Adam Jones Strike at History

Friday night I was listening to the Glenn Younes show coming back from an errand.  It was at the moment where Adam Jones hit his three run home run leading to Younes to do his best pro wrestling chat radio takedown of all of the supposed fans who dare to question Adam Jones’ offensive abilities.  To the best of my memory, the argument was basically that Adam Jones hit a bad pitch for a home run and that negates any negative aspect of his approach at hitting and his recognition of the types of pitches thrown to him.  It was articulated that the fans who question Jones are also the fans who expect the Ravens to go 21-0 every game.  For those who have a broader appreciation of the game, this is the Jeff Franceour or Mike Jacobs argument.  The idea that a few positive events make up for the many negative events.

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My reason for bringing that up is that, yeah, Jones does get unfair treatment.  I also think that there is also a lot of people who over appreciate him as those who under appreciate him.  My view has remained pretty steady over the year with him being a very good hitter with some pitch recognition issues that will prevent him from ever being an elite hitter.  In addition, his great defensive talent is limited by his poor initial reads and below average hands.  I think as he ages, his marginal, but highlight film worthy, play in centerfield will play much better in left than it would in right.  In fact, I think we already are seeing it.  Outside of his excellent play last night, Jones has seen some decrease in his ability to hold runners going from being one of the best in centerfield three years ago to being league average last year and this year.  There is some talk about how gold gloves are often handed out for seasons prior (as well as for offensive prowess) and that just might be the case.  All that said, he is certainly a fine player to have in the lineup and play centerfield.

As you can see in the table below.  For qualified centerfielders, Jones ranks 6th out of 22 for Runs Created.  If you turn it into a rate, then he drops down to 8th and in a tie with Jacoby Ellsbury.  That is a fringe elite centerfielder.  Defensive metrics (and a significant number of scouts) tend to rate Jones as below average in center field.  If you accept those assessments, then you wind up with a player who is an average to slightly above average centerfielder.

Offensive Numbers for Qualified CFs (>280 PA with 140 as CF) for 2013

Rk Player RC PA Tm G HR BB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG
1 Mike Trout 87 418 LAA 90 15 47 69 21 4 .323 .402 .566
2 Shin-Soo Choo 73 426 CIN 90 12 62 83 11 6 .282 .420 .457
3 Jacoby Ellsbury 62 410 BOS 86 3 34 50 36 3 .304 .369 .424
4 Carlos Gomez 61 354 MIL 87 14 15 82 21 3 .299 .340 .543
5 Andrew McCutchen 60 380 PIT 88 9 37 53 19 5 .301 .376 .461
6 Adam Jones 57 405 BAL 94 17 10 75 9 2 .292 .316 .485
7 Desmond Jennings 53 390 TBR 88 10 35 73 15 6 .264 .332 .443
8 Dexter Fowler 52 313 COL 72 10 38 66 13 2 .286 .385 .462
9 Brett Gardner 51 392 NYY 92 7 33 81 13 6 .272 .339 .424
10 Colby Rasmus 49 338 TOR 87 16 30 103 0 1 .257 .328 .480
11 Alejandro De Aza 48 379 CHW 85 11 29 89 10 4 .265 .322 .418
12 Coco Crisp 43 320 OAK 71 9 38 32 14 4 .264 .348 .420
13 Austin Jackson 41 294 DET 61 5 29 60 6 2 .286 .358 .412
14 Denard Span 39 380 WSN 87 0 27 47 10 3 .257 .312 .349
15 Ben Revere 36 330 PHI 87 0 16 36 22 8 .304 .338 .353
16 Gregor Blanco 35 301 SFG 80 1 26 59 10 5 .279 .342 .371
17 Michael Bourn 34 289 CLE 66 2 16 68 13 6 .288 .330 .365
18 A.J. Pollock 33 286 ARI 81 6 14 55 6 2 .257 .295 .424
19 Jon Jay 33 358 STL 89 5 31 57 3 1 .240 .320 .330
20 Lorenzo Cain 33 311 KCR 78 4 22 66 9 4 .257 .315 .375
21 Justin Ruggiano 30 294 MIA 78 12 24 70 12 3 .215 .290 .392
22 B.J. Upton 23 318 ATL 84 8 33 102 7 4 .177 .266 .300
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/13/2013.

However, this is not what I really wished to write about on Jones.  Above is merely a false start to the column.  The remarkable thing about Jones this year is that he has a shot of making history.  At this moment with 94 games in, Jones has 10 walks in 405 plate appearances.  If he winds up playing every game for the rest of the year and maintains not only the walk rate, but the plate appearance rate as well, then he should finish the year with the following numbers:

698 plate appearances

17 walks

Below is the comprehensive table of players who had logged at least 698 plate appearances and have earned fewer than 20 walks.

