Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Andruw Jones’ Hall of Fame Case

After failing to eclipse 8% his first two years on the Hall of Fame ballot, Andruw Jones finally saw his support growing in 2020. The former Atlanta Braves center fielder managed to rack up 77 votes (19.4%) in his third year on the ballot, and is now poised for yet another surge in 2021. With no surefire locks being added to next year’s ballot, BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) writers finally have a chance to pull a few names off the back burners for a closer look at their Hