Examining Andruw Jones' HOF Case

The other day, I was talking to a scout about a few random baseball topics when he sprung a surprising question on me: Is Andruw Jones a Hall of Fame player? My immediate response was no, recalling how Jones’ elite talent had seemingly performed a vanishing act at the age of 31. The scout told me to look at his Fangraphs page and get back to him with my response. It’s an intriguing case, one that I have since spent good time pondering.

However, before I look into Jones’ case, it’s an appropriate time for a quick aside. I enter this discussion with the drawback that I have completely soured on the Hall of Fame. The HOF has become the subject of malicious cyber-bullying between grown up men who all think their analysis is far superior to their peers. Between that and the fact that we have writers completely abusing their powers by extraditing ballots and submitting ballots with only Jack Morris on them, I have given up on the Hall of Fame voting as a competent process of identifying elite players for the time being. I retain some hope of the HOF returning to being grounds for level-headed analysis of generational talent-level players.

Moving on from my digression, the most stimulating Hall debate in my mind is that of peak vs. longevity. If Clayton Kershaw is an elite pitcher for four more years then his left shoulder falls off at the age of 30, is he still a Hall of Fame pitcher because of those spectacular peak years? Or is Omar Vizquel, a generational defender who got 300+ at-bats in parts of four decades, while only putting up one six-win season (1999) a Hall of Famer? It’s the debate that will dictate whether or not Andruw Jones reaches the Hall.

Jones busted onto the scene as a 19-year old in 1996, becoming a regular in Atlanta’s line-up in 1997. Despite a thick body, he had both range and instincts, making him incredibly fun to watch in the field. He was a defensive phenomenon in center field, with scouts and metrics agreeing that Jones was elite. He won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves in center from 1998-2007, consistently saving 8-20 runs per season with his glove.

While his glove was the most valuable of his tools, his offensive profile played at an above-average level as well. He averaged 34.5 homers per season from 1998-2007, posting a wOBA consistently well-above average. His best offensive season came in 2005, when he hit 51 homeruns, had a .383 wOBA, and a 134 wRC+ despite posting a .240 BABIP. He did all of this while striking out at a career 20.2% and being handicapped by a career .273 BABIP. Playing a premium position at an elite level, his offensive prowess was simply a bonus.

Jones’ peak lasted from 1998-2006, with a few above average years such as 2001 and 2003, mixed in with elite years such as 1998, 2000 and 2005 as we see in the chart below. The interesting thing about Jones is that he began to show signs of fading into simply an above average player in 2007. Despite the down year, the Dodgers gave him a two-year deal worth $36.2 million dollar deal. He lasted only one year into the contract, getting released after the 2008 season in which he posted a -1.2 fWAR. He would never be the same after his deal with the Dodgers, leaving us with the following years as Jones’ relative peak, with 1997 and 2007 as the bookends to an incredible stretch:

Year 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
wOBA .329 .353 .365 .387 .328 .377 .363 .353 .383 .375 .315
wRC+ 96 113 112 127 97 130 118 112 134 124 86
fWAR 3.7 7.0 6.9 7.7 4.9 6.6 5.4 5.7 7.9 6.0 3.3

When computing his fantastic JAWS score, Jay Jaffe uses a player’s seven best (not necessarily consecutive) years to compute his peak worth. Computing the JAWS score of Jones, we’ll take 2007, 2000, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2006, 2004 as his seven peak years. His total fWAR over his seven peak years comes out to 47.8. That number is significantly higher than the average 44.4 peak-WAR for the 18 centerfielders already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Based on comparing peak values only, Jones is a well-deserving Hall of Famer.

Where it gets interesting is looking at the total amount of WAR accumulated over Jones’ entire career. While many players in the Hall of Fame did not play a full career due to injuries and military service, not many fell off the face of the earth in the fashion that Jones did. After being cut by the Dodgers in 2008, Jones would bounce around from the Rangers to the White Sox to two years with the Yankees. He averaged a little less than a win per season in part-time roles, bringing his career-worth up to 67.8 total fWAR. The average career-WAR of CF is 71.3, making Jones slightly underqualified.

In configuring his JAWS rating, Jaffe adds the peak-WAR and the career-WAR and divides by two. The average centerfielder has a JAWS rating of 57.85; Jaffe rounds down to peg the number at 57.8. Astonishingly, when averaging the peak and career ratings Andruw Jones has posted, his JAWS score comes out to…57.8. According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS ratings, a nationally syndicated methodology of testing players’ worthiness of the Hall of Fame, Andruw Jones is a qualified candidate for the Hall. In fact, Jones fits the JAWS model to a tee.

Cross-checking Jones’ case with another source who rates the validity of players’ Hall cases, we come to Adam Darowski, who created the Hall of Stats. From an email exchange, Darowski explains the Hall of Stats and Jones’ case:

What the Hall of Stats does is boots all 211 players out of the Hall of Fame and re-populates it with the Top 211 by a formula I call Hall Rating. The 211th guy is given a Hall Rating of 100, so above a 100 Hall Rating = in the Hall of Stats, below 100 Hall Rating = outside the Hall of Stats.

Jones has a Hall Rating of 125, meaning he is very comfortably "in". In fact, the MEDIAN Hall of Famer has a Hall Rating of 119, so you can’t even make the argument that his induction would lessen the standards of the Hall of Fame.

The legitimacy of Jones case is fascinating. It’s quite rare that a player whose career arc drops dramatically at the age of 31 is inducted in the Hall. Quite honestly, it’s rare any player gets in the Hall these days. Realizing the primitive ways of today’s voters, it’s quite unlikely Jones would acquire 75% of the necessary vote to enter the Hall of Fame. However Jones is a player whose peak value was such that he should be considered for our lovely museum ,despite his productivity being limited to a decade long period. Looking back on Jones’ career and seeing the last few years as an anticlimax is an injustice to the player. While he may never be voted in, he was a Hall of Fame player.

One thing to remember about Jones is that he has not officially retired and is currently playing for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. I don’t believe I’m making a bold prediction saying that I don’t think he’ll ever play in the Majors again, however I hope I am wrong for Andruw’s sake.

All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Jay Jaffe’s JAWS model. Special thanks to Adam Darowski for the information from the Hall of Stats, a fantastic website.

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