JAWS and the 2023 Hall of Fame Ballot: Andruw Jones

Andruw Jones
Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2023 Hall of Fame ballot. It was initially written for The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books, and subsequently adapted for SI.com and then FanGraphs. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

It happened so quickly. Freshly anointed the game’s top prospect by Baseball America in the spring of 1996, the soon-to-be-19-year-old Andruw Jones was sent to play for the Durham Bulls, the Braves’ High-A affiliate. By mid-August, he blazed through the Carolina League, the Double-A Southern League, and the Triple-A International League, then debuted for the defending world champions. By October 20, with just 31 regular-season games under his belt, he was a household name, having become the youngest player ever to homer in a World Series game, breaking Mickey Mantle’s record — and doing so twice at Yankee Stadium to boot.

Jones was no flash in the pan. The Braves didn’t win the 1996 World Series, and he didn’t win the ’97 NL Rookie of the Year award, but along with Chipper Jones (no relation) and the big three of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, he became a pillar of a franchise that won a remarkable 14 NL East titles from 1991 to 2005 (all but the 1994 strike season). From 1998 to 2007, Jones won 10 straight Gold Gloves, more than any center fielder except Willie Mays.

By the end of 2006, Jones had tallied 342 homers and 1,556 hits. He looked bound for a berth in Cooperstown, but after a subpar final season in Atlanta and a departure for Los Angeles in free agency, he fell apart so completely that the Dodgers bought out his contract, a rarity in baseball. He spent the next four years with three different teams before heading to Japan at age 35, and while he hoped for a return to the majors, he couldn’t find a deal to his liking after either the 2014 or ’15 seasons. He retired before his 39th birthday, and thanks to his rapid descent, he barely survived his first two years on the Hall of Fame ballot, with shares of 7.3% and 7.5%. Over the past three cycles, he’s more than quintupled that support, jumping to 19.4%, 33.9%, and 41.4%, a point where eventual election, either by the writers or a small committee, becomes a legitimate possibility. With five years of eligibility remaining, he still has a chance to get to 75% from the writers.

2023 BBWAA Candidate: Andruw Jones
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Andruw Jones 62.7 46.4 54.6
Avg. HOF CF 71.6 44.7 58.1
1,933 434 .254/.337/.486 111
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Jones was born on April 23, 1977 in Willemstad, Curaçao, the capital city of roughly 150,000 of the Dutch-Caribbean island, which lies about 35 miles north of the coast of Venezuela. His father Henry was a catcher for Curaçao’s national team in the 1970s, good enough to play professionally — except that the island wasn’t scouted by major league teams at that time, and attending a major league tryout ended a player’s amateur status. Henry gave Andruw his first glove at age three and his first bat at four, and the kid remained years ahead of the curve at every stage. He went to Japan with a traveling team at 11, one year before Hensley Meulens become the first Curaçao-born major leaguer with the Yankees in 1989. At 15, Jones played against Juvenile League teams featuring kids 16–18 years old. At a tournament in Puerto Rico, Braves scout Giovanni Viceisza, who had been scouring the Netherlands Antilles for Atlanta for five years, recognized Jones’ five-tool talent and summoned longtime Braves director of scouting Paul Snyder, who advised the team to sign him once he turned 16. They paid a $46,000 bonus.

Still shy of his 17th birthday, Jones struggled in the complex-based Gulf Coast League in 1994, but he fared better upon being moved up to the Appalachian League. His raw numbers at the two stops (.290/.368/.412 with three homers and 21 steals in 63 games) were respectable; that he held his own in leagues where the average player was two or three years older was far more important. Just shy of his 18th birthday, Jones ranked 21st on BA’s top prospect list in the spring of 1995, second on the Braves behind Chipper Jones. His performance that year with Macon in the South Atlantic League (.277/.372/.512 with 25 homers in 139 games) earned him Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year honors and their top overall prospect ranking heading into the 1996 season. Before arriving in the majors, Jones hit a combined .339/.421/.652 with 34 homers split between 66 games at High-A Durham, 38 at Double-A Greenville, and 12 at Triple-A Richmond.

