Hall monitor: The case for Andruw Jones

I first saw Andruw Jones play baseball all the way back in 1996. I happened to be near Durham at the time, visiting a friend, and we headed out to the almost-new Durham Bulls Athletic Park to take in a game.

My friend wanted to see the Park for the first time. I wanted to see Andruw Jones.

Later, I remember telling people about the sound of the ball coming off Jones’ bat in batting practice, and the way he glided effortlessly in center field. To be honest, I doubt I really saw any of that; I was a dumb kid who wanted to know something about baseball that my friends hadn’t discovered yet. A baseball hipster. I cringe at the thought.

A few months later, I was still a dumb kid, away at college and watching Game 1 of the World Series. As most of you will remember, the 19-year-old Jones burst his way into the national consciousness that night by hammering two homers and driving in five runs. It was the opening act for one of the most interesting careers of his generation.

Nearly two decades later, Jones is still playing baseball. In 2013, Jones hit .243/.391/.454 with 26 homers, 94 RBI, and 105 walks for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. (Also plying their trade with the Japan Series champion Rakuten: former big-leaguers Casey McGehee, Kazuo Matsui, and Takashi Saito.)

Unfortunately, and for a number of very good reasons, Jones’ career in the big leagues is almost certainly over. He’ll be 37 next spring, with off-field issues in the recent past, and it’s hard to see any team giving him another chance. Which means that this is as good a time as any to assess Andruw Jones’ case for the Hall of Fame. He’s probably a better candidate than you think.

Before we explore this, we should probably acknowledge something: I fear there is almost no chance that Andruw Jones ever gets elected to the Hall of Fame. He has a reputation as a player who wasn’t committed (or was lazy, depending upon who you ask), based mostly on his struggles with weight. Voters will remember a 31-year-old Jones signing a big contract with the Dodgers, showing up to camp out of shape, and proceeding to play as poorly as anyone in the big leagues. Voters will also remember those last five injury-plagued seasons at the end of his career.

And that will be a shame. Jones did more than enough before his career fizzled out to be a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.

Five-time All-Star. Ten Gold Gloves. For his career, Jones accumulated 67.8 wins above replacement (FanGraphs version). That’s a higher number than was posted by Barry Larkin, Paul Molitor, Ozzie Smith, Willie McCovey, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, and a number of other Hall of Famers. Jones’ WAR total ranks ninth all-time among center fielders; every player ahead of him on that list is already in the Hall of Fame.

Jones’ 434 homers is the fourth-best total for any player in history who played at least 50% of their games in center field, behind such luminaries as Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mickey Mantle. Let’s not kid ourselves, however; though he was good, if flawed, as a hitter, Andruw Jones’ Hall of Fame case relies on his brilliant defense.

Jones was the best defensive player of his generation, and there’s a good case to be made that he’s the best defensive center fielder of all time. If you watched him play, you remember him reaching balls that no other center fielder could get. Jones always brought to mind a compliment that had been directed at Joe DiMaggio a half-century earlier. DiMaggio purportedly never had to dive for a ball. He just glided over to it. That’s the way Jones was.

Okay, that’s enough anecdotal evidence. I already mentioned the ten Gold Gloves; that’s an imperfect measure to be sure, but Mays was the only center fielder to win more (though Griffey also won ten). Let’s dig deeper, and take a look at some defensive metrics. Here are the top five center fielders in baseball history, judged by defensive WAR:

1. Andruw Jones 24.2 dWAR
2. Paul Blair 18.5
3. Willie Mays 17.9
4. Devon White 16.1
5. Jim Piersall 15.2

It should be noted that Junior Griffey, who is most cited as the best defensive center fielder of his era, comes in at 94th on that list. While Griffey was a brilliant center fielder early in his career, his defense was frankly disastrous near the end.

Next up, defensive runs saved, which is a measure of how many runs a player saved over and above what an average player would have saved. Here is the list of the top five center fielders of all-time by DRS:

1. Andruw Jones 236 DRS
2. Willie Mays 183
3. Jim Piersall 175
4. Paul Blair 174
5. Devon White 135

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There is a pretty significant gap between Jones and the runners-up on both these lists. If we expand our view, and look at the all-time leaders in defensive runs saved for any position (not just center field), Jones looks like a defensive legend:

1. Brooks Robinson 292 DRS
2. Mark Belanger 240
3. Ozzie Smith 239
4. Andruw Jones 236
5. Roberto Clemente 204

Wow. Just, wow. Certainly, there are flaws with these metrics, but a picture is beginning to emerge of Jones as one of the great defenders in history.

