December 8, 2003
Shannon vs. Jacque
Bringing Stewart back for the next three seasons (at $5.5, $6.0 and $6.5 million) essentially means the end of Jacque Jones' time in Minnesota. Jones has been rumored to be on the move, possibly to San Diego or Atlanta, for the last several weeks. With Stewart now entrenched in left field for 2004-2006 and Jones' salary likely climbing close to $5 million for next season, I would be willing to bet Jones will be gone before the end of the month.
The big question I've heard Twins fans asking themselves over the last few days is which guy they would rather have as the starting left fielder over the next three seasons. I have pondered that question myself, so I figured I might as well try to answer it here.
Let's first take a look at what they did last season...
AVG OBP SLG GPA RARP
Stewart .307 .364 .459 .279 23.1
Jones .304 .333 .464 .266 16.5
Very similar production last season, including almost identical batting averages and slugging percentages. Stewart gets the edge in GPA because he is willing to do something that Jacque Jones isn't, which is take a walk now and again.
The funny thing about all that ridiculous Stewart-for-MVP talk is that Stewart's 2003 season wasn't really any different from what he has done in the past. Stewart's adjusted OPS+ last season was 113. His adjusted OPS+ totals from the previous three seasons were 119, 113 and 117.
Of course, that's not to say he didn't have a good year, because he did. It is just that, because Stewart has been fairly consistent over the years (which is a good thing) his good year in 2003 was no better than many of his other years. In fact, during the last three years it goes beyond "fairly consistent":
YEAR AVG OBP SLG GPA
2001 .316 .371 .462 .282
2002 .303 .371 .442 .278
2003 .307 .364 .459 .279
That's about as close as three consecutive seasons can get. Stewart turns 30 in February, so a drop-off could be around the corner at any moment. That said, I think the Twins should feel confident that Stewart can provide them with .300/.360/.450 hitting for the next three years.
Is that better offensive production than could be expected out of Jacque Jones over that same span? I think so. Jones has hit .300+ over the last two years and has topped a .450 slugging percentage numerous times, but there's a good chance he will never reach a .360 on-base percentage. His career-high is .341, set in 2002, and his career OBP is just .332.
Jones is a hacker. He hits for a good batting average and he's got nice power, but he is simply going to make a lot of outs over the course of a season. Further complicating things is the fact the he can't hit lefties to save his life.
JACQUE JONES vs LHP
AVG OBP SLG GPA
2003 .269 .310 .393 .237
2001-2003 .231 .274 .336 .207
Career .230 .270 .332 .205
As you can see, the .269/.310/.393 performance against lefties in 2003 was actually better than Jones has done against southpaws throughout his career. His struggles against lefties don't mean Jacque Jones isn't a good player, they just mean he is a platoon-player, or at least he should be. Unfortunately, for the most part he has not been platooned with the Twins, particularly not during the last couple years.
Jones' main asset is obviously his ability to hit right-handed pitching. He hit .317/.342/.492 against righties last season. That sounds impressive and it is, compared to how he hit against lefties, but it's actually a slightly lower GPA than Shannon Stewart had last season overall.
Here is how their performances against righties stack up over the last three years:
vs RHP (2001-2003)
AVG OBP SLG GPA
Stewart .305 .362 .449 .275
Jones .313 .355 .506 .286
So, against right-handed pitching, Jones has been a better hitter than Stewart over the last three years. The gap isn't huge, but it's still somewhat significant.
The question then becomes whether or not the Twins are willing to play Jones exclusively against righties. They certainly have the outfield bats in their system to find a nice platoon-mate for him in left field, but I would guess that, if Jones were the left fielder in 2004-2006, he would be playing everyday.
His ability to hit righties is only an asset if that is the only thing he is asked to do. When he is asked to also flail away against lefties it cancels out much of his good work against righties, and his overall numbers are brought down to the point that Stewart (who is a .322/.392/.475 hitter against lefties over the last three years) is clearly a superior offensive player.
