Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Adam Jones' crazy, sort-of-good, odd year
By David Schoenfield
Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones has always been a difficult player to evaluate since his breakout season as a 23-year-old in 2009. He had a big first half that year to make his first All-Star team -- .303, 12 home runs, 47 RBIs -- and would win his first Gold Glove even though injuries limited him to just 119 games. That seemed to cement his reputation as world-class center fielder, and he won another Gold Glove last season. The defensive metrics have never loved him, however, and Defensive Runs Saved tracked him at -16 runs last season, and -14 now for his career. Orioles fans seem to have a mixed review of his defense; some love him, others mention his frequent bad routes, especially on balls over his head.
Adam Jones' lack of walks keep him from being special offensively.
At the plate, he's been a steady contributor, never hitting .300 but owning a .279 career average and good power that has increased through the years, from nine home runs his first full season, to two seasons of 19 home runs, to 25, to 32 in 2012. He doesn't strike out excessively, but he's never walked much, leading to mediocre on-base percentages. Last year's .334 OBP was the first season in his career he beat the league-average OBP (.322).
The statistical knocks against him mean his reputation probably exceeds his actual value. He's a good player, but I'm not sure he's a great player. Fans like him -- especially Orioles fans -- and he's going to start for the American League in the All-Star Game.
But Jones has taken the "don't walk" approach to a new level this year. He drew 34 walks last year, with a walk rate of 4.9 percent; he's drawn eight this year, for a walk rate of 2.2 percent. He's played every game for the Orioles, and is on pace for 15 walks; Joey Votto had 15 walks by the 11th game of the season. Jones' walk rate is the lowest among qualified regulars, with Erick Aybar and Alfonso Soriano the only others below 3 percent.
Yet, he's having a productive year at the plate. He's on pace for 29 home runs, 42 doubles, a career-best .291 average. His OPS+ is 114 and his wRC+ is 113, which ranks 71st out of 158 regulars.
Anyway, it's pretty hard to have a good season while rarely walking. Since 1950, only 17 players with at least 500 plate appearances have posted an OPS+ of 110 or higher while drawing 20 or fewer walks. Here are the eight who matched Jones' 114 mark:
Robinson Cano, 2006 Yankees: 508 PA, 18 BB, 126 OPS+ In Cano's second season, he hit .342 with 15 home runs and 41 doubles, although his walk of 3.5 percent towers over Jones' 2.2 percent.
Vic Power, 1958 A's/Indians: 620 PA, 20 BB, 124 OPS+ Power was a Gold Glove first baseman who rarely walked and rarely struck out -- he had 20 walks and just just 14 K's that year. He hit .312, fifth in the AL, added 63 extra-base hits, and ranked ninth among AL position players in WAR.
Mickey Rivers, 1976 Yankees: 612 PA, 13 BB, 123 OPS+ 1976 was a bad year for offense, and Mick the Quick hit .312 with 31 doubles, eight triples and eight home runs. Modest numbers, but he finished 10th in the AL in total bases. Throw in 43 steals in 50 attempts and solid defense in center field, and he was worth 6.3 WAR and finished third in the MVP vote. Not bad for a guy who walked 13 times.
Dave Roberts, 1973 Padres: 503 PA, 17 BB, 123 OPS+ Roberts hit .286 with 21 home runs in a tough park, but would never again bat 400 times in a season.
Mickey Rivers, 1980 Rangers: 661 PA, 20 BB, 119 OPS+ Rivers hit .333 and had 210 hits, including 32 doubles, giving him a respectable on-base percentage despite the 3 percent walk rate.
Manny Sanguillen, 1971 Pirates: 559 PA, 19 BB, 116 OPS+ Sanguillen hit .319 and had a little power. Throw in that he was an All-Star catcher for the division-winning (and World Series champion) Pirates, and he finished eighth in the MVP vote. By the way, if you're thinking, "It was easier to hit for a high average in the 1970s with a low walk rate because it was easier to not strike out because the pitching probably wasn't as good," I think you're right.
Mickey Rivers, 1977 Yankees: 594 PA, 18 BB, 115 OPS+ Hit .326 with 12 home runs and was again a pretty valuable player, worth 5.3 WAR. "It was so cold today that I saw a dog chasing a cat and the dog was walking," Mick once said. That has nothing to do with his propensity to swing at any pitch, but Rivers was known for his off-the-wall quotes.
Frank White, 1982 Royals: 554 PA, 16 BB, 114 OPS+ This was White's best year at the plate, hitting .298 with 45 doubles and 11 home runs. Known for his defense, he had just three seasons with an OPS+ higher than league average
In looking just at walk rate, since 1950 only 38 players have had a walk rate of 2.5 percent or lower (including Jones). The only eight who had a wRC+ of 100 or higher, and the only two with a better mark than Jones' 114 were Rivers in 1976 (123) and Carlos Baerga in 1994 (116), when he drew 10 walks in 469 PAs but hit .314 and slugged .525.
Anyway, it's a strange line for Jones. Any time you can be compared to Mickey Rivers you're having a unique season.