Now let’s put it all together by taking a look at Jay Jaffe’s JAWS rankings for center fielders. JAWS is a quick and dirty way to evaluate a player’s Hall of Fame credentials by comparing him to players who have already been inducted at his fielding position. Basically, it averages a player’s career WAR and peak WAR.

Jones is ranked tenth among players at his position; while his career WAR is slightly below the average of the 18 center fielders who have been inducted, his peak WAR is well above the Hall of Fame average. Importantly, there are no eligible center fielders ahead of Jones in the JAWS rankings who haven’t been inducted (though Carlos Beltran and Kenny Lofton are going to have great cases, in their own right, once they become eligible).

In some ways, Jones’ Hall of Fame case is similar to Ozzie Smith’s. Both were elite defenders at premium defensive positions, though Smith had a longer career as an effective shortstop than Jones had as a center fielder. However, Jones was, obviously, a much better offensive player. During the ten seasons from 1998 to 2007, Jones hit .266/.344/.503, while averaging 34 homers, 103 RBI, and 97 runs scored per year. Over that span, Jones averaged 6.1 WAR per 650 plate appearances. All while playing, perhaps, the greatest defense we’ve ever seen from a center fielder.

Maybe Jones could have extended his career by a couple of years if he had dedicated himself to a fitness regimen. I don’t know whether that’s a legitimate criticism or not. I never set foot in the Braves clubhouse, and I don’t know how hard Jones worked. For all we know, he was the hardest worker on the club. But if Jones had just been able to coax a couple more effective seasons out of his career, this article likely wouldn’t have been necessary.

Certainly, the standards for the Hall of Fame have become skewed lately by the continuing effort on the part of the voters to make a mess of the process. Perhaps I’m wrong, but once he becomes eligible, I’m afraid the baseball writers will have forgotten that decade-long period of brilliance we saw from Andruw Jones. That will be unfortunate.


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aweb
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aweb

Kenny Lofton was a one and done on the HoF ballot (18 votes). Unfortunate, but he’s been eligible and overlooked already.

Carl
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Carl

You define the issue very well.  However, I just don’t trust dWar as a stat.  Frankly, I remember Andruw Jones as a very good, but not historically great CFer.  Looking @ range stats, he was just slightly above average, and 1 or 2 very good years in assists, but he never even led the league even once.

Dr. Doom
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Dr. Doom
@Carl- I just have a lot of trouble seeing “assists” being the most important stat for outfielders.  I’d much rather have a guy making putouts than assists, especially in center.  And Jones had wonderful range, particularly as a young player.  He’s actually a lot like Bernie Williams (though Jones was a much better player):  both were strong defensively as young players, and their offense blossomed as their defense faded.  If either had ever put the package together at the same time, they would have had arguments as a great player (Williams) or as an all-time great (Jones).  I see Andruw… Read more »
Ian R.
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Ian R.

aweb is right: Lofton has already hit the ballot, and he dropped off after one year. That’s pretty unfortunate, and a super-crowded ballot is likely at least somewhat to blame.

I find it fascinating how dissimilar and yet similar Jones and Lofton are. The former’s case is built on power and fantastic defense, the latter’s on speed and on-base skills. Jones had a terrific peak; Lofton had a more valuable career. Add it all up, though, and they’re both qualified Hall of Famers who will probably wait a long time to get in, if they make it at all.

