Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Adam Jones reaching stardom

Adam Jones has always been a nice player for the Baltimore Orioles. In his first four full seasons with the Orioles, you could count on Jones batting somewhere in the upper .270s and have an OPS in the high 700s. He played solid defense that hinted that he could be better in center. He stole a few bases. He was a good solid player. He has never been a star. In his fifth season with the Orioles, he has become a star.

The progression to this point for Jones feels right. He was a former first round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners. He was a shortstop drafted right out of high school. While he hit right out of the gate in the Mariners' system, his fielding was atrocious. During one two-year stretch, he made 66 errors in 244 games. By 2006, the Mariners had converted him to a center fielder. And that season and the next, Jones made brief appearances on the Mariners' major league team and saw action in 73 combined games in those two seasons. He was just 20 and 21 years old at the time.

After the 2007 season, the Mariners traded Jones, their former first round pick, along with other minor league bodies for Erik Bedard. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that deal went in favor of the Orioles--even with Jones as simply a solid if unspectacular player. It is fairly easy to see that a couple of things kept Adam Jones in the unspectacular category. One, he played on a terrible Orioles team that was simply awful for the first four years he has played there. Secondly, his rise to the big leagues was a bit rushed and it has taken a while for him to kick it into another level. 

But what if his current performance is a bit of a fluke? After all, he's already hit eleven homers and his previous high was 25. But that previous high was last season. So the gain seems more like a natural progression than a fluke. The same goes for his batting average of .304. You would think he would sink back to his previous .280s except that his BABIP is only .298, lower than his career average making his batting average seem logical and not a small sample size anomaly. 

Adam Jones is one of those players who needs a high batting average to hold up his on-base average. One of the weaknesses of Jones' game is his lack of patience at the plate. His career walk percentage is only 4.8 percent and this year isn't much better at five percent. But he has cut down just a bit on swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. The last two seasons, he has swung at over 40 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone. This year, he sits at 38.8 percent. It's not a great number, but at least it is a small improvement. 

Jones is also playing the best center field of his career this season. Being a former shortstop, he has always had a strong arm. But playing for a team that always loses seemed to cause him to lose focus in 2010 and 2011 and his errors were high at six and five respectively. He hasn't made an error this season so far and is getting to everything out in center.

At the age of 26, Jones seems ripe for stardom. Even at his previous performance, he was a decent player, easily worth more than a certain other high school kid who was drafted first overall in that 2003 draft. Even as a solid player, Jones has a higher career OPS than that Delmon kid and much more wins above replacement. But unlike that other former shortstop in that draft, Jones seems ready to be an elite player and his early great start does not have the look or feel of a fluke.

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