“Andruw was beyond his years, baseball maturity-wise,” Snyder told Baseball America in 2006. “The biggest problem was that we couldn’t find any level that he didn’t dominate… Very seldom do you get a guy like this to come through so quickly.”

The Braves owned a seven-game cushion when they recalled Jones from Richmond on August 14. They’d lost regular right fielder David Justice to a season-ending dislocated shoulder back in May and wanted to test the teenager before the August 31 deadline to set their postseason roster. Jones went 1-for-5 in his debut against the Phillies on August 15, striking out twice against Curt Schilling but collecting a ninth-inning single off Toby Borland. The next night, facing the Pirates, he homered off Denny Neagle, the first of five he’d hit in 31 games. He started 17 games in right field and five in center. “Some scouts say he’s on a par with Atlanta’s Gold Glove center fielder, Marquis Grissom,” noted Sports Illustrated’s Tim Kurkjian, less than two weeks after Jones arrived.

In the postseason, Braves manager Bobby Cox initially used Jones as a defensive replacement for lumbering left fielder Ryan Klesko. He didn’t start until Game 3 of the NLCS against the Cardinals and didn’t collect his first hits until Game 7, via a two-out RBI single in the first inning, then a two-run homer in the sixth of a 15–0 rout. Then came his big night in the World Series opener, with a two-run homer off Andy Pettitte and a three-run homer off Brian Boehringer in a 12–1 trouncing. Jones hit .400/.500/.750 and started all six games, though the Braves lost.

Jones repeated as BA’s Minor League Player of the Year (the second player to do so since the publication’s 1981 inception) and number one prospect (the first to do so since they began ranking them in 1991). Even so, the Braves didn’t immediately hand him a full-time job. Toward the end of spring training, they traded Grissom and Justice to Cleveland for Kenny Lofton and dealt Jermaine Dye, who had played 96 games with Atlanta as a rookie in 1996, to the Royals for Michael Tucker. Klesko, Lofton, and Tucker were the regulars, with Jones either coming off the bench in the late innings or starting against lefties while Tucker sat, though he did spend six weeks in center field when hamstring and groin injuries sidelined Lofton. For the year, he played in 153 games but started just 96 (55 in right, 41 in center), hitting a modest .231/.329/.416 with 18 homers. Still, his defense — valued at +28 runs via Total Zone — turned enough heads that he finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, well behind winner Scott Rolen but ahead of Vladimir Guerrero.

Lofton’s return to Cleveland via free agency opened center field for the 21-year-old Jones, who hit .271/.321/.515 with 31 homers, 27 steals, +35 defense (!) and 7.4 WAR, tops on the team and tied for fourth in the league, 0.1 WAR behind Mark McGwire and 0.9 ahead of Sammy Sosa in the year of the pair’s great home run chase. His first Gold Glove kicked off his 10-year streak. Continuing to provide outstanding defense along with power and speed, he ranked second in the NL in WAR in both 1999 (7.1) and 2000 (a career-best 8.2) and made his first All-Star team in the latter year, hitting .303/.366/.541 with 36 homers and 21 steals. After being ousted in the NLCS in both 1997 and ’98, the Braves drew a rematch against the Yankees in the ’99 World Series, but Jones could muster no magic, going 1-for-13 as Atlanta was swept.

Following that big 2000 season, Jones (and agent Scott Boras) won a record $8.2 million salary in arbitration. After a slightly off 2001 (.251/.312/.461, 94 OPS+, 4.9 WAR), the 24-year-old ballhawk, who was one year away from free agency, agreed to a six-year, $75 million extension. As Boras told The Sporting News’ Ken Rosenthal, “We’ve had managers and coaches say that Andruw Jones is the best center fielder they’ve seen since Willie Mays. It’s a visual understanding. Andruw’s routes to balls are excellent. His first step is excellent. His ability to come in and go back is excellent. He can catch the ball running at many different angles.”