aweb
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aweb
From watching everyday, I know that Devon White was great enough to be a top-5 all-time CF – he also played the “glide, never dive” style. For a few years in Toronto, any ball hit well, in the air towards CF at all, was seemingly an automatic out. It took years of watching lesser players to recalibrate my brain to reasonable expectations for CF defense. I have no problem at all thinking White was one of the best 2 players (Alomar) on those championship teams, despite being an average hitter on teams loaded with great players. Jones, from what I… Read more »
Carl
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Carl
DrDoom, – great story. I looked up his defensive stats on BR and found: in 1997 his RF/G was below league average (2.05 to 2.12) but interesting that when broken down below CF and RF his RF range was atrociious and his CF range was above average. in 1998 until 2004 his RF/9 was above average every year by (.19, .51, .16, .20, .37, .12, .09) but from 2005 until the end of his career in 2012 was below average.  This makes me think his 2005, 2006 and 2007 GGs were likely undeserved, and most folks remember his incredible 1999… Read more »
jpomrenke
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jpomrenke
Which range factor are you looking at, Carl? From that same B-R page: 1997 – led all NL OFs in RF/9 1999 – led all NL OFs in RF/9 1999 – led all NL OFs in RF/G 2000 – led all NL CFs in RF/G 2001 – led all NL OFs in RF/G Range Factor, of course, is putouts + assists / innings played * 9.  It’s pretty well documented that runners stopped trying to take extra bases on Jones early in his career (especially after his 20-assist season in 1998, which by the way is the most assists by… Read more »
squires8
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squires8

His 2005/2006 years with 51/41 HRs and then huge decline makes one think of PEDs, no?

signed,

Brady Anderson

Pedro Cabeza
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Pedro Cabeza

This is purely anecdotal, but in his prime nobody played any portion of the OF nearly as well as
Andruw Jones.  DiMaggio?  Nope.  Willie?  Not hardly.  Any body else you can think of?  I doubt it.

Were he still alive today, Skip Caray would make a fine case for both of the Jones boys, Andruw and Chipper, to be in any Hall of Fame.  Big Hall, or Little Hall: both belong in it.

Dr. Doom
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Dr. Doom
@littlelucas- First of all, you do realize that you say “enough of the numbers mumbo jumbo” and then proceed to cite 2 numbers in the next sentence, don’t you?  The point is to use GOOD numbers, not just well-known ones.  Second of all, there are a great number of Hall of Famers who hit .300 only once (like Mike Schmidt) or even less than once (like Bill Mazeroski or Harmon Killebrew).  That one fact is not enough to keep someone out.  This is very obvious to anyone who studies the issue.  The question is:  was his overall quality of play,… Read more »
Barney Coolio
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Barney Coolio

Is it possible that Jones will be on the HOF ballot while still playing in Japan? That would be awesome.  He will first be on the ballot in late 2017, when he will be 40.  Keep playing Andruw!

John C
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John C

Some people still think batting average is anything. Tell them about Riggs Stephenson and how he hit .336 over 14 years in the big leagues but never made the Hall of Fame, and they’d tell you what an injustice that is, but talk about a guy who didn’t hit .300 but was worth three of Riggs Stephenson, and forget about it…

littlelucas
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littlelucas

Andruw Jones quite simply is not a HOFer!!!!!!!! Please enough of the numbers mumbo jumbo. Batted over .300 once and above .275 one other time. Crazy talk in my mind.

littlelucas
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littlelucas

Why not tell all the facts about Riggs Stephenson? He only played in over 100 games in a year 5 times in his career. I would in no way compare his career to Jones. Part time players do not deserve to be in the HOF. I quite simply think that the HOF should be reserved for elite players. Although Jones was a fine player I would not consider him an all time great. There are several HOFers (Mazeroski being one of them) that their selections could be questioned.

Awalnoha
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Awalnoha
I love Andruw Jones. I think he is the best defensive CF of his time playing and he was very good on offense for most of his career. This conversation begins and ends with his defense. On offense alone there is no way he is even considered for the HOF. I love his case because it is a good test case for traditional vs non-traditional stats. If looking at while he was playing then there is a very good argument for him. Best defensively and very good offensively.  His WAR gets him in in my opinion. But his career ended… Read more »
Jeff M.
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Jeff M.
Look, I’m sorry, I’ll believe Jones was a very good center fielder for a while, but HOF, are you kidding me?  I saw him play very early, against the Yankees in ‘96, and while he covered a lot of ground, he got a terrible jump back then.  I assume that got much better.  Still, if you look from age 27 – 31, the heart of his career, his defensive win shares are 7.2, 5.8, 5, 7.5 and 2.4 Carlos Beltran, for the same ages, are 5.8, 7.3, 8.2, 6.6 and 6.5.  Beltran’s total offensive win shares for that period, about… Read more »
John Hale
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John Hale

If you say that Andruw Jones ever got a bad jump, I’m not sure you were seeing things correctly. Suzuki is a shoe in HOF, so that’s a moot point. And Beltran was never half of the defender that Andruw Jones was. Jones is in the conversation with Mays and DiMagio, and no one else belongs in that discussion. Great thread, and I appreciate the article. I, too, have been making this argument for a long time and it’s usually laughed off, which is simply naive.

