July 28, 2015

Andruw Jones Deserves Enshrinement in the Hall of Fame

The Big Three of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz are now in the Hall of Fame and Chipper Jones is headed for induction in 2018.  One more player from the Braves’ dynasty who deserves enshrinement with Chipper Jones (assuming you don’t buy into the ridiculous distinction between first-ballot and all other Hall of Famers) is Andruw Jones.

Of course Andruw is not likely to make it for a while, if ever, and certainly not on the first ballot.  His career batting average is .254.  He didn’t reach 2,000 hits, much less 3,000.  He only hit 434 homeruns in the Steroid Era.  He was fast early in his career but stole only 152 bases and his .337 on-base percentage isn’t impressive for the high-offensive era in which he played.  He also had a relatively short career, compared to many Hall of Fame candidates who don’t have the stats that impress voters.  He played 17 seasons, wasn’t very good after age 29, and his age 35 season was his last.

But Andruw Jones deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because of his defense.  Bobby Cox thought he and Willie Mays were the best centerfielders he’d ever seen.  Smoltz praised Andruw in his Hall of Fame induction speech, calling him “the greatest centerfielder I’ve ever seen.”  You can find plenty of similar quotes from those who played with him or saw him play.

There’s also the defensive metrics.  Andruw is the all-time leader among outfielders in Total Zone Runs (defined by Baseball-Reference as “The number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made.”).  He’s 20th all-time in Baseball-Reference’s Defensive Wins Above Replacement and 8th all-time in Fangraphs’ Defensive Wins Above Replacement.  The metrics only confirm what managers, players, coaches, and those who saw him play have said about him.

The only question is did he provide enough offense to push him into Hall of Fame territory.  But in spite of a low batting average and a lack of milestone stats the voters like, Andruw was no slouch with the bat.  Andruw posted a career OPS+ of 111.  He has six seasons in which he posted an OPS+ of at least 120.  In 11 seasons, he posted an OPS+ of 100 or better.  This should be enough to get one of the greatest defensive players enshrined in Cooperstown.  Ozzie Smith posted a career OPS+ of 87.  I realize shortstop is not centerfield but both are key defensive positions and Andruw was much better than The Wizard on offense.

The most comparable player to Andruw, in terms of a player known for his defense but also hit well enough to be inducted, is probably Brooks Robinson.  Robinson lasted longer, playing parts of 23 seasons to Andruw’s 17.  But Robinson’s career OPS+ was 104 compared to Andruw’s 111.  Robinson had one monster offensive season that earned him an MVP, in 1964, when he posted a 145 OPS+.  Andruw’s best OPS+ in a season was 136, in 2005, when he finished second in MVP voting, so not all that far off from Robinson’s best season.  Andruw had six seasons in which his OPS+ was 120 or better.  Robinson had five such seasons.  Andruw had 11 seasons in which his OPS+ was 100 or better.  Robinson had 10 such seasons (though he had a 98 OPS+ season and another 97 OPS+ season).

So besides longevity, there isn’t much of a difference between Andruw Jones and Brooks Robinson offensively.  And both are considered among the best defensive players of all-time; the metrics back up that view.  Robinson is first all-time in Total Zone Runs (per Baseball-Reference) and Jones is second.  But Jones played centerfield, a more demanding position, while Robinson played thirdbase.

Another issue that the voters might hold against Andruw Jones is an assumption of PED use.  We’ve seen it with Mike Piazza.  We’ve seen it with Jeff Bagwell.  The writers won’t give the benefit of the doubt to players who hit for power and looked like they juiced.  Frank Thomas was given the benefit of the doubt because he was vocal about being anti-PED.  Chipper Jones is somewhat vocal about being anti-PED, so he’ll get in.  Andruw went from 41 homeruns in 2006 to 26 homeruns in 2007 to 3 in 2008.  His overall offensive production declined steeply in 2007, his age 30 season, but he bounced back and was quite good in 2009-2011, albeit in limited playing time.  Because he declined so steeply at such a young age, writers might suspect something, regardless of whether he bounced back, somewhat, a couple of years later.