Jones wasn’t immune to off years such as 2001 and ’04 (.261/.345/.488 with just +8 defense and 3.2 WAR), but even so, his power and glove work guaranteed a substantial baseline of value every year from 1998 to 2006; he made five All-Star teams during that stretch, homering in the ’03 and ’05 games. Adjusting to a wider stance in which his head stayed lower and moved less, he broke out to lead the NL in both homers (51) and RBIs (128) in ’05, ranking fourth with 6.7 WAR and finishing a close second in the NL MVP voting behind Albert Pujols, then followed that up with a 41-homer, 5.6 WAR season in ’06. During those nine years, he hit a combined .270/.347/.513 for a 118 OPS+, averaging 35 homers, 21 fielding runs, and 6.1 WAR; he trailed only Alex Rodriguez (7.8 WAR) and Barry Bonds (7.5 WAR) in that span.

Read that again: for a nine-year period, only A-Rod and Bonds were more valuable than Jones. If that seems like hyperbole, consider the extent to which the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz triumvirate prevented runs and collected Cy Young awards despite Smoltz being the trio’s only true strikeout pitcher. Those pitchers needed defensive support, and year in and year out, no defender played a bigger part than Jones.

“Andruw was always moving before the ball was even hit,” said Matt Kemp, briefly Jones’ teammate on the Dodgers but, before that, a center fielder he studied. “He would read the pitch, anticipate where the ball was going to be hit and already be moving to that spot.”

Jones’ shallow positioning, his quick first step, and an uncanny knack for the right routes made for fewer spectacular dives than, say, Jim Edmonds. But those skills translated to a defensive performance that was an estimated 192 runs above average during that nine-year span, 58 runs better than any other player in baseball (Darin Erstad was second). Including the entirety of his Braves’ run, which by the end had seen Maddux and Glavine both depart, Jones was 239 runs above average in the field, miles ahead of the second- and third-ranked Braves: outfielder Brian Jordan (56) and shortstop Rafael Furcal (52).

Note that I’ve cut the 2007 season from the consideration of Jones’ heyday. After clouting 92 homers in 2005–06, his final year before free agency was a disappointment, as he hit just .222/.311/.413 for a an 87 OPS+, with 26 homers. Though still 19 runs above average afield, his 3.0 WAR was lower than even his official rookie season. He was far from full health, battling soreness in both knees as well as a hyperextended left elbow suffered on May 27, but refused to lean on those as explanations. “I’m not going to make excuses about the injuries that I had,” Jones said that September. “I just didn’t play on a high level.”

Jones left the Braves after 2007, his age-30 season, and signed a two-year, $36.2 million deal with the Dodgers, whose general manager, Ned Colletti, cited the elbow injury as an explanation for the outfielder’s struggles. Boras told the media that Jones had reviewed video suggesting his stance was too wide by four inches, costing him balance.

The deal with the Dodgers began unraveling when Jones showed up to camp out of shape, overweight by 15–25 pounds according to various reports. His batting average slipped below .200 in the season’s fifth game and stayed there. In late May, he went on the injured list for the first time in his career, losing six weeks to surgery to repair a torn meniscus and remove a cyst in his right knee, the all-important back knee in his batting stance, which lessened his ability to drive the ball. Inflammation and tendinitis further limited him to just one game after August 9, sandwiched around two more IL stints. With his strikeout rate spiking from 21% in 2007 to 31% in that abysmal campaign, he finished at .158/.256/.249 with just three home runs and an astounding -1.6 WAR in 75 games.

Worse than Jones’ performance was the perception that he didn’t care, not that his showing up out of shape could have created any other impression. Caustic Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers called him “the Tubbo” in print on multiple occasions. In one column, Jones continued to answer variants of “I don’t care” in response to a barrage of unflattering questions, including whether he was bothered by the boos from Dodgers fans. “Don’t you care that the fans in Dodger Stadium have turned on you?” Simers asked.

“No,” Jones replied. “That’s their problem… You play for the team, you don’t play for the fans. The fans never played the game. They don’t know.”