Then there is the issue of defense. I happen to think (and most defensive metrics would agree with me) that Jacque Jones is an incredible defensive left fielder. Of course, that's sort of like saying Jason Kendall runs well for a catcher or that Alec Baldwin acts well for a Baldwin brother. At the same time, Shannon Stewart is, at best, an average defensive left fielder.
Is the gap between their defensive abilities in left field enough to make up for Stewart's offensive edge? Well, think of it this way...
Equivalent Runs per 650 PA (2001-2003)
Going by their numbers over the last three years, if Jones and Stewart were each stuck out in left field and asked to play everyday for an entire season (about 650 plate appearances), Stewart would create about six more runs than Jones.
Is Jones more than six runs better than Stewart defensively? I think it's hard to say. My initial reaction is yes, but we are talking about left field here and it isn't like Stewart is completely lost out there. I think the gap in defense is probably somewhere around 5-10 runs per season in Jones' favor.
Of course, none of this would be an issue if Ron Gardenhire and the Twins realized that they could simply platoon Jones with someone like Michael Restovich or Lew Ford in left field and get combined production from the position that was not only much better than what Jones would give them by himself, but also superior to what they're likely to get from Stewart.
That never seemed to be an option however, so the question is who is better on an everyday basis in left field, playing full-time against righties and lefties. I think it's pretty damn close. Stewart is better offensively, Jones is better defensively. Combining offense and defense gives you two players who are probably about five runs different over the course of 160 games, if that.
The issue then is whether you would rather have your production from left field distributed so that it's really good when right-handed pitchers are on the mound and really bad when left-handers are on the mound, or if you'd rather have a more even distribution.
I honestly don't know the answer to that question, or even if it makes a huge difference either way. My gut reaction is that, all things being equal, I'd prefer someone who can contribute against righties and lefties, but that may just be because I'm tired of watching Jacque Jones look helpless when someone who throws a baseball with their left hand is on the mound.
Another thing to consider here is that, if the Twins would have stuck with Jones as their left fielder, they would have received nothing for Stewart. After signing Stewart to play left field, they now have the option of trading Jones to another team, presumably getting a valuable player or two in the process.
For the next three seasons, I think Shannon Stewart and Jacque Jones are a good bet to have very similar value to a team as everyday left fielders. The money they will likely make is also going to be very similar. By keeping Stewart, the Twins get a player who is as good as Jones for about the same money they would have paid Jones, and they also have the ability to trade Jones for other players.
In that sense, the choice was not Shannon Stewart or Jacque Jones, but rather Shannon Stewart and whatever you could get in trade for Jacque Jones or Jacque Jones. When you look at it that way, I think it is a no-brainer.
This all means that what has already been an exciting off-season for fans in Minnesota is only going to get more interesting. I would guess that the Twins have been actively shopping Jacque Jones for some time now and I wouldn't be surprised if they completed a deal for him very soon.
What might they get for him? I honestly don't know, but I really hope Terry Ryan is looking to deal him for a middle infielder and/or a starting pitcher. If the rumors about Ryan being in talks with San Diego and Atlanta are true, I'll throw out some names that I wouldn't mind coming to the Twins...
If Ryan is looking for middle infielders and/or young pitching like I hope he is, San Diego and Atlanta are both very good trading partners. The Padres have a trio of good, established starters in Jake Peavy, Brian Lawrence and Adam Eaton, as well as a whole slew of intriguing middle infielders. The Braves, as they almost always do, have a ton of interesting pitching prospects in their system.
My dream scenario is that Ryan is able to talk Atlanta GM John Schuerholtz into trading him Marcus Giles for Jacque Jones. Likely? Um...no. You never know though, right? I'll say this, if Ryan can make Marcus Giles a Minnesota Twin at some point this off-season, I will never stop praising him for it.
In other Twins news...
"A pair of sources close to the Mariners said yesterday the left-handed reliever, who saved 41 games for the Twins last season, would sign with the Mariners in the next day or two.
'It's going to happen; it's just a matter of when,' one of the sources said.
Guardado will get a three-year contract for about $14 million."
This is sad news, but it is far from the end of the world. If in fact Guardado is headed for Seattle, I'll have more on this situation tomorrow.
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