Braves fans seem to love or hate Andruw Jones. I’ve always liked Andruw, but I love him mainly to spite the fans that don’t like him. He’s a good player who is fun to watch. Because of his early success fans expected him to be the next Willie Mays. He still has an opportunity to be truly great, but I’ll settle for very good.
But, I want to discuss this myth that is running in Braves circles these days, thanks to some crappy work by the TBS/Turner South announcing crew (whom I normally like quite a bit). In the midst of a slump in May and June, Bobby Cox and hitting coach Terry Pendleton began telling Andruw to “go the other way” more often. A few weeks ago the TV crew started their broadcast with AJ taking BP hitting the ball the other way. Since that time, two things have happened: Jones is playing a lot better and the announcers attribute all of his success to going the other way.
I think this is a bunch of bullshit. I watch every Braves game, and I have not noticed any change in Andruw’s hitting to the off-field. This new impression is fostered by the selective commenting by the Braves announcers. Andruw hits a roller to short yields “oh, he’s not listening to the coaches today.” Andruw his a home run to the CF/RF power alley (which is not really an opposite field HR)results in “see what happens when you go the other way.” But when AJ smokes a ball to the left side or hits a slow roller or pop-up to the right the Don/Pete/Skip/Joe monster remains silent. Yes, Andruw may have poked one or two balls the other way, and maybe he did so because TP told him, but I think it is very wrong to attribute any of Jones’s recent success to this “other way” philosophy. Why do I think this?
First, let’s go to the source. In today’s AJC Andruw says he’s doing what TP wants in batting practice but ultimately ignores his hitting coach during the game.
“But it’s totally different when the game starts,” Jones said. “I grew up pulling the ball. I made it to the major leagues pulling the ball.”
This is a little nicer version of what he told the Augusta Chronicle a few weeks ago.
“I’ve got 250 home runs like this,” he said. “What’s wrong with that? I’ve been successful like this.”
“You’ve got to do what’s comfortable for you,” Jones said. “You can’t take that stuff to the game because it’s not going to work. I don’t agree with all the stuff being told to me, but I’ve got to listen because they’re older. When the game starts, you do what you want to do.”
And Cox seems to back up Jones’s claim that he’s ignoring the advice of his hitting coach.
“It’s hard to change, hard to take stuff to the game right away,” Cox said. “It’s like taking a pitcher and giving him a new pitch and telling him, ‘You’re going to take it into a playoff game tonight.’ He ain’t gonna throw it.”
To this I say, “good for you Andruw!” Hitting to the opposite field may work for 50 year-old first basemen who want to play until they drop (I still love you Julio!), but it’s not what a 27 year-old with tons of power needs to be doing. Are you going to ask Jim Thome or Barry Bonds to go the other way? No. Certainly, Andruw is not in their category as a hitter yet, but clearly slapping the ball to the off-field is not the key Andruw needs to becoming a 40+ HR power-hitter.
But then there’s the Andruw’s resurgence since that famous footage of Andruw tapping balls to right like he’s Ichiro. I swear I could see him rolling his eyes with each swing. If he’d been wearing a pink tu-tu in that shot he wouldn’t look any less comfortable. But anyway, let’s look at his numbers by month.
April .291/.394/.532 ==> .925
May .229/.311/ .532 ==> .844
June .239/ .320/ .359 ==> .679
July .292/ .411/ .539 ==> .951
His mediocre May and terrible June are pretty typical Andruw slumps. Whether this is real or a statistical anomaly I don’t know, but let’s assume it’s real so we can have some fun. The Turner wisdom is that the July upswing is the result of Terry Pendleton’s great work. Well, I wish I could get data on where Andruw was hitting the ball, but I can’t. TBS could do this, but I think there is a reason they are not. His success has nothing to do with going the other way. It has to do with a better plate discipline, something all good power-hitters have. Let’s look at his walks and strikeouts by month.
In his weak months he strikes out about 2.5 times more frequently than he walks. In his good months his Ks and BBs are equal. This looks to me like better plate discipline. In fact this year he has already walked more than he did all of last year. It’s not that the balls he’s putting into play in better spots are leading to a higher average. It’s the balls he doesn’t put into play that are less likely to be outs. Could this have something to do with going the other way? I mean, maybe he’s striking out less because he’s hitting those outside pitches the other way. I doubt it. The truth is Andruw is hitting right at his career averages this year. His HRs are down a bit, but is SLG is .500. This is perfectly consistent with the way Andruw has always hit the ball.
Also, if he were doing what TP was telling him, wouldn’t his numbers look a little more like TP’s? That is, he’d have an OBP that is barely higher than his batting average. TP was a hacker, a good hacker, who never really liked to walk. TP had to hit to all fields because if he didn’t he wasn’t going to get on base swinging at every pitch. Jones has the makings of a patient power-hitter, and needs to be trained as such. Yes, he shouldn’t try to pull outside sliders. But, don’t give in and slap it to right. Foul it off and wait for your pitch. If it stays over the plate crush it to left, right, or center…I don’t care. Risk taking a strike if you have less than two strikes.
In closing, I’d just like to say how happy I am that Andruw Jones is a Brave. Is he overpaid? Yes, like many baseball players his salary not commensurate with what the market would pay for his skills if he became a free agent tomorrow. But, as I pointed out here, that’s just tough for the Braves. His salary is sunk, and cannot be dumped for free. I really hope John Schuerholz doesn’t try to move Jones. I’m not sure he’ll bust out, but he might. And even if he doesn’t an .850 OPS Center Fielder with fantastic range and a gun for an arm is always nice.