Rk Player Year BB PA Age Tm BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Woody Jensen 1936 16 731 28 PIT .283 .305 .404 .709 *7/8
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/13/2013.

Yes, above is the comprehensive list of players who have accomplished what Jones is setting out to do if he maintains this pace, which (admittedly) is a pace that is extraordinary for him and, as a general rule, we should never assume that extraordinary paces will continue (sorry, Chris Davis).  If Jones reverts back to his 4.9% walk rate then he will wind up with 24 walks. Just a word about Woody Jensen…this was not a very good season.  His offensive numbers made him worth about three runs below replacement value.

The comprehensive list for batters with 698 plate appearances and 25 or fewer walks?

Rk Player Year BB PA Age Tm BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Woody Jensen 1936 16 731 28 PIT .283 .305 .404 .709 *7/8
2 Granny Hamner 1949 25 700 22 PHI .263 .290 .353 .643 *6
3 Felipe Alou 1966 24 706 31 ATL .327 .361 .533 .894 *378/956
4 Lou Brock 1967 24 724 28 STL .299 .327 .472 .799 *7
5 Ralph Garr 1973 22 698 27 ATL .299 .323 .415 .737 *97
6 Larry Bowa 1974 23 720 28 PHI .275 .298 .338 .636 *6
7 Alfonso Soriano 2002 23 741 26 NYY .300 .332 .547 .880 *4/D
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/13/2013.

That is still a pretty exclusive club.  However, contrary to the army of one that is Jensen (to date), this group actually has a couple of players who puts up big seasons.  Felipe Alou’s 1966 season was in an offensively depressed era and was explosive enough to put him in fifth for MVP voting.  Soriano’s second year in the big leagues was enough to earn him a third place finish in voting in 2002.  So a dearth of walks alone does not mean a failed hitter.  It can certainly contribute to being a failed hitter, but it is not a guaranteed way to arrive there.

So has anything changed in pitch location or swing rate for Jones from last year to this year?

Pitches Seen
2012 2013
Balls
Above 18.7% 19.4%
Below 63.2% 56.9%
Inside 35.9% 40.6%
Outside 55.2% 50.3%
Swings 38.6% 41.1%
Miss/Sw 47.0% 36.8%
Foul/Sw 24.8% 36.8%
ISO in Play .197 .133
Strikes
High 21.5% 21.5%
Low 36.3% 35.5%
Inside 27.9% 27.4%
Outside 35.7% 33.5%
Swings 72.8% 75.3%
Miss/Sw 15.6% 19.2%
Foul/Sw 39.5% 39.9%
ISO in Play .353 .243

Three things really seemed to emerge from this data.  First, it does not appear that pitchers have changed their approach with respect to location from last year to this year (also, pitch type is not shown here, but that has not changed either).  Two, that Jones has improved his contact rate when swinging for balls, but that improved contact rate has resulted in a rather sizable decrease in power.  Three, Jones has swung more at strikes this year while missing more of those strikes while also producing much less power when connecting.

The easy narrative produced here is that Jones is trying to cover more of the strike zone and, in doing so, is either not being selective enough in the pitches he is swinging at to produce solid power or that he has changed his swing mechanics in a way where his power is not as efficiently transferred to the ball.  What may challenge that narrative is that Jones is swing at fewer first pitches (35% in 2013 vs. 38% in 2012) while pitchers have thrown more first pitch strikes (55% in 2013 vs 51% in 2012).  It may be that him being more patient on the first pitch has resulted in him finding himself in the hole more often.  I doubt though that the 4% difference (which amounts to having about 20 more first pitch strikes over the first 405 PA as compared to last year) would explain such a large difference in ISO.

The answer is somewhat unclear to me, but it does seem obvious that Jones’ approach at the plate this year is to be more willing to swing at pitches for whatever reason.  It is also apparent that when he makes contact with those pitches that he has produced less than he did last year.  Maybe last year was a remarkably unique season for him and it is unfair of me to compare him to what may have been his career season.  Although possibly quite unfair as it might be, that season is somewhat what he needs to do in order for the team to get back in production for what they are paying him over the life of his extension.  Otherwise, we might be in for a lot of griping about his performance in a similar way to which Baltimore has thought about Nick Markakis’ contract.

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About the author


Jon Shepherd  

Orioles Analyst

Jon Shepherd founded the Baltimore Orioles blog Camden Depot in 2007. In addition to Baltimore Orioles analysis, the blog also focuses on qualitative and quantitative approaches to assessing baseball in general as well as providing mainstream reviews and commentary on substances alleged to performance enhancing. Dr. Shepherd’s writing has been featured on ESPN, and his blog has been part of the ESPN Sweetspot Network since May 2011. He has made radio and podcast appearances for Orioles’ centered programs.


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