Is Adam Jones’ Hot Streak For Real?

There was hope coming into 2010 that Adam Jones would take another step forward and establish himself as a decently above average. He came out of the gate struggling mightily though, and has just recently started to pick things up. Which one is the real Adam Jones?

While it’s not exact, the easiest thing is to look at the monthly splits:

April: .223/.245/.388, 3 HR, .263 BABIP, 1.9% BB, 9.4% HR/FB

May: .279/.303/.375, 2 HR, .314 BABIP, 2.8% BB, 7.4% HR/FB

June: .320/.352/.600, 8 HR, .353 BABIP, 3.8% BB, 29.6% HR/FB

The steady progression in walk rate is nice, but it’s just going from 2 to 3 to 4 free passes, and it’s not like 3.8% is particularly good anyway. He needs to triple that for the rest of the season to finish just a little bit ahead of last year’s 6.9%. The extra walks aren’t really coming from better plate discipline either, as Jones swung at 38% of pitches outside the strike-zone in April, 41% in May, and 38% in June. He is going after strikes more – from 64% to 69% to 75% of the time – which may indicate a change in strategy. I opined previously that perhaps Jones was trying to work the count but didn’t have the skill-set to pull it off effectively. Maybe now – especially given that he’s been moved down in the line-up – he’s just going up hacking. The result is that he’s putting the bat on better pitches to hit (and his overall contact rate hasn’t changed a ton – 74%, 78%, 76%).

So that part of his game may be improving a little, but it’s still got a long way to go. The batting average has gone up due largely to the BABIP. Given that his career rate is .316, one would think that May is more indicative of his abilities in that area than June. The rest of the BA and most of the SLG is from all those extra home runs. Part of that is legitimate, as you can see from the location of the balls he’s hit (courtesy of Texas Leaguer’s Pitch FX tool):

April:

May:

June:

He’s very clearly turning on more pitches and has hit some bombs. One of his 3 April homers went over 400 feet; one of his 2 May one went that far; and 4 out of 8 in June cleared that distance. That indicates to me that some of the pop is legit, even if there’s not way almost 30% of his flyballs will continue to clear the fence.

All that means that Jones isn’t so much breaking out of his slump and setting a new level of performance as it being a situation where things couldn’t really get worse – some of it will stick but a lot of it won’t. In fact, I think his .273/.299/.450 line is pretty indicative of how well he’s hit so this year overall – which is basically his 2009 numbers minus a bunch of walks. There really is no way around it; Adam Jones will need to stop chasing so many balls or up his contact rate (ideally both) to be a quality hitter going forward.