Such comments only exacerbated the situation, but the disappointment of Jones’ downward spiral was overshadowed by the mania surrounding the July 31 acquisition of Manny Ramirez, who powered the Dodgers to the NL West flag and all the way to the NLCS before the team fell to the Phillies. Unable to find any takers for Jones in trade, the Dodgers negotiated a rare contract buyout, releasing him and spreading the remaining $22.1 million on his deal over six years; they put some of the savings toward retaining Ramirez. Soon afterwards, the Rangers signed Jones to a minimum-salary deal on the basis of a January 26 workout; he was said to have lost 25 pounds. In part-time duty, primarily against lefties, he hit .214/.323/.459 (100 OPS+) with 17 homers in 82 games, though he battled hamstring woes.

Jones spent three more seasons in the majors tacking a similar course as a part-timer, one with the White Sox and then two with the Yankees. He hit 19 homers with a 120 OPS+ and was worth 1.9 WAR in 2010, his year in Chicago, though his performance with the bat was actually better in his first year in New York (.247/.356/.495, 126 OPS+ with 13 homers in 222 PA). But for as potent as he was, his contributions were limited by pain in his left knee that eventually required offseason surgery. In December 2012, following a disappointing second season in pinstripes, he signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League. Less than two weeks later, on Christmas Day, he was arrested in connection with a domestic dispute. According to the police report, after consuming several drinks, he allegedly assaulted his wife, Nicole, putting his hands around her neck and threatening to kill her. He was charged with battery, and a week later, she filed for divorce. In a sad irony, the Washington Post article reporting his arrest noted that the Joneses had been major supporters of Jaden’s Ladder, a group that helps victims of domestic violence.

The couple attempted to reconcile (though they divorced in 2015). Jones pled guilty, paid a fine, and received probation that allowed him to leave the country to continue his career. In Japan, he hit a combined .232/.392/.441 with 50 homers in 2013 and ’14. He explored a return to the majors in early 2015, but reports of interest from multiple teams failed to produce a guaranteed contract. In early 2016, he officially retired.

From a traditional standpoint, Jones’ biggest obstacle to election isn’t his abrupt decline and departure from the majors itself — more on that below — but its impact on his career hit total, since he fell 67 short of 2,000. Until the election of Tony Oliva by the Golden Days Era Committee on their 2022 ballot, BBWAA and committee voters rejected every post-1960 expansion candidate who fell short of that mark, some very swiftly and others much less so. Edmonds, Bobby Grich, Robin Ventura, and Jimmy Wynn went one-and-done on the BBWAA ballot and never got another shot from the Veterans Committee. Dick Allen never got 50% of the vote from the writers and has fallen one vote short in three straight Era Committee ballot appearances. Minnie Miñoso, who was elected alongside Oliva while Allen fell short, only surpassed 2,000 hits after Major League Baseball’s 2020 decision to recognize seven Negro Leagues from the 1920–48 period as major. Now that the ice has been broken, Jones may have more of a chance.

He’s got a few things working against him beyond just the hit total, including his lifetime .254 batting average. Only three Hall of Fame position players are below .260: shortstop Rabbit Maranville (.258), first baseman Harmon Killebrew (.256), and catcher Ray Schalk (.253). Maranville and Schalk played key defensive positions and had strong defensive reputations that predate the Gold Glove era but are at least partially upheld by the metrics, though the former ranks dead last in JAWS among enshrined shortstops, and the latter second-to-last among enshrined catchers. Killebrew punched his ticket to Cooperstown with 573 home runs (not to mention a 143 OPS+) but ranks just 15th in JAWS among the 24 enshrined non-Negro Leagues first basemen, below the standards in all three categories due to his subpar defense. Jones has stronger defensive metrics in his favor than any of that trio, and at a key position to boot, not to mention 434 homers, but the paucity of Hall of Famers in the .250s doesn’t bode well.

