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Andruw Jones was once the best ever

2/3/2015

So Andruw Jones is looking for a job in the majors after playing the past two years in Japan.

1. The 10 best center fielders I've seen, off the top of my head:

1. Andruw Jones

2. Mike Cameron

3. Devon White

4. Franklin Gutierrez, that one year.

5. Juan Lagares. Mostly via highlights because I can't admit to watching a lot of Mets games the past two seasons.

6. Kenny Lofton

7. Gary Pettis

8. Jim Edmonds

9. Ken Griffey Jr. A little overrated.

10. Andy Van Slyke

Three Mariners and three Angels. AL West bias.

2. John Smoltz once told me that having Jones behind him helped him relax as a pitcher -- knowing he could make a mistake and Jones could still run it down, or that he could throw a 2-0 pitch down the middle knowing he had good defense behind him.

3. Who can forget those two home runs -- as a 19-year-old -- in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series?

4. OK, from Baseball-Reference, most runs saved on defense for center fielders since 1954:

1. Andruw Jones, 224

2. Willie Mays, 175

3. Paul Blair, 171

4. Jim Piersall, 128

5. Kenny Lofton, 115

6. Devon White, 112

7. Willie Davis, 103

8. Curt Flood, 99

9. Garry Maddox, 98

10. Chet Lemon, 96

Cameron, Edmonds and Pettis are all in the top 15.

5. Jones was known for taking a play off every now and then -- Bobby Cox once removed him in the middle of an inning -- but he rarely took a game off. From 1997 to 2007 he averaged 157 games per season.

6. He wasn't a one-dimensional player. He's hit 434 home runs and topped 30 seven times. Only five center fielders have had at least seven 30-homer seasons: Mays (11), Mickey Mantle (9), Ken Griffey Jr. (8), Joe DiMaggio (7) and Jones. Only three others have even had five -- Duke Snider, Edmonds and Dale Murphy.

7. Again via Baseball-Reference, top 10 seasons in Fielding Runs for center fielders:

1. Darin Erstad, 2002: 38.7

2. Carlos Gomez, 2013: 38.0

3. Andruw Jones, 1999: 35.7

4. Andruw Jones, 1998: 35.3

5. Devon White, 1992: 32.5

6. Ken Griffey Jr., 1996: 32.2

7. Franklin Gutierrez, 2009: 32.0

8. Jim Piersall, 1956: 31.1

9. Juan Lagares, 2013: 30.0

10. Michael Bourn, 2010: 30.0

Erstad did win a Gold Glove that year -- the year the Angels won the World Series. He made 3.39 plays per nine innings that year compared to a league average of 2.77. Pretty impressive. On the surface, it does appear to be a historic defensive season, although I don't think many remember him as well as some others.

8. From 1998 to 2006, Jones averaged 6.1 WAR per season. Which is good.

9. Unfortunately, he then got fat and his last good season came at age 29.

10. He probably has no chance at the Hall of Fame, despite his obvious defensive reputation and 400-plus home runs. Some of the negatives will weigh on voters as well his lack of production after turning 30; in other words, they'll remember the fat Andruw that wasn't good as much as the lithe, young defensive demon. His career WAR of 62.8 makes him a borderline Hall of Famer and a better candidate than Omar Vizquel, another defense-first player who I would say has a better chance of getting in simply because he had a different aging pattern than Jones, if not as valuable.

Anyway, Jones turns 38 in April, so while a comeback would appear slim -- he hit .232 with 50 home runs his two years in Japan after hitting .197 with the Yankees in 2012 -- I suppose he could get a spring training invite. But there's not much need these days for slow, right-handed ... and this is sad to report ... designated hitters.