In Defense of Andruw Jones’ Hall of Fame Credentials

We tend to form memories poorly. In middle school, my band teacher was fond of telling us that if you only played two parts of the song correctly, to make it the beginning and the end, because most people wouldn’t remember anything else.

So it may be with Andruw Jones. If you pressed most people on what they remember most about Jones, there’s a decent chance that they’d recall him as the 19-year-old who homered twice in the 1996 World Series and also as a really fat guy who was terrible in his 30s. In between those two endpoints, though, he had a Hall of Fame career.

In his comprehensive piece on next year’s ballot that appeared here yesterday, Craig Edwards touched on a third thing that people often remember about Jones:

Three of the newer players on the ballot — Andruw Jones, Rolen, and Vizquel — earned a decent share of their value in the form of defense. We don’t yet know how the voters will consider the 28 Gold Gloves collected between those three players.

Craig is absolutely right. Looking just at Gold Gloves, we find that the only the outfielders to have collected more Gold Gloves than Jones’ total of 10 are Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays, each of whom won 12. (Ken Griffey Jr., Al Kaline and Ichiro Suzuki have won 10, as well.) Only Brooks Robinson (16) and Mike Schmidt (10) won more Gold Gloves as a third baseman than did Rolen (eight). And only Ozzie Smith won more Gold Gloves at shortstop (13) than did Vizquel (11). The fact that we can easily drag Vizquel into Jones’ discussion is only going to complicate things for Jones. Vizquel was never a great hitter, and was rarely even a decent hitter. Jones was almost always a good hitter, and was frequently a great one.

Here’s the list of players who played 75% of their games in center field and also hit at least 400 home runs in their career:

  • Ken Griffey Jr.
  • Andruw Jones
  • Willie Mays

That’s it. That’s the list. If you drop the threshold to 50%, Carlos Beltran, Mickey Mantle, and Duke Snider also make an appearance. Mike Trout might one day show up, as well, though he’s currently 232 shy of that benchmark.

Either way, it’s a short list. Even at the 300 HR threshold, only six other center fielders make the list, one of whom is Joe DiMaggio.

It wasn’t just homers that Jones hit. Jones also racked up the doubles. At the 50% threshold, Jones’ 383 doubles is tied for 23rd all-time among center fielders. At the 75% threshold, Jones ties for 14th.

Roll that back into a metric like ISO, and we find Jones appears in the top 10. Let’s look at that top 10 — with the other Hall of Famers whom the Hall of Fame itself lists as center fielders, just for fun.

Center Fielder ISO Leaders
Player ISO
Mickey Mantle 0.259
Willie Mays 0.256
Joe DiMaggio 0.254
Ken Griffey Jr. 0.254
Mike Trout* 0.251
Duke Snider 0.244
Jim Edmonds* 0.243
Hack Wilson 0.238
Andruw Jones* 0.231
Josh Hamilton^ 0.226
Earl Averill 0.216
Larry Doby 0.207
Kirby Puckett 0.159
Tris Speaker 0.156
Ty Cobb 0.146
Earle Combs 0.138
Edd Roush 0.123
Max Carey 0.101
Lloyd Waner 0.077
Richie Ashburn 0.074
* = Not a Hall of Famer…yet
^ = Not a Hall of Famer

One note: these actually aren’t the only Hall of Fame center fielders. Five Negro Leagues players — Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Pete Hill, Turkey Stearnes and Cristóbal Torriente — are all also denoted as center fielders by the Hall, but we don’t have FanGraphs stats for them.

As to the Hall of Famers for whom we do have stats, Jones’ ISO stacks up well: he’d be seventh among the group of 17 (16 Hall of Famers plus Jones). He’d be fourth in homers, as well.

Let’s take Edmonds, Hamilton and Trout out of the equation now and just look at bulk offensive and defensive stats.

Center Fielder Hall of Famer Comparison
Player Off Def WAR
Willie Mays 837.5 170.1 149.9
Ty Cobb 1036.0 -90.0 149.3
Tris Speaker 815.2 24.4 130.6
Mickey Mantle 842.6 -78.1 112.3
Joe DiMaggio 529.5 32.3 83.1
Ken Griffey Jr. 444.1 -39.6 77.7
Andruw Jones 116.3 281.3 67.1
Duke Snider 403.7 -45.7 63.5
Max Carey 221.0 7.1 60.1
Richie Ashburn 193.2 59.5 57.4
Larry Doby 288.0 7.0 51.1
Edd Roush 267.9 -53.6 49.7
Earl Averill 298.4 -56.9 47.9
Kirby Puckett 204.9 -28.4 44.9
Hack Wilson 330.3 -67.4 42.1
Earle Combs 223.6 -27.7 41.3
Lloyd Waner 6.4 -14.2 25.0

As you can see, despite his value in terms of power, Jones does grade out poorly compared to these Hall of Famers in terms of offensive value. But he also blows away the field defensively, which leaves him in the middle of the pack among these Hall of Famers. “Better than Duke Snider, Richie Ashburn and Kirby Puckett” is pretty solid, right?

So, we’ve shown that Jones wasn’t a hitting savant, but he wasn’t a zero. He had offensive value. He was an above-average hitter for his career, and if you take out the last few seasons of his career, he looks slightly better (111 wRC+ for his whole career, 116 wRC+ from 1996 to 2006). That’s not necessarily fair. After all, no one was forcing him to play when he couldn’t hack it anymore. Nevertheless, we can say with confidence that Jones was an above-average hitter with a distinct knack for power hitting. But what about that defense?

