Adam Jones’ Offensive Jump

For the Baltimore Orioles, the Erik Bedard trade is the gift that keeps on giving.

In February of 2008, the O’s swapped their talented-but-brittle ace to the Mariners for Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Tony Butler, Kam Mickolio and Adam Jones.

Tillman will team up with 2008 first-rounder Brian Matusz to give Baltimore a deadly one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Sherrill was shipped to the Dodgers last summer for third baseman of the future Joshua Bell.

Those elements alone would make the Bedard deal one of the great heists in recent memory. But the O’s also snagged one of the most talented young outfielders in the game in Jones.

A supplemental first-round pick in the 2003 amateur draft, Jones was pushed aggressively through the Mariners’ farm system. He reached Double-A by the age of 19, and got his first taste of big league action as a 20 year-old in 2006.

Jones was a shortstop until ’06, but the 6-2, 210 pounder outgrew the position.
Despite being several years younger than his peers and juggling a position switch, Jones faired remarkably well in the minors. He batted a combined .301/.364/.538 at the AAA level in 2006 and 2007, posting a whopping .237 ISO.

Jones’ plate discipline needed some work (he walked in 7.2% of his plate appearances in AAA), and he understandably scuffled in limited playing time with the M’s over those two seasons (.241 wOBA in ’06, .306 in ’07). But it’s hard to find fault with a precocious, up-the-middle prospect beating the snot out of the baseball.

Following the big trade, the Orioles committed to giving Jones the starting gig in center field. In his first full season in the majors in 2008, the righty batter posted a .270/.311/.400 line and a .313 wOBA in 514 PA. This past year, he raised his triple-slash to .277/.335/.457 in 519 PA (.343 wOBA). Jones’ bat went from being worth -7 Park Adjusted Batting Runs in ’08 to +6.1 in ’09. What changed, and what does it mean for his future?

Jones’ walk rate increased from 4.6 percent in 2008 to 7.1 in 2009, while his whiff rate dropped from 22.6 percent to 19.7 percent. The first inclination is to assume that the 24 year-old did a better job of laying off pitches out of the zone while making more contact.

However, that wasn’t really the case. Jones’ outside-swing percentage did indeed fall, but only from 36.2 percent in ’08 to 35.3 percent in ’09 (the major league average is about 25 percent). His contact rate actually decreased, from 76.9 percent to 74.6 percent (80-81 percent MLB average). So, how did he draw more walks and punch out less often?

Opposing pitchers appeared to tread more cautiously when Jones was at the dish in 2009. In ’08, 52.7 percent of the pitches tossed his way were within the strike zone (the MLB average was 51.1 percent that year). In 2009, pitchers gave Jones something over the plate just 48.4 percent of the time (49.3 percent MLB average). His first-pitch strike percentage fell from 66 percent to 57.8 percent (58 percent MLB average).

The reason for that extra care might have been Jones’ increased power output. His Isolated Power climbed from .130 in 2008 to .180 in 2009. Jones cranked 19 home runs this past season, compared to nine the previous year.

He was often tied up by quality fastballs during his rookie campaign, with a run value of -0.81 per 100 pitches vs. fastballs and a lofty 14.5 infield/fly ball rate. In his sophomore season, Jones was average vs. heaters (-0.09 runs/100 pitches) and didn’t pop the ball up near as much (5.6 infield/fly ball percentage).

Jones’ home run/fly ball rate spiked, from 6.9 percent to 17.8 percent. When he hit a fly ball, it did serious damage: Jones slugged .895 on fly balls in 2009, compared to the .603 A.L. average. Compare that to 2008, when he slugged .511 on fly balls (.566 A.L. average).

However, Jones hit far fewer fly balls overall:

His groundball rate soared from 46.8 percent in 2008 to 55.4 percent in ’09. Jones’ rate of grounders hit in ’09 eclipsed such power luminaries as Cristian Guzman, Nyjer Morgan and Emilio Bonifacio.

