September 8, 2003

And on the second day, Aaron talked about...

Hmmm, I dunno. How about Andruw Jones?

To me, Andruw Jones is one of the most interesting players in baseball. First of all, he is tremendously talented, perhaps one of the 5 or 10 most physically gifted players in the world. Second, whenever I watch him play, I get the feeling that he is straddling the line between "the game looks so easy for him" and "he is a lazy player." I'm not quite sure which category he actually falls into, but his play on the field has been so good that it probably doesn't even matter.

Another reason why he is interesting is that his year-to-year performances vary wildly and are incredibly unpredictable. It's not so much that his overall offensive production changes from year-to-year, because that happens to many players, it is that the way he arrives at his season-total is different every season.

Andruw Jones has been an everyday player in the major leagues for 7 seasons now. Here are his year-by-year batting averages:

Year      AVG

1997 .231
1998 .271
1999 .275
2000 .303
2001 .251
2002 .264
2003 .274

He came into the league at 19 years old and was playing everyday but hitting just .231 at age 20. Then he posted batting averages of .271 and .275 in his age 22 and 23 seasons. So, at that point, you think okay, the guy is a .270-.280 hitter. Then he busts out in 2000 and hits .303 at the age of 24. You think wow, he's taken that big step, now he's a .300 hitter. Then he hits .251 the next year and follows that up with .264 in 2002. And now, this season, he's back to .274.

The only pattern I can see is similar to a guy climbing up a flight up stairs, falling all the way down, and then starting to climb back up again, which is an interesting pattern for a young baseball player's batting average, to say the least.

Another part of Jones' game that fluctuates is his walk rate. Check out his non-intentional walks per 600 plate appearances each season:

Year      BB/600

1997 69.4
1998 30.4
1999 57.4
2000 48.6
2001 45.9
2002 71.9
2003 49.9

Those walk rates are all over the place. How many guys walk significantly more often at the age of 20, in their first full major league season, than they do at 21, 22, 23 and 24? Jones drew 54 non-intentional walks in just 467 plate appearances as a 20 year old in 1997 and then drew a grand-total of 32 in 631 plate appearances the next year. Then he bumped his walk rate up in 1999, only to see it drop way down again in 2000 and 2001.

Last season, he posted his first walk rate that was better than the one from his rookie season, walking 79 (non-intentional) times in 659 plate appearances. And just when you thought that, at age 25, he was starting to learn some plate discipline, his walk rate this season is down about 30% from last year and back at his 2000/2001 levels.

One of the only real "normal" patterns for Andruw Jones offensively has been home run power. Here are Andruw's home runs per 500 at bats for each season:

Year      HR/500

1997 22.6
1998 26.6
1999 22.0
2000 27.4
2001 27.2
2002 31.2
2003 31.1

The batting average may go up and down dramatically and the plate discipline may appear and then disappear for seasons at a time, but Andruw is pretty consistant when it comes to hitting 'em out of the park. Aside from the "off" year in 1999 (when he hit just 26 homers in 592 at bats), he is showing a fairly steady rise in home run power and he is just 4 homers away from establishing a career-high this season.

Another way to look at someone's power is to check out their "Isolated Slugging Percentage." That number is simply their slugging percentage minus their batting average. So if a guy slugs .500 and bats .250, his Isolated Slugging Percentage would be .250. It's essentially separating someone's "raw power" from their ability to get base-hits. Here are Andruw's "ISO" totals:

Year      ISO

1997 .185
1998 .244
1999 .208
2000 .238
2001 .210
2002 .249
2003 .234

Again, pretty constant, and certainly much more stable and predictable than his batting averages and walk rates. From 1998 through this season, Andruw has had an ISO between .208 and .249, including 4 of the 6 seasons between .234 and .249.

Another interesting and volatile aspect of Andruw Jones' hitting is that he seems to go through one extended period each season where he is absolutely lost at the plate. And typically, it occurs late in the season.

Take this year for example. Andruw's batting averages in the first 4 months of the season were: .281, .307, .275 and .308. On August 1st, he was hitting .295/.365/.541. Then he hit just .190 with a .227 on-base percentage in August and currently down to .274/.338/.508 - having lost 21 points of AVG, 27 points of OBP and 33 points of SLG in just over a month.

Last season was very similar. He hit .262, .276 and .278 in the first 3 months of the year and was at .275/.379/.518 heading into July. Then he hit .180 in July, dropping his season-totals all the way down to .251/.362/.483, before an incredible (.359/.405/.769) month of September brought his final numbers back up a little bit.

Back in 2001, the pattern was similar, but the period of "suckiness" was more prolonged. Jones hit .290, .280 and .268 in the first 3 months and was at .282/.338/.508 on July 1st. Then he hit .200 in July and .202 in August, at which point his season-totals were down to just .248/.310/.449. He finished at .251/.312/.461 for his worst offensive season since his rookie year.

Even in his best season as a hitter, 2000, when he hit .303 for the year and drove in 104 runs, Jones had a fairly long stretch where he struggled. Andruw hit .295/.394/.545 in April, .340/.456/.641 in June and .322/.365/.551 in May - at which point his season-totals were an amazing .320/.407/.580. It was looking like his official "breakout season" was coming at the age of 23 and he appeared headed for serious MVP consideration. Then Andruw hit just .262 with a .302 on-base percentage in July. Overall, he hit .312 with a .392 OBP and a .566 SLG in the first-half of the year and "only" .292/.335/.513 in the second-half.

I have Andruw Jones on one of my Diamond-Mind keeper league teams now, so I have paid closer attention to him more this season than I have in the past. I have to say that how he has looked at the plate during this season's prolonged slump certainly matches the bad numbers he put up. During the last month or so, Jones seems to have lost any and all ability to control the strike zone and he has resorted to flailing away at pitches that he thinks he can hit out of the park. He's done fairly well in the power department (8 homers in August), but he has walked just 7 times while striking out 27 times since the end of July.

I know Andruw has had some lingering injury problems this season, specifically a muscle-pull in his rib-cage, and that would certainly explain his new "approach" (or lack thereof) at the plate during the last month or so. Of course, it doesn't do much to explain his slumps during the previous few seasons.

At just 26 years old, Andruw Jones already has over 200 career homers, 1,000 career hits and appears set to win his 6th straight NL Gold-Glove award. Yet I can't help but see what he has done thus far as somewhat disappointing. I keep waiting for him to have that incredible, breakout season, to make (with apologies to Bill Simmons) "The Leap" into superstardom. And he always seems to be on the verge of doing that, yet he never quite gets there.

Of course, he's still just 26 years old and if you can call what he's done so far in his career disappointing...well, that gives you an idea of exactly how talented he is.

Link of the Day:

Football Outsiders - "Tackling football from outside the hashmarks"

I just became aware of "Football Outsiders" and I am hooked. It is the closest thing to a Baseball Prospectus/Baseball Primer type of site for another sport. They have their own custom stats, adjusted for context and level of competition, etc., and they also have a ton of very good articles. If you are a sabermetrically inclined baseball fan (and if you are reading this right now, it's pretty likely) and you also enjoy the NFL, Football Outsiders is a must-see.

Today's picks:

Chicago (Zambrano) -130 over Montreal (Day)

Florida (Pavano) -120 over New York (Glavine)

Los Angeles (Jackson) +180 over Arizona (Jackson)

Toronto (Lidle) -110 over Tampa Bay (Waechter)

Chicago (Buehrle) -160 over Minnesota (Pulido)

Total to date: + 2,925

W/L record: 229-225 (1-1 yesterday to break even for the day.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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