November 29, 2010

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #30 Jacque Jones

Jacque Dewayne Jones | LF/CF/RF | 1999-2005 | Career Stats

Jacque Jones starred at USC and was a member of the bronze medal-winning Olympic team in 1996 before the Twins picked him in the second round of the 1996 draft. He hit .297/.342/.464 with 15 homers, 24 steals, and a 110-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 131 games at Single-A in 1997 and nearly duplicated that by hitting .299/.350/.508 with 21 homers, 18 steals, and a 134-to-37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 134 games at Double-A the next year.

Jones started 1999 at Triple-A and hit .298/.333/.444 in 52 games before the Twins called him up in June. He debuted with an 0-for-4 against the Reds on June 9, 1999 and the rest of the story has been told and re-told here many times. Many of Jones' totals--132 homers, 476 RBIs, 189 doubles, 974 hits, 1,589 total bases--rank among the top 15 in team history, which might make it seem as though I've been overly critical of him over the years.

And that may be true, but there are some other factors to consider. For instance, it's important to remember that Jones played for the Twins in a high-offense era and played a key position for offense. All of which makes his raw totals look better than they really are when compared to hitters from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s or guys from various eras who hit well and played premium defensive positions.

Another factor in my past criticisms of Jones is that because of the weaknesses in his game he would've been more valuable for the Twins if only he'd have been utilized differently in two key areas. Jones' strength was always his ability to hit right-handed pitching, but Ron Gardenhire wiped away much of that value by refusing to platoon him against lefties. The end result was a relatively mediocre line of .279/.327/.455 in seven Twins seasons that breaks down as follows:

             AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
vs RHP      .294     .341     .488     .830
vs LHP      .227     .277     .339     .616

Not only was Jones a totally different hitter against righties and lefties, he was unable to put together even one good year versus southpaws in seven years in Minnesota. Because of that it would've been easy to squeeze the maximum value out of Jones as a hitter, letting him tee off on righties while shielding him versus most lefties. Gardenhire instead got the good hitting against righties and then let Jones erase many of those gains with his horrible work off lefties.

Jones' time in Minnesota is a prime example of how not to get the most out of your players by not putting them in a position to succeed and maximize their talent. And while Gardenhire is at fault for refusing to platoon him, the other major circumstance that could have added to Jones' value for the Twins really can't be pinned on anyone. Well, maybe Torii Hunter and whichever scout recommended that the Twins draft him back in 1993.

In most organizations Jones would have spent seven seasons patrolling center field, where his defense would have been more important and his offense would have been more valuable. However, with Hunter around Jones shifted first to left field and then to right field. His defense in both places was excellent, but his offense was really nothing special for a corner outfielder. Interestingly, his hitting and Hunter's hitting were very similar while with the Twins:

              PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
Hunter      4894     .271     .324     .469     .793
Jones       3783     .279     .327     .455     .776

Almost identical overall numbers--albeit in different amounts of playing time--yet Hunter was a more valuable offensive player because his hitting was above average for center fielders while Jones' hitting was slightly below average for corner outfielders. In fact, according to the Runs Created Above Position metric, Jones was 43 runs worse than an average corner outfielder on offense while with the Twins.

If he were drafted by a team that didn't have a elite center fielder and played for a manager who knew the value of platooning Jones would've been a superior player to the one the Twins got. Of course, in ranking his place in Twins history those points are little more than sidebars. Instead of being a platoon center fielder in a fantasy world, he was a strong defensive corner outfielder with a slugging percentage-heavy bat that made him about average for the position.

Multiple all that by nearly 1,000 games spread over seven seasons and what you get is a very solid player. In fact, I might go so far as to say that if Jones played in an earlier era I wasn't around to see I'd view his Twins career in a more positive light. In other words, if I didn't have such vivid memories of Jones' flaws and the ways in which the Twins failed to ideally utilize him what I'd be left with is a decent hitter and quality defender who was durable and productive.

Instead, I see is the wild swings and helplessness versus lefties, the throws from the outfield that were either air-mailed past the catcher or launched directly into the turf, the struggles in the postseason and short peak, and an overall lack of improvement that seemed to symbolize Twins hitters at the time. I still see what could've been with Jones, rather than what actually was. And what actually was ... well, it was pretty good for quite a while.

Homers                132    10th
Extra-Base Hits       336    11th
RBIs                  476    12th
Doubles               189    13th
Total Bases          1589    14th
Isolated Power       .176    14th
Plate Appearances    3783    15th
Hits                  974    15th
Runs Created          502    15th
Games                 976    16th
Runs                  492    16th
Slugging Percentage  .455    17th
Times On Base        1233    17th
Steals                 67    18th
Batting Average      .279    24th
OPS                  .782    25th
  • Twinstalker

    I screamed after the 2002 season to trade the guy, figuring he was at peak value. There were so many obvious holes in his game that his best value was as a trade chip. But of course, the Twins are endeared to mediocrity…and they’d rather be loyal than champions. Obviously agree that he should have never played against lhp…nor should he have played against rhp with good breaking balls. I know, that doesn’t leave much.

  • hoff

    huh, when I opened this page and saw how low you listed Jones I said b.s., but your stats and thoughts made a valid argument. I miss the Soul Patrol, but better days are here

  • Your first link about the volumes you have written about Jones made me almost choke on my cereal.

    Apparently back in the off season of 2003, you thought there was indeed some universe where the Twins could get Adam Wainwright in trade for Jones.

    The bizzarro Bagwell for Anderson trade if I ever saw one.

  • mike wants WINS

    If only the Twins knew when to cut ties with veterans (Cuddeyer…..) and go with youth and use the money to fill in holes, or if only Gardy was a better manager at in-game decisions (he is obviously good at his job in general)…..

    If only the Twins thought this way, we might not be stuck wtih Capps and no set up men:

  • Nick

    Jones’ time in Minnesota is a prime example of how not to get the most out of your players by not putting them in a position to succeed and maximize their talent.

    And people don’t understand why some of us want Gardy fired?

  • marietta mouthpiece

    What I like is the December 2003 suggestion that if the Twins had kept Jones and decided to platoon him, the other (righthanded hitting) outfielder that should be in the mix was Lew Ford …

  • wengler

    My fondest memory of Jones was him fielding a ground ball single in left field at the Metrodome, winding up to go home to get the runner chugging around third and throwing it…straight into the turf. 20 hops later the ball got there before the runner and he was nailed out at home. Chalk one up to the old bouncy carpet at the Dome.

  • wengler

    Oh and there was also the time that he came in against Freddy Garcia who was no-hitting the Twins into the 8th and nailed a line-drive over the centerfield fence to give the Twins their only hit and to give the game its only run.

    It is up there among great moments in the Twins beating down the White Sox in the past decade. Perhaps only surpassed by Denny Hocking’s 2-out game-winning triple.

  • Jake

    The thing that made Jacque a favorite was his ability to make a spectacular play. This overshadowed his penchant for horrible swings or throws. I especially remember sitting right field upper deck at the Metrodome, next to the big white Kirby and Herbie banner, thinking wow the players look small from here. Jacque gets up and belts a hanging curveball OVER my head. His swing at moments like this was definitely Griffey-esque. I looked for video footage of it – no luck. But it was moments like this that made him a more memorable player than others with similiar numbers.

  • The last paragraph of this post reminded me why Jacque Jones was so awesome. I have all those same memories of him, except he was actually my favorite player back then! I had a Jones jersey and everything. He was so fun to watch.

    It was awesome how loud everyone cheered when Jacque struck out in the first Target Field exhibition game. That was so, so perfect.