Let’s start with this. Jones is the eighth-best defender of all-time by a combination of fielding runs and positional adjustment (which combine to create Def). Six of the seven players ahead of him — Ozzie Smith, Brooks Robinson, Ivan Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, Luis Aparicio and Joe Tinker — are Hall of Famers. The seventh, Mark Belanger, would be there if he’d been even semi-competent with the lumber.

Now let’s add some context. How much better was Jones than the other players at his position? And how does that compare to other positions on the diamond?

Career Def Leaders by Position
Position Leader Def 2nd Place Def Diff 5th Place Def Diff
3B Brooks Robinson 359.8 Adrian Beltre 226.1 133.7 Scott Rolen 182.2 177.6
CF Andruw Jones 281.3 Willie Mays 170.1 111.2 Kenny Lofton 139.4 141.9
C Ivan Rodriguez 317.1 Bob Boone 232.2 84.9 Yadier Molina 193.6 123.5
SS Ozzie Smith 375.3 Mark Belanger 345.6 29.7 Joe Tinker 288.7 86.6
LF Willie Wilson 80.5 Barry Bonds 67.6 12.9 Brett Gardner 52.3 28.2
1B Hughie Jennings 107.7 Darin Erstad 96.3 11.4 Charlie Comiskey 48.5 59.2
RF Jesse Barfield 104.3 Brian Jordan 94.5 9.8 Ichiro Suzuki 66.1 38.2
2B Frankie Frisch 210.1 Joe Gordon 209.5 0.6 Bid McPhee 193.1 17.0

Brooks Robinson. That’s the only player who was that much better than the second-best player at his position. And if you’ll notice, the player behind Robinson is the ageless wonder, Adrian Beltre, who is still playing, and stands a good chance to cut into that deficit. In fact, if Beltre plays typical Beltre seasons in 2017 and 2018, he’ll probably pull that deficit even with the Jones-May deficit. Phrased differently: Andruw Jones is the Brooks Robinson of center field, but with power and speed sprinkled in. (Oh, did I forget to mention that Jones is one of just 21 players all-time to tally 400 home runs and 150 stolen bases?)

Andruw Jones was an amazing player who did many things well. He was a prodigious power hitter — he’s 46th all-time in home runs, and fourth among center fielders. He stole plenty of bases, and he was plenty durable — he played at least 150 games in 11 straight seasons. His 10 seasons with 150+ games played as a center fielder is the third-best mark all-time, behind only Mays and Richie Ashburn. Jones also had a very well defined peak. From 1998 to 2006, he was worth at least 4.9 WAR every year. In four of those nine seasons — 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006 — he was Atlanta’s best player.

Finally,  was an amazing center fielder. Defensively, he was, and is, the center fielder. The gap between him and the next-best player is bigger than at any other position other than Brooks Robinson at third base, and that deficit might shrink. Jones fits neatly into a picture with Brooks Robinson, Ivan Rodriguez, Cal Ripken and Frankie Frisch — slightly above-average hitters and amazing defenders, and that is a Hall of Fame player. Jones’ career didn’t the end we would have liked to see. But careers rarely end the way we want them to (and objectively, 3.4 WAR in your final three seasons isn’t that bad). Let’s not let that obscure just how great he was.

We hoped you liked reading In Defense of Andruw Jones’ Hall of Fame Credentials by Paul Swydan!

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

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snapper
Member
snapper

Jones’ defensive numbers are highly suspect. There has been a lot of recent work that suggests that rangy OF pad their DRS/UZR by taking easy chances away from teammates. i.e. they make a play that’s out-of-zone for them, padding their stats, but was a 95%+ out-likelihood for someone else.

Does anyone really think Jones was that much better than Willie freaking Mays?

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives

I never saw Mays play, but I watched Andruw play a lot. He was incredible in center in his prime. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone could have been much better, even Willie freaking Mays?

Johnston
Member
Johnston

I watched them both play and liked both of them, and the eye test said that Willie Mays was a far, far superior baseball player in every way.

Draftbackwards
Member
Draftbackwards

I disagree with Jones’ defensive numbers being highly suspect. I watched around 500-600 of his games and he was the best defensive outfielder I’ve seen(right behind O.Smith & O.Visquel overall). I never saw B.Robinson play. A.Jones played extremely shallow, consistently taking away singles. Somehow, his great jumps and speed still allowed him to make it to the warning track to snag extra base hits away. Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, etc. all owe him a debt for improving their numbers for a decade. Elite SP’s they were, Jones could watch the pitch and catcher set-up, combine that with the pitch count and hitter tendencies and make a educated guess how to shade every pitch. It was absolutely incredible to watch him play!!

jskelly4
Member
jskelly4

Source?

Tom Dooley
Member
Tom Dooley

There has been a lot of recent work that suggests that rangy OF pad their DRS/UZR by taking easy chances away from teammates.

I’d love to read it. Link? Name? Anything?

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

So you watched a lot of Mays, eh?

Shanthi
Member
Shanthi

And you believe rangy OF Willie Mays didn’t have his numbers padded in exactly the same reason…why? There’s no way Andruw Jones was thinking to himself, “I need to pad my DRS/UZR.” IF it happened, it would have simply been because Jones ran everything down–even balls he didn’t “need” to. If so, why would you believe Willie Mays didn’t end up doing the same thing?

bdhumbert
Member
Member
bdhumbert

Yes – saw him play several hundred games in person an on TV and saw Mays’s lot…
Jones was waaaaaaaay better

Jetsy Extrano
Member
Jetsy Extrano

The thing is, those plays have very little run value to pad with. If two players could get them, they’re cans of corn, long hang times. Any defensive metric that knows anything will see that and say, +0.01 runs for you.