hard to completely write off a player like this. When it works, you get a Robinson Cano or Adam Jones.
We left swinging strike rate off of the chart for space reasons, but the stat can serve as an interesting asterisk. Jones’ 13.4% swinging strike rate over the last ten years was worst on the list, by far, and almost double Cano’s 6.6% number. In fact, once you add swinging strike rate back in, Jones’ best comp based on walk, strikeout, ISO and swinging strike rates is… Juan Uribe (11.1% swinging strikes). Uh-oh?
Another reason to worry about Jones is that swinging at pitches outside the zone is a source of much of his plate discipline problems. He’s consistently swung at about 10% more pitches outside the zone as your average major leaguer, and we know that contact on those pitches erodes quickly with age. Look closely at that aging curve, and you’ll see that the steep dropoff begins at age… 29. Uh-oh?
Jones has enough power to be relevant even if the strikeout rate and, therefore, batting average drop off. But if you re-do that comp list without an upper bound on strikeout rate, the names get worse. Chris Heisey, Tyler Colvin, Wily Mo Pena, Michael Morse, Miguel Olivo… J.P. Arencibia. Most of those batting averages live in the .240s and .250s. And power might peak in the mid-twenties rather than the late twenties… Uh oh?
Adam Jones looks like he’s boring in an exciting way. He’s been so steady recently. But maybe there’s some risk there. If he steals just a couple fewer bags, starts to make contact a little bit less on pitches outside the zone, and takes just a minor step back in power, the 29-year old could have a season that looks a lot more like early-career Adam Jones: .270/20+/10. That’s boring in a boring way.