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.
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.
|Ken Griffey Jr.||0.254|
^ = 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.
|Ken Griffey Jr.||444.1||-39.6||77.7|
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?
|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.