What’s more, though his ample power and patience boosted the impact of that low batting average, Jones hails from a high-offense era. His 111 OPS+, from a .254/.337/.486 line, is lower than 16 of the 19 enshrined center fielders, matching that of Richie Ashburn and ahead of only Max Carey (108) and Lloyd Waner (99). It’s lower than 55 of the 78 enshrined up-the-middle players (catchers, second basemen, shortstops, and center fielders). Even the 10 Gold Gloves aren’t as big a help as one would expect. While all five non-pitchers with at least 12 Gold Gloves are in (Mays, Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith, Ivan Rodriguez, and Roberto Clemente) and likewise for the five eligible 10-time winners besides Jones (Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey Jr., Al Kaline, and Mike Schmidt), the two 11-time winners (Keith Hernandez and Omar Vizquel) aren’t. The former fell off the ballot without ever reaching 11.0%; the latter, who received 52.6% of the vote in his third year of eligibility, is 19.3 points below the JAWS standard and trending downwards due to allegations of both domestic violence and sexual harassment.

As a member of the Braves’ dynasty, Jones saw plenty of postseason action. His .273/.363/.433 line with 10 homers in 279 PA is not a particularly strong showing, however, and it doesn’t help that the Braves went 2–8 in series in which he posted an OPS of .575 or above.

Jones’ Hall of Fame Monitor score of 109, which recognizes his big home run seasons and reaching the 400 plateau, his regular play at key defensive positions on playoff-bound teams, the Gold Gloves and so on, leaves him somewhere between “a good possibility” at 100 and “a virtual cinch” at 130. Among his contemporaries, players such as Jimmy Rollins (121), Magglio Ordonez (114), Nomar Garciaparra and Michael Young (both 112), Matt Holliday (111), Carlos Delgado (110), Edgar Renteria (109), and Jason Giambi (108) show that the distance between those two levels is where Hall of Fame dreams go to die.

Jones’ candidacy does have points in its favor on both sides of the ball. First, the homers: only 32 of the 52 players with at least 425 homers are enshrined, but four others were either active in 2022 or not yet eligible for election, and a fifth, Carlos Beltrán, is eligible for the first time this year. Ten others were connected to performance-enhancing drugs. None of the remaining four — Delgado, Adam Dunn, Dave Kingman, and Paul Konerko — played a key defensive position. In fact, only four up-the-middle players — Mays, Griffey, Mantle, and Beltrán — top his 434 homers, the last by exactly one. Meanwhile, Jones’ total of 235 fielding runs not only leads all center fielders but also all outfielders, 50 runs ahead of second-ranked Mays.

It’s fair to be skeptical about the precision of Baseball-Reference’s estimate for fielding value, which for Jones combines Total Zone fielding runs (1996–2002) with the more familiar Defensive Runs Saved. During the 2019 election cycle, in a roundup of various loose ends pertaining to several candidates, I published some data and parts of an email provided by Chris Dial, the inventor of RED (Runs Effectively Defended), a forerunner to other batted ball data-based metrics such as DRS and UZR. While RED is not currently published anywhere, it is included among the alphabet soup of metrics in the SABR Defensive Index, which has accounted for 25% of the Gold Gloves voting in non-pandemic seasons since 2013; in ’20, the SDI was used for the entirety of the Gold Gloves selections because the geographically limited schedule prevented voters from seeing more than a third of the league.

“By every metric available in the late 1990s — Baseball Reference Total Zone, Michael Humphries’ DRA, and RED, which is based on STATS Zone Rating batted ball data — Andruw’s defense was outstanding,” Dial wrote. In his assessment, Jones came back to the pack in the early 2000s and fell below average defensively from 2003 onward, more or less. Here’s his table comparing the various metrics:

Andruw Jones’ Defensive Metrics, 1997-2008
Season Weight Speed RED TZ DRA UZR DRS SDI
1997 170 4.8 7.8 14.2 10.1 10.2
1998 170 7.5 22.2 35.3 41.0 30.9
1999 185 5.7 14.6 35.7 58.9 32.4
2000 185 6.2 1.4 25.0 30.6 15.8
2001 210 4.8 3.3 26.6 43.7 20.7
2002 210 3.1 -1.4 19.2 33.8 15.7 14.3
2003 210 3.6 -8.5 18.6 20.7 17.3 14.0 10.7
2004 210 3.8 -3.3 17.3 16.8 24.4 8.0 11.2
2005 210 3.5 0.7 18.5 -5.9 26.2 15.9 11.3
2006 210 3.1 -7.7 18.8 1.9 12.8 12.0 6.7
2007 210 3.8 -8.6 12.0 10.1 23.2 19.0 10.6
2008 210 2.9 -1.6 -7.5 1.7 0.3 -6.0 -2.7
Total 18.9 233.7 263.4 120.0 62.9 172.1
SOURCE: Chris Dial
SDI = SABR Defensive Index (weighted average of the included metrics: RED & DRS 25%, UZR 20%, TZ & DRA 15%). Speed = Bill James Speed Score; see https://library.fangraphs.com/offense/spd/
Weights via Topps baseball cards, “which are likely conservative,” according to Dial. “Their 2009 card lists him at 240 pounds, which is closer.”

Where the weighted SDI supports Jones’ claim on 10 Gold Gloves, Dial’s RED-driven view suggests he should have won only three (1997, ’98, ’99). According to Dial, the other metrics, both before the arrival of batted ball data and after, aren’t sensitive to the way Jones’ fielding numbers are propped up by discretionary plays, routine ones where more than one player could have caught the ball. “Jones just took all the discretionary plays from the left fielder and continued to do so after he had lost his range. That’s not talent, it’s Kelly Leak,” Dial wrote, referring to the ball-hogging star of the Bad News Bears. UZR and DRS “weight plays made by percentage for a position — when Andruw takes a discretionary play, he gets too much extra credit in those systems. Everything else tells us Andruw lost a step or three. His zone ratings (percentage of balls caught), his extra weight, his speed scores, his range factors. How the other metrics miss this, I cannot say,” he added.

Dial additionally supplied data regarding the chances of the Braves’ left fielders, pointing out that it was the less adept Klesko and Chipper Jones who were playing left field during Andruw’s peak defensive years (1997–2003). It’s a compelling alternative view, but without the ability to compare Jones on that basis against his cohorts and historically, it’s tough to figure out how to weigh that information. Is Total Zone failing to correct for discretionary plays by Willie, Mickey, and the Duke as well? And likewise for DRS when it comes to Jones’ contemporaries? I don’t have that answer, but I do think it’s noteworthy that the aggregate SDI still supports some measure of Jones’ prowess.

Back to the WAR-based numbers: the strongest point in Jones’ favor is his 46.4 peak WAR, which ranks ninth at the position, 1.7 wins above the standard, 2.0 above Belrán, and second among those outside the Hall besides Mike Trout (65.1, already third all-time!). Due in part to his early retirement, Jones’ 62.7 career WAR is “only” 14th, below 10 of the 19 enshrined center fielders and 8.9 wins below the standard. His 54.6 JAWS is 3.5 points below the standard but still good for 11th all-time, behind seven enshrinees plus the first-time Beltrán (57.2) and Lofton (55.9), who went one-and-done on the 2013 ballot and was bypassed for this year’s Contemporary Baseball Era Committee ballot.

On the subject of Jones’ fade, his 58.0 WAR through his age-29 season ranks 25th among position players; his 342 homers are tied for seventh with Mel Ott and Hank Aaron, and his 1,556 hits rank 44th. Remove the Hall of Famers and those not yet eligible from the equation, and Jones’ home run total through 29 is second only to A-Rod (Bonds is 10th at 259), with his WAR ranking third:

Highest WAR Through Age-29 Season, Non-HOFers
Rk Player Through 29 30 onward Above Peak Above JAWS
1 Alex Rodriguez 80.5 37.0 Y Y
2 Barry Bonds 66.4 96.3 Y Y
3 Andruw Jones 58.0 4.7 Y N
4 Cesar Cedeno 49.2 3.6 N N
5 Sherry Magee 48.2 11.2 N N
6 Shoeless Joe Jackson 48.0 14.2 Y N
7 Vada Pinson 47.7 6.4 N N
8 Jim Fregosi 46.0 2.8 N N
9 Scott Rolen 45.9 24.2 Y Y
10 Buddy Bell 44.1 22.2 N N
11 Bobby Bonds 43.1 14.8 N N
12 Dick Allen 42.9 15.8 Y N
13 Nomar Garciaparra 41.3 3.0 N N
14 Bobby Grich 40.9 30.1 Y Y
15 Chuck Knoblauch 40.8 3.8 N N
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Does not include active players or those not yet eligible to appear on BBWAA ballot (retired 2017 or later).

