Andruw Jones was having a brilliant career, that is, until he turned 31 years old. Since that point, he’s barely been a league-average player. He went from an all-time great player, to an iffy hall-of-fame candidate.
Jones started his career off early and stook off. From age 19 to 30, he accumulated 69 WAR. His total is the 24th highest value. Here are the 10 players who had the closest WAR values to Jones before turning 31.
The list is full of players who had hall-of-fame careers. The problem with Jones is that his push for the Hall seems to have stagnated. Here’s a WAR comparison curve for Jones and for several other outfielders with similar cumulative WAR values at age 30 (big image).
Jones’s career has stagnated, compared to other players with similar careers. Since turning 31 years old, Jones has only produced 3.6 WAR combined in those five seasons. He produced more than that in every season from 1997 to 2007. Of all the hitters who have accumulated 60 or more WAR before their 31st birthday, he has the fewest WAR, with Ken Griffey Jr. the next closest.
|Ken Griffey Jr.||5|
One possible cause for the sudden drop is that most of Jones’s production comes from playing great defense in center field. Thirty-eight percent of his value is tied up in his position and in defense. This percentage is the highest among all outfielders who have accumulated more than 20 WAR before reaching 31 years old. Quite a few players are ahead of him in percentage, but they are either catchers or middle infielders.
A few other outfielders are somewhat comparable with their center-field defense. Among them are Devon White, Kenny Lofton, Coco Crisp and Mike Cameron. Here is how each one has aged, according to their WAR (big image).
There’s not much of a comparison here. None of them plateau. They continued to be productive players well into their 30’s.
The main cause for Jones’s decline was that he’s been injured often. He experienced some nagging injuries in 2002 and 2003. And in 2007, he missed time because of an injured back, an elbow, a knee and general sickness. The injuries continued into 2008, and he went on the disabled list twice for knee injuries. Those injuries took away his most valuable asset: the ability to play great center-field defense.
I am not sure if Andruw Jones is a hall-of-famer. Some writers will determine that more than five years from now. But Jones’s production stagnation that started at age 31 is unprecedented for someone of his caliber.
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.