Rob
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Rob
I watched a lot of Andruw Jones from 2000 on. Slow first step? Not even close. There were replays where it appeared that Jones was moving in the direction of the ball before it was actually hit. It was astounding. He played super shallow in his prime and he robbed tons of singles… yes, he would slide catch those. But he somehow still got back to the wall for anything that wasn’t a total rope. When someone lined a ball over his head that landed in the park, that ball was just hammered on a line. His defenisve metrics don’t… Read more »
Carl
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Carl
JPomrenke, Couple of points – While Garry Maddux had 4 seasons of 400+ putouts, and they were not consecutive. His 1977 season w “only” 385 POs kept him from 5 straight seasons. As far as they eye test, to me Torii Hunter and Devon White were both as good if not better CFer than Jones, and Hunter’s 2001 GG season w 460 POs and .57 RF/G greater than the league RF/G was pretty nice stats-wise. However, my major question/point would be how much was Andruw Jones’ defense worth?  He had an awesome defensive peak form 98-04, but giving the HoF… Read more »
Doctor K
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Doctor K

He’s like the inverse of my boy Daryl Strawberry

Awalnoha
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Awalnoha

Jeff M

Basically we are arguing that he is not a HOFer but Beltran and his UZR are not even close. I just focused on UZR for simplicity so if they are off by 50% each way he is still better than Beltran, who I think is a good defensive player and a HOFer in my opinion.

2002 2009 CF UZR

Jones 15.7, 17.3, 24.4, 26.2, 12.8, 23.2, .3, no entry RF(.4)

Beltran 7.1, 9.2, -.2, -2.9, 10.4, 2.9,12.5, -3.3,

Paul G.
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Paul G.
Making the Hall of Fame based on defense is a tough row to hoe, especially since defensive metrics are still controversial.  The three main WAR metrics do not calculate defensive value the same, which leads to uncertainty, which leads to controversy, which leads to aging sports writers, who think an integral is something between hockey periods and went into journalism so they didn’t have to worry about carrying the 1, to declare superiority over all those eggheads who did not date enough in college.  Or to put it another way, mathematical uncertainly necessarily leads to subjectivity. That said, defense can… Read more »
David P Stokes
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David P Stokes

Ordinarily, I think Jones would be a likely but not certain HOFer based on his stats, but there’s going to be such a terrible logjam the next few years.  That’s going to really hurt someone like Jones who isn’t a lock.

Skip
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Skip
Not a lot of mention here about the playoffs.  Not necessarily that he did OK in the playoffs (his slash line if 273/363/433 is similar to his Atlanta Braves years’ slash line of 263/342/497)… but just the fact that he was an integral part of so many successful teams. Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz are HOF worthy.  You have to believe that Andruw, while he was there, helped those guys… it has to feel good to pitch knowing that Andruw is behind you to clean up any mistakes. Or… does it go the other way?  Does Andruw’s defnsive statistics look better…… Read more »
Rob
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Rob

I think without Jones (and others), Tom Glavine would have had a real problem. It’s clear that Glavine gave up a lot of hits, walked a lot and yet managed to keep the score down. Was that because he was a “gamer”, or because there were guys behind him saving his bacon? I think it was the latter. When Glavine went to the Mets, suddenly he gave up a bunch more runs.

John Hale
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I think what’s missed in all of this, especially in regard to the argument that he “let himself go,” or was “lazy,” as many accuse, is the fact that he started a minimum of 153 games for 11 years in a row. This is hardly heard of anymore in today’s game, and especially at a physically demanding position such as CF, and especially when you are often sacrificing your body to make diving plays as Andruw did. Even guys who are staples in lineups get days off every couple of weeks to rest, or they land on the DL at… Read more »
Alex Nates
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Alex Nates
I certainly think that if Larry Doby and Duke Snider are in the HOF, Andruw Jones certainly deserves a nod. He gets traded from the braves and has a dismal beginning of the year with the dodgers for elbow surgery and everyone wrote him off. He hit 63 home runs in 966 abs as a bench player in 4 years. So if you can imagine what he would have done with more at bats he would be on the brink of 500 or already there. The guy played the best cf we have probably ever seen accompanied with Griffey just… Read more »
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