That’s quite a list. Some of these players acquitted themselves reasonably well after 30; others flamed out in spectacular fashion. Jones’ drop-off — a gap of 53.3 WAR between the two segments of his career — is the steepest of the bunch. He’s still among the seven who exceed the peak standard at their positions, but not among the four who exceed the JAWS standard.

Between the ballot logjam, the sub-2,000 hit total, the apportioning of so much credit for the Braves’ dynasty via the elections of Chipper Jones and the three pitchers, and the abrupt fadeout of his career, I expected Jones to fare poorly in his 2018 ballot debut. Voters tend to undervalue defense (as was the case for one-and-done candidates Bell and Grich, not to mention Rolen and 2020 honoree Larry Walker), and beyond the numbers, both his ugly Dodgers tenure and the domestic violence allegation linger. Even overlooking the non-statistical aspects of his case, a voter might have easily concluded that he was the 11th-best candidate in a format that only allows 10 votes. With the ballot similarly packed, I left him off my virtual ballot for 2019, though I restored him in ’20 and have included him on my first two actual ballots. He’s on track to be included again.

Unlike recent center fielders such as Lofton (10th in JAWS but just 3.2% in 2013) and Edmonds (15th in JAWS, 2.5% in 2016), Jones survived past the first year on the ballot, and lately he’s been helped by the traffic thinning out. Going strictly by JAWS, without reference to any PED allegations, 10 candidates were at or above the standards at their respective positions when he debuted in 2018, and 13 had a JAWS of at least 50.0, in “close enough” territory for some votes. Those respective totals have fallen for four out of the five cycles since (last year was the exception):

Historically speaking, among post-1966 candidates no longer on the ballot, seven of them received shares within eight points of Jones’ 41.4% in their fifth year. Five have since been elected, the exceptions being Schilling and Steve Garvey, though only two — 10th-year selection Tim Raines and ninth-year selection Rich Gossage — were elected by the writers; Jim Bunning, Oliva, and Lee Smith were elected by small committees. While that may seem discouraging for Jones and his supporters, this week’s election of Fred McGriff underscores the fact that given enough time, these players generally get in, though it may take decades and require a particularly sympathetic committee to get them over the line.

Just past the halfway point of his candidacy, Jones is in better shape than that; if he still has a long way to go for election, he also has ample time to cross the 50% threshold where the likehood of election becomes a near-certainty, at least for those not connected to PEDs. Given his hardware and defensive metrics compiled while playing an up-the-middle position on a perennial playoff participant and one-time champion, he’s got a decent elevator pitch. He also has a peak score above the standard and a JAWS among the position’s top dozen. I believe he’s worthy of enshrinement, and the number of voters who are coming around to that viewpoint is on the rise.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Pepper Martin
1 year ago

The domestic battery charge is going to sink him, but I feel like there should be special demerits for the Hall of Fame cases of people who signed big contracts and then just intentionally stopped caring about being good at (or even playing) baseball. Jacoby Ellsbury was never on a Hall of Fame path, but if you just take your paychecks and don’t bother trying to earn them, it seems weird to honor you by putting you in the Hall of Fame, and that’s basically what Jones did, much like Ellsbury.

1 year ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

This, of course, is why Aaron Judge should never make the Hall of Fame. He does the best in contract years; clearly he just isn’t trying the rest of the time.

Pepper Martin
1 year ago
Reply to  JohnThacker

Showing up to the team you just signed your new big-ish contract with 25 pounds overweight and almost immediately playing yourself out of the majors is a lot different from players pushing in contract years.

1 year ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

How dare you fat shame someone. Don’t you know that people have no control over their weight?