Adam Jones has been a budding superstar since he came into the league in 2006 as a 20 year old CF in Seattle. Since then, he has solidified himself as a solid young CF in Baltimore, with the promise of superstardom that, according to many observers, finally began to reveal itself in 2012. Last year, Jones played in all 162 games for the resurgent Orioles, and slugged 32 HRs, swiped 16 bases and led the O’s to the playoffs for the first time since 1997. Unfortunately, I seem to person around who thinks Jones is a solid starter and not the young all-star on the verge of superstardom.
Let’s start by looking at some of Jones’ basic production over the past few seasons:
G PA HR BB SO AVG 2008 132 514 9 23 108 0.270 2009 119 519 19 36 93 0.277 2010 149 621 19 23 119 0.284 2011 151 618 25 29 113 0.280 2012 162 697 32 34 126 0.287
Durability is not a quality to be undervalued, and to Jones’ credit he followed in Cal Ripken’s footsteps in Baltimore and played every game last year. He did increase his long ball production over the 5 seasons (to some degree expected as a prospect matures from breaking in at 22 through his age 26 season (2012). Outside the power increase, the numbers look almost very similar across the board. Interestingly, he hit 50% more doubles (39 against 26 in 2011), which is almost more impressive than the increase in HRs.
The power increase shows up with a bit more clarity as we look at some more advance stats for Jones:
BB% K% OBP SLG BABIP wRC+ 4.50% 21.00% 0.311 0.400 0.329 85 6.90% 17.90% 0.335 0.457 0.308 104 3.70% 19.20% 0.325 0.442 0.328 105 4.70% 18.30% 0.319 0.466 0.304 109 4.90% 18.10% 0.334 0.505 0.313 126
Walk and K rates entirely consistent with the rest of his career numbers, but the doubles and HRs moved him from a slightly above average run creator to a good one – on the 2012 AL leaderboard, his wRC+ of 126 placed him immediately behind Nick Swisher and David Murphy.
So what did Adam Jones do that resulted in his increased power (both in the park and beyond the fences)? In 2012 his HRs were averaging a neat 400 feet, up 2 feet from 2011 and 3 feet from 2010 – better, but by no means overwhelming evidence. Like many other good hitters, Jones traded some fly balls and grounders for line drives, upping his line drive rate from a career 18.6% to a career high 21.5%. Though his swing rates were consistent with previous numbers, he did makes slightly less contact with balls outside the strike zone (perhaps helping explain his more solid contact and ISO numbers).
What does stand out, as we finally drill deep enough into the numbers, is one stat that unlike almost every other one we’ve discussed, stands out like a sore thumb:
Season wFB wSL wCT wCB wCH 2008 -7.9 3.1 0.7 -1.3 -1.5 2009 -1.1 -0.8 3.7 1.3 0.9 2010 7.4 -1.8 -2.3 4.7 -2.2 2011 7.4 -0.5 -0.9 1.3 3.4 2012 24.4 2 -2 3.4 -0.5
Last year, Adam Jones absolutely destroyed fastballs. Standardized by pitch, only four hitters in baseball were better against the fastball than Jones, each of whom would have made the short list of the best hitters in the AL. If I can see the change, I have to assume most pitchers in the AL see it too.
What then to make of Jones? He broke into the AL as a 22 year old in Seattle, which portends greatness. He posted career highs as a hitter in his age 26 season, traditionally the beginning of a player’s peak years. But unlike many other good hitters, his improvements are not the result of increases in plate discipline, significant power jumps, or turning balls in the gaps into balls over the fence. What Jones did do was punish fastballs like never before – which would lead me to expect that in 2013, he will see significantly fewer of them. While many are buying 2013 Adam Jones hopeful of riding along with an elite player entering his prime, I’m selling – Adam Jones is a good player playing in a hitters park, but he is far from elite and the numbers to me scream disappointment for his owners.