Andruw Jones was also arrested on domestic violence charges in December of 2012.  Unfortunately, the Hall of Fame voters have historically ignored such off-field issues in certain instances, even recently.  But these charges certainly won’t help Jones’ case, since he is viewed as a borderline candidate and doesn’t seem to have the reputation among his peers as overly likable, a great leader, or anything of the sort.

Regarding both PED use and off-field issues, the Hall of Fame voters have inconsistently applied the character clause, for better or worse.  There are racists, recreational drug users, guys who’ve assaulted people, and womanizers in the Hall of Fame.  There are PED users in the Hall of Fame but, as far as we know, they are amphetamine users.  Steroid users are held to a different standard.  So, fair or not, PED suspicion might come into play with Andruw Jones, even if the domestic violence issue doesn’t.

Probably the best objective measure of Hall of Fame worthiness is Jay Jaffe’s JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score System).  It takes a player’s career WAR averaged with the player’s 7-year peak WAR.  Here is where Andruw Jones stands among the top 15 centerfielders in JAWS (* denotes Hall of Famer):

1. Willie Mays (115)*
2. Ty Cobb (110)*
3. Tris Speaker (97.9)*
4. Mickey Mantle (87.2)*
5. Ken Griffey Jr. (68.8)
6. Joe DiMaggio (64.5)*
7. Duke Snider (58.2)*
AVG HOF CF (57.2)
8. Kenny Lofton (55.7)
9. Carlos Beltran (55.6)
10. Andruw Jones (54.6)
11. Richie Ashburn (53.9)*
12. Andre Dawson (53.5)*
13. Billy Hamilton (53)*
14. Jim Edmonds (51.4)
15. Willie Davis (49.6)

Andruw comes in just under the average score for a Hall of Fame centerfielder.  The top seven are either already in or will be soon (Griffey Jr.).  It’s interesting that two contemporary centerfielders, Lofton and Beltran, come in just behind the average score and just ahead of Andruw, then there are three Hall of Famers behind Andruw.  JAWS doesn’t rate Andruw all that highly but, as you can tell by these rankings, his score (along with Lofton and Beltran’s) is right in the thick of Hall of Fame worthiness.  He’s not a no-doubter, in the elite class of centerfielders but he’s better than a a few centerfielders already in.  Kirby Puckett is further down the list because his career was cut short.  But Andruw’s 7-year peak WAR (46.4) is much better than Puckett’s (37.5).

I do think Andruw Jones gets in at some point.  The things going against him (not being a no-doubter, not having a high batting average, declining after age 29, off-field issues) will be forgotten or will become lesser issues as more and more voters who are aware of non-traditional metrics enter the process.  If he has to wait for the veterans committee vote, assuming other players have a say, you have to think being the best centerfielder they’ve seen will count for something.




5 Responses to “Andruw Jones Deserves Enshrinement in the Hall of Fame”

  1. 1
    Tyler Says:

    His sharp, sudden decline will be damning I’m afraid.

  2. 2
    Shaun Says:

    I agree, Tyler. Enough voters will hold it against him that he declined at age 30, and will ignore the number of good seasons he had (and total career value).

  3. 3
    Walker Says:

    Andruw Jones is the greatest defensive outfielder of all time and was an above average offensive player. Whether he declined early or not,he’s is in the top 1% of MLB players all time. That’s a HOFmer. Maybe he declined early because he started so young. Age 19 in the big leagues. If only he worked harder on his conditioning and he would have reached 500 HR. Ufortunately the voters (intelligent grown men and women otherwise) need big shiny round offensive numbers to put people in the HOF.

  4. 4
    Matt B Says:

    He has a couple of things going against him.

    1. He played in the steroids era. Hitters that don’t hit for good average and have a high strikeout rate aren’t going to be saved by a higher hr total. Even if he never touched the stuff the era taints his numbers.

    2. As mentioned by Tyler: His sharp sudden decline sours his legacy. After his peak year of 29 he puffed up and put up sub par numbers . Had he been in Julio Franco conditioning he might be a hof, but that’s not what happened.

    3. He was one of the best defensive center fielders I have seen personally, but defense only takes you so far. The shortened 10 year eligibility window only works against him.

  5. 5
    Eric F. Says:

    What is Andrew’s status right now. Is he still actively playing or is he retired? Is he going to try to play in the majors in 2016 and do you think he’ll ever make it back ?

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