16 January, 2009

Overweight and Out of Work

Andruw Jones has been much maligned over the past year. His play last season for the Dodgers was putrid and his weight has been the target of constant attacks. Once hailed as a young superstar, possibly the best defensive outfielder in the game; Jones has now become the butt of jokes.

Were the early expectation of Jones too great? Was he overrated from the start? Does he deserve recognition as a baseball elite? Recently, Buster Olney wrote a somewhat controversial piece stating that Andruw Jones was a borderline Hall of Famer. The topic alone generated an appalling gasp from half of baseball fandom.
Buster uses an interesting argument to put together a case for Jones as a borderline candidate. His case is simply this: who are his closest comparables and are they at least borderline Hall candidates?
Let's take a look a Baseball Reference's comparables. Through age 31 the most comparable player to Jones is Sammy Sosa. Sosa is at the very least a borderline Hall of Famer. But how much did Sosa accomplish toward that standing after age 31? Sosa hit 223 of his 609 home runs after his age 31 season and 588 of his 1,667 RBI. These are essentially the only stats that really make Sosa's case for the Hall, so let's stop there. If Sosa had ended his career with 386 home runs and 1,079 RBI would he still be considered a borderline Hall of Famer? The answer to that is barely, despite seasons of 66 and 63 home runs. Sosa is viewed by many as a one trick pony. But nevertheless Sosa's numbers through age 31 would compare favorably to those of Roger Maris, an individual judged by many to be a borderline candidate.
Jones' second most comparable through age 31 is Johnny Bench. Jones may have played a very demanding defensive position brilliantly for several seasons, but Bench played the most demanding defensive position better than any player to ever play the game. This makes the comparison almost not worth looking at. Would Bench have gotten into the Hall without the seasons he played after age 31? Most certainly; but even as great as Jones' defense was, no one would make a case that he was anywhere near as valuable as Bench defensively.
His next most comparable player is Ron Santo, the epitome of borderline. Would Santo have been considered borderline if he had not played after age 31? Maybe, but he would certainly have a weaker case than he does now.
There are a few other points that really work against Andruw Jones. His defense slipped over the last two seasons; his calling card could not stay in place while other aspects of his game diminished. He struck out at an enormous rate, and he was never consistent at reaching base. He played in an era where home run totals are cartoonish. And finally his season with the Dodgers was not only bad, it was historically so. He almost single-handedly cost the Dodgers a playoff berth.
Jones will face an uphill battle attempting to return to the game. He will almost certainly be forced into taking a minor league contract and there are few signs that he will ever return to a significant role with a major league club. Some comparisons seem to suggest that Buster is correct in supposing that Jones will get enough ballot support to be considered borderline, but ultimately Andruw will be remembered more for what he allowed to happen to his body. He will be seen as the player who could've lived up to so many Atlanta-TBS comparisons to the great Hank Aaron, but failed to find the desire to do so.

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