2009 O’s Retrospective: Adam Jones

In part eleven of my almost 50 part series “Better Know An Oriole” (otherwise known as 2009 Orioles Retrospective), I take a look at center-fielder Adam Jones… THE FIGHTIN’ HACKER!

Jones came into 2009 with a lot of hype.  He had worked hard over the off-season and was supposed to be in great shape, portending a breakout season. Before the season, I projected Jones to hit .273/.325/.425 with 15 HR, a .331 wOBA, and +7.5 run defense in center-field. That would have made him a slightly above average (2.7 WAR) player, which would have been a step up from 2008′s 2.2 WAR but not quite the breakout others were expecting.

The initial results looked great, as Jones came out of the gates with a .359/.433/628 April and followed it up with a .333/.369/.590 May. Batting a still strong .303/.357/.481 at the break, Adam was named the Orioles’ lone All-Star representative and established his place amongst the top young talents in the game today.

Jones really cooled off after the All-Star break, batting .222/.290/.405 before ending his season September 2nd due to an ankle sprain. His final line was .277/.335/.457, with 19 home runs and an above average .343 wOBA.  While still not walking very much (just 7.1% of the time), he improved greatly from last year (4.6%). He also cut down on his strike-outs a little (22.6% to 19.7%), but still chased too many pitches out of the zone (36.2% last year, 35.3% this year – which was 3rd worst in the AL among qualified players, behind even Jose Lopez). Early in the season when he was having success, Jones did a better job laying off those balls and working the count. He looked to me like he had a plan up at the plate. Later he went back to hacking, sometimes taking such violent swings that I was afraid he’d hurt his back.

One issue I had with Jones last year was that it would be harder for him to put up big-time power numbers while hitting the ball on the ground a lot.  That got even more extreme this year, with a 55.4% groundball rate which placed him 4th in the AL between noted mashers Elvis Andrus and Denard Span. The spike in home runs was largely the result of 17.8% of his flyballs leaving the yard – much higher than last year’s 6.9% and higher than his career mark of 11.5%. Jones definitely has some power in his bat – some scouts did say he’d hit 30+ HR in his prime – but I think that level is a bit higher than one should expect at this point in his career.

As big of a step forward as Jones took with the bat – and despite some of the above it was certainly a step forward – he seems to have taken two back with the glove.  While in 2009 his Ultimate Zone Rating was a very good +9.9 runs, this year it was -6.6. His strong arm resulted in even more assists (9 to 4, or +7.5 runs in UZR to +3.1), but he also committed more errors (5 to 3, or -0.3 runs to +0.6) and his range was far worse (-13.8 runs to +6.3).  Obviously there are different types of errors involved with these measures, but Adam did seem to get burned fairly often early in the season with balls going over his head because of how shallow he was playing.  Maybe he lost a step due to his increased bulk from his off-season workouts as well.  In any case, I still think he’s an average to a bit above average center-fielder in general.

Combining the offense and the defense (plus his 10 for 14 on the bases), FanGraphs has Adam Jones at 1.8 Wins Above Replacement for 2009 (less than 2008′s 2.2 WAR). If you take his offense from this year and his defense from last year it would be 3.5 WAR. At just 23 years old, Jones still has a lot of room to grow – and I think we might be seeing him surpass that number a few times in the future.

Photo by Lloyd Fox.