Once again, Andruw Jones has gotten off to a slow start (.241/.379/.457) by his standards. Now, I don’t think it’s necessarily a pattern that means something. If fact, his career March/April line (.266/.356/.501) is nearly identical to his overall line (.266/.345/.504) (B-R PI splits). His batting average and power are down a bit, but it’s down league-wide. His OPS+ 126, which isn’t much off what he’s done during the past two seasons: 133 (2005) and 129 (2006).
“I’m not a right-field-ball hitter,” Jones said. “I’m a pull hitter. That’s the way it is.”
The Braves haven’t hit a home run in six games, but Jones said he wasn’t worried about that or his own sluggish start.
“This road trip coming up, we might hit 50 homers,” he said. Of his skid, he said, “A slump’s a slump. It’s a long season. I think I had an 0-for-40 once. I’m not worried. At the end of the year, I’m going be where I want to be.”
As I’ve shown before, Andruw succeeds when pulls the ball (also see here), and his slumps are the product of poor plate discipline. Of course, last night and the night before Andruw had hits to “right” field—meaning to the right of second base, but they were more towards center—and Simpson attributed these hits to his working with Terry Pendleton and his “go the other way” approach. Well, one thing we know is that Andruw ignores Terry Pendleton’s advice on this. He said as much in the quote referenced above, and he’s said so before. He hasn’t changed his approach in terms of where he hits the ball, and after examining those recent hits on the Tivo I believe he was trying to pull the ball but was just late in both cases. But, that’s not important.
The reason Andruw Jones is struggling has nothing to do with him turning outside pitches into weak grounders to the left side. Andruw is striking out more: 23% this year versus 19% last year. Might he be striking out because he’s trying to pull pitches and ends up missing and getting in bad counts? That is possible, but Andruw seems to have improved his plate discipline. He’s walking more—16.55% in 2007 versus 12.25% in 2006—and he’s seeing more pitches–4.1 compared to 3.9. In fact, while Andruw is about 25 points below his career batting average his on-base percentage is about 35 points above his career mean. His isolated power is down, but there is more to the story here. First, his iso-power of .216 isn’t bad—he’s third on the team behind Chipper Jones (.341, wow!) and Kelly Johnson (.222). Second, he’s on a pace to hit nearly 50 doubles, well over his career best of 36 (2000). I expect some of those doubles will turn into home runs will turn into home runs, especially as summer temperatures arrive.
When I look at the big picture, I am optimistic about Jones. He started the year with the plan, telling the AJC that he intended to up his walk total quite a bit this year. So far, he’s on a pace to walk 117 times—well above his career hight of 83 (2002). I give him a lot of credit for staying the course and not paying attention something that is probably the result of a random run in the data. His plate discipline will pay off, and I expect that Andruw will finish the season with an OPS over .900.