Aug
31
2020

Send Andruw Jones To Cooperstown

Andruw Jones belongs to an exclusive club of eight: a leader in defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR) at a primary position. Among the retired leaders, six of the eight are in the Hall of Fame (Ivan Rodriguez, Roger Connor, Bill Mazeroski, Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith, and Roberto Clemente). The exceptions are Barry Bonds and Jones. If not for a connection to steroids, Bonds would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. Bonds received 60.7 percent of the vote in 2020, and he has two years left on the ballot.

Jones has spent three years on the ballot, garnering 7.3, 7.5, and 19.4 percent of the votes in 2018, 2019, and 2020 respectively. In contrast, four of his six contemporaries were elected in their first eligible slot. Clemente was inducted in a special election following his death, and Rodriguez, Robinson, and Smith cleared the 75 percent threshold. Connor retired long before the creation of the Hall of Fame, and he was later inducted by the Veterans’ Committee. Mazeroski failed to secure even 50 percent of the votes in his 15 years on the ballot, but he was another Veterans’ Committee selection.

Why is Jones not on pace to be inducted into the Hall of Fame?

It should be said that pacing does not exist for the Hall of Fame. There are ebbs and flows in voting each year based on new players becoming eligible and players falling off the ballot. Larry Walker is the poster child of pace not mattering as his 10-year Hall of Fame ballot odyssey had a strange beginning in which he lost 10 percent of votes from Year 1 to Year 4. Hall of Fame pace is a story for another time, but Jones will need plenty of help to get into the Hall of Fame.

Factors Working Against Jones:

Quality of the Atlanta Braves:

The 1991-2005 Braves have sent four players and one manager to the Hall of Fame. One could argue that five total inductees from a team that won one World Series are satisfactory. Jones will not have the benefit of being a member of the 1995 World Series team, but he will still contend with potential voter fatigue for five primary Braves being inducted in a short period.

Sudden Decline:

After 12 seasons in Atlanta, Jones went to Los Angeles to join the Dodgers. He was abysmal. His OPS+ of 35 in 2008 was 45 points lower than any other season of his career, 76 points lower than his career OPS+, and 79 points lower than his OPS+ in his time with the Braves. Jones had a bWAR of -1.6 including his first negative oWAR of his career and first negative dWAR since his rookie season. Jones fares slightly better with fWAR as he had positive fielding runs above average and a -1.1 WAR. It is a blemish on his resume, but critics overlook the final few seasons of Jones’s career.

Post-2008:

Jones was not as good as he was in Atlanta, but he did rebound to post four consecutive positive bWAR and fWAR seasons. dWAR does not look favorably upon these seasons, but Jones only played 17 games in centerfield, the most valuable of the outfield positions for the calculations of dWAR. With 100 games at left field, right field, and designated hitter in his final four seasons, Jones gets pegged with -19 runs from his position as opposed to the +35 he had from 1996-2008. At the worst, Jones was an average fielder at a less important position while posting an OPS+ of 108. According to wRC+, Jones had two of his best seasons from the plate with a wRC+ of 121 in 2010 and 132 in 2011.

The 2,000 Hit Rule:

No player that has played since 1960 has been inducted into the Hall of Fame without clearing 2,000 hits (pitchers excluded). Among those without 2,000 hits since 1960, Jones ranks second in bWAR to Bobby Grich (a second baseman). If a player were to break the glass ceiling and make it to the Hall of Fame without 2,000 hits, it would be Jones.

Perhaps the simplest case for Jones to be included in the Hall of Fame is mixing his offense and defense. Compared to the Hall of Famers with the same number of plate appearances, Jones would rank tied for 83rd among 97 players. That seems discouraging, but three of the players that rank lower than Jones were mentioned as the players with the highest dWAR at their respective positions: Ivan Rodriguez, Brooks Robinson, and Ozzie Smith. Out of the same group of Hall of Famers, Jones would rank 10th in dWAR.

Jones’s Hall of Fame candidacy is far from traditional. While most players get in based on their bat, Jones needs his glove to do the heavy lifting. He is not in an offensive hole like Ozzie Smith (career 87 OPS+), but he was merely an above-average hitter. Jones has a set of defensive accolades that can be compared to any in baseball history; he owns 10 Gold Gloves, he finished at the top of the NL in dWAR four times, and he has the second-most total zone runs in baseball history, the most by any centerfielder or outfielder in general. Only three players have a higher dWAR and OPS+ than Jones: Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Gary Carter, and future inductee Adrian Beltre.

Offensively, Jones is not a slouch. His 434 home runs had only been surpassed by 39 players when Jones retired in 2012. He led the NL in home runs and RBI in 2005, finishing second to Albert Pujols in MVP voting. Jones would likely be closer to a Hall of Fame selection if he had won the MVP.

Regardless, it is a travesty that Jones does not have more support for the Hall of Fame. His time may come, but it seems to be bleak.