2004 BA/ OBP / SLG: .261 /.345 /.488
Once again, Braves fans expressed their disappointment with Andruw Jones this year. The Braves nation has been waiting for the break-out year from the kid who made a splash in the 1996 World Series as a 19 year-old. It’s not that Andruw is a bad player – putting up six .800 OPS seasons by the age of 27 to go along with solid defense in CF – but that the fans expect more. I think these expectations are a bit unfair. I, too, thought Andruw would have been putting up some better numbers by now. But this doesn’t mean he is not a good player with a decent opportunity to blossom into a Hall of Fame player. According to his similarity scores through age 27, the players most similar to AJ include Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds. Oh yeah…but Rubin Sierra tops the list. This is why Jones is such an enigma. He seems so talented, which has us expecting more than the next Sierra. Could he be the next Sammy Sosa (late bloomer)? Absolutely. I think that at his worse AJ will put up at least one +1.000 OPS season in his career. At his best he’ll put up five of them and hit a few 40 HR seasons, because he is young enough and capable enough to do so.
But putting all of this speculation aside – after all I don’t see anything is his numbers that signals improvement or regression – Andruw is a damn good ballplayer. It’s time to quit complaining about him. On defense he covers a lot of ground in the outfield, and he carries one of the best guns around. The Jones to Furcal relay to home is deadly. He’s not as flamboyant as he once was, but he’s no slouch. Plus, he puts in over 150 games a year, for almost every inning. And he’d play every inning of every game if Bobby would let him. And then when you get to his hitting, he was third in OPS among NL center fielders behind Edmunds and Jer-o-my,-how-I-love-playing-at-Coors-Field Burnitz. Andruw-haters, you are going to have to live with the fact that the object of your disaffection is doing his job quite well.
But wait, what about that huge salary? Couldn’t we get more for less? Yes, but you’d have to invent a time machine first for that to be relevant. Jones is already under contract, and there’s nothing Schuerholz can do about that. Trading Jones would gain nothing since the Braves would have to take on someone else’s undesirable contract. The Braves have him, so you might as well enjoy him for the good ballplayer that he is.
But now back to the real question: can Andruw get better? I think so. One thing I liked from Andruw this year had nothing to do with his stats. In May and June he was slumping. And Cox and Pendleton were trying to get Andruw to “go the other way” to stop the problem. Andruw basically came out and said he’d do everything the coaches wanted in batting practice, but when it came to game-time he was going to do what he always did, pull the ball. And sure enough, he did and he broke out of it. To me, AJ is the opposite of a head case. He understands that sometimes when you don’t hit the ball well, there’s not much you can do to correct it. In fact, you’re just as likely to worsen the problem. Take each at-bat one at a time, and in the end your stats will be fine. He was the only one who wasn’t panicking about his slow start. In this sense, I think Jones has a huge advantage over most 28 year-olds. He’ll be in his 10th year, he knows not to panic. He’s heard all of the advice, and knows what to take and what to ignore. He still has some things to learn, and I think he will learn.