With every Hall of Fame election since the steroid era comes a new discussion of which players are deserving of a spot in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Most of the major sluggers of the steroid era are still out, but I’ve written about my thoughts on that before. This year, I’d rather ignore the steroid dilemma (though with this guy it has to come up) and write about why Andruw Jones should be a no-brainer Hall of Famer.
Jones was recently looking to make a comeback to the MLB, but assuming he doesn’t, he’ll be eligible for induction in 2017. I know that’s still a long way off, but it seems like a near certainty that he’s going to be one of the more controversial potential electees, so it seems like now’s the best time to start making a case for The Curaçao Kid.
Remember that time Jones burst his way onto the scene, at only 19 years old, in Yankee Stadium, in the World Series?
While one performance certainly doesn’t warrant eternal enshrinement, it’s a good start to a career full of moments that do. And many of those moments came on defense.
I could go on all day talking about the things Jones did on defense. How it seemed like nothing ever fell. How he redefined the art of diving catches on shallow fly balls. But anyone who watched him play already knows those things. The Gold Glove voters surely did. Only six outfielders have won 10 or more Gold Gloves in the history of the award. Three of them are in Cooperstown. Ichiro and Ken Griffey Jr. will surely be elected as soon as they’re eligible. The sixth is Jones.
He also sits at 44th all-time with 434 home runs. While that total isn’t enough to warrant induction1 when you couple that with his stellar defense, you’ve got a guy who was very effective on both sides of the ball.
I’d be remiss to not talk about the suspicion of steroids that Jones has been faced with over the past few years. If there’s one thing I’m more against than steroid use in baseball, it’s crucifying players over suspected steroid use, especially suspected use with no proof. It’s one thing to keep someone out because they used PED’s, regardless of whether that drug was actually illegal at that time.2 It’s another thing to exclude a guy merely because he got out of shape at the end of his career and his numbers significantly tailed over. Maybe the passion for the game was gone. Maybe his metabolism wasn’t doing what it once was. Regardless of what happened to Jones, the last few seasons aren’t proof of steroid use, and they’re certainly not enough to cancel out the incredible career he had up to that point.
So far, almost everything I’ve talked to has related to the eye test or basic stats and awards. While I put a lot of faith into those things, it’s important to use every method of analyzing a player that we have. That means it’s nerdy advanced statistics time.
Jones was clearly one of the best defensive outfielders of his era. I’d wager he was one of the best of all time, but if you want a stat to back that up, range factor is one of my favorites.3 In his time in Atlanta after his rookie season, he never finished worse than 4th in the league among all outfielders. His rankings were even better when it was only among center fielders.
He’s 19th all time in defensive WAR. Has the 15th most putouts as a center fielder ever. His career fielding percentage is 99%. The defensive stats can go on and on.
The stat that points most toward Jones being in the HOF is his JAWS score4 in comparison to other center fielders. Jones is 10th all time, trailing only (in order from first to ninth) Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Duke Snider, Kenny Lofton, and Carlos Beltran. That’s some fairly elite company. His score puts him ahead of quite a few Hall of Famers, mostly players from much earlier eras, but also Kirby Puckett and Andre Dawson.
His Hall of Fame Monitor5 shows that he’d be likely to make it into Cooperstown if it weren’t for the distinct tail off at the end of his career. His batting alone puts him at 109, and a likely candidate for the Hall will sit at 100.
I don’t think Jones will be a unanimous selection, nor should he be, but to exclude him from the Hall of Fame would do a disservice to not only one of the most exciting players of the past 20 years, but also to the standards that have been set for Cooperstown.
Juan Gonzales – 434, Dave Kingman – 442, Fred McGriff – 493 to name a few ↩
Piazza should be a no-brainer for induction. Come on. ↩
Calculated by adding putouts and assists then dividing by games played ↩
If you aren’t familiar with JAWS, you should head to the Baseball Reference explanation. Basically, the Jaffe WAR Score system combines career WAR averaged with 7-year peak WAR to give a decent picture of HOF worthiness. ↩