Despite not being a huge stolen base threat, Jones does possess quality speed. His career Speed Score is 6.2 (the MLB average is about five). That could help explain Jones’ career .256 batting average on ground balls, well above the .241 A.L. average over the past few seasons. So, Jones has the wheels to beat out more worm-burners than the average hitter. But hopefully he can learn to loft the ball more often, given his raw power.

Jones has experienced a few minor health problems, though nothing to really lose sleep over. He served a DL stint in 2008 after fracturing his left foot on a foul ball, and a sprained left ankle ended his 2009 season in early September. He’s already good to go, though.

Overall, Jones’ 2009 season was very promising. He learned to fight off big league fastballs, not getting jammed nearly as much as in his rookie season. Jones also hit the ball with more authority, which may have helped him get in more hitter’s counts. If he can hone his strike zone control and take full advantage of his strength, Jones could emerge as a full-fledged star in 2010.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

12 Responses to “Adam Jones’ Offensive Jump”

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  1. CircleChange11 says:

    I won;t comment on the Adam Jones stuff because “he can just play!” is sufficient, but I did find all of the information very interesting. Well done. My only concern with guys like AJ, is that patience paid off for him with a big 09 season, so will be able to remain patient? Easier said than done. Jones and JU10 are fun to watch.

    [quote]Tillman will team up with 2008 first-rounder Brian Matusz to give Baltimore a deadly one-two punch at the top of the rotation.[/quote]

    Ya lost me. I don’t know how you “quantify/explain” the word ‘deadly’. Deadly like Carpenter & Wainwright or deadly like Zambrano & Lilly or deadly like Correia & Gaudin?

    I ask because they appear to be two, young 1.4 to 1.5 WHIP pitchers, and I don’t think they’ll even be as deadly as say Blackburn & Baker (who are pretty good actually).

    Where would Tillman and Matusz rank, in regards to 1 & 2 combos, among all 30 MLB teams?

    Matusz does appear to have the potential to be really good, even though he found MLB to be MUCH more difficult than AA. He still strikes out a good amount of batters, but is too hittable. Tillman is just as hittable, but K’s fewer batters (rate). Am I missing something? Thanks in advance.

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  2. BrettFan1 says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the logic of your analysis. All of the trend data that you cover (increasing groundball rate, unsustainable HR/FB rate, decreasing contact rate, unsustainable slugging rate on flyballs) seems to point to the opposite of your conclusion. Rather than looking at this and concluding that Jones is poised to become a star, it seems to indicate that he is due for some serious regression. Looking at his numbers, he continued to swing at too many pitches out of the zone, but made less contact on those swings. This would seem to indicate fewer of what we would expect to be poorly hit balls likely to turn into outs. His contact rate on swings in the zone remained unchanged however, so it seems reasonable to expect his contact rate on swings outside of the zone to go up next year, resulting in more poorly hit balls turning into outs. His status are disturbingly similar to some other players who hit too many groundballs for the type of player that they are (not a burner), i.e. Delmon Yound, Mark Teahen, etc. I would be surprised to see Jones take a step forward next year and I don’t see anything in his numbers from 2009 to support that expectation.

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    • I think that pretty much all his peripherals got a lot better in his second full season. Increased walk rate, lowered strikeout rate, more power. The main problem is that he hit’s too many ground balls. We’ll see if he can fix this, but his LD% remains fairly low and definitely has room to improve. His BABIP wasn’t that stellar either, and a 17% HR/FB is good, but not out of the realm of possibility.

      I think if we see him able to get the ball in the air a bit more (LD or FB) then you are looking at a really high level player.

      I’m not sure I see him quite profiled like Delmon Young/Teahen, Delmon of which is even more aggressive at the plate and Jones numbers are considerably better across the board, but I understand the comparison in terms of high GB%.

      The guy is only 24 next season, where Teahen didn’t begin his career until he was 23. Lefties remain a problem for Jones too, but he’s young and I don’t think he’s hit his ceiling by any means.

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  3. David Golebiewski says:

    Yeah, I don’t really feel that the increase in power is “unsustainable” by any means. We’re talking about a guy who turned 24 toward the end of the season, with a sustained track record of hitting with authority in the minor leagues.

    For what it’s worth, here are Jones’ projections from CHONE and ZiPS:

    CHONE: .283/.338/.472
    ZiPS: .278/.339/.479

    Neither system sees Jones regressing in 2010.

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    • BrettFan1 says:

      The part that I was referring to as “unsustainable” is his .895 slugging on flyballs (compared to the .603 AL avg). I don’t think it is reasonable to expect him to continue to outpace the league to such an extent. Which means that he will need to significantly increase his flyball rate for next year just to maintain the power numbers he achieved in 2009. Given his track record of hitting way to many groundballs, he will need to make a major shift in his batted ball profile to achieve this. This is why I compared him to Teahen and Young. Both players hit way to many groundballs, swing at to many pitches outside of the zone and have a history of having random power spikes/dips due to anomalies on flyball rates, HR/FB etc.

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  4. JollyRoger says:

    Most analysts when asked to compare Jones to a current player, the consensus was Tori Hunter.

    His first 2 seasons at Baltimore have yielded the following…

    YEAR AB HR RBI BB K AVG OBP SLG
    2008 477 9 57 23 108 .270 .311 .400
    2009 473 19 70 36 93 .277 .335 .457

    Assuming a 10% across the board improvement over the next 2 seasons/1000AB’s, I think Adam in his prime would project to be a

    .290-.300BAvg….25-30HR……0.900OPS type of player

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  5. BrettJMiller says:

    The Mariners traded Kam Mickolio in that deal too. Not like he amounted to something, but it was a 5-for-1 deal, not 4-for-1.

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    • shawnl says:

      Kam will be on the roster this season working out of the back end of the bullpen, so he has definitely amounted to something.

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      • Corey says:

        Killa Kam pitched 13 innings for the O’s last year and struck out 14, allowed no home runs, and posted a 2.63 ERA.

        At 6’9 with a very heavy fastball he could be a very good reliever.

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      • BrettJMiller says:

        Hm, I could’ve sworn he struggled in his call up. My bad.

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  6. Choska says:

    Mariner’s fan here. Please stop writing stuff like this. You are just rubbing alcohol and salt in my wounds. The terrible part is that unless the Ms win the World Series sometime over the course of Jones career, we Ms fans are going to regret the trade every single day for the rest of our lives.

    And let’s face it, the odds of the Mariners winning a World Series at any point over the next 40 years or so of my life is somewhere between slim and absolute zero. And Slim just left the building.

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    • Joser says:

      Mariners fans can take heart in this:

      2009 wOBA WAR
      Jones .343 2.1
      FGuti .337 5.9

      Of course the biggest difference in value was a fielding season for the ages by Gutierrez, one that will be hard for him (or anyone) to repeat, but still: while the team gave up way too much for Bedard and Jones is still on the ascendant, SafeCo’s spacious central field was more than adequately filled by his replacement. Who himself seems to still be developing some power at the plate.

      Whatever terrible damage Bavasi has done, Zduriencik can undo, eventually.

      (However, as a fellow seasonal-affective-disordered Mariners fan, I share your doubts about a WS — in fact, I’m convinced that by the time I shuffle off this mortal coil sometime after the middle of this century, the M’s not only will still be without a WS win, they will be the only team to have never played in a World Series. By 2050 every other team in baseball — including the Nationals, the Rangers, and the expansion teams in Portland and Mexico — will have had at least one chance to play on the biggest stage for the ultimate prize. But not the M’s. Fortunately by then it will be time to replace Safeco, so they can move it off that Indian burial ground… perhaps to a bubble beneath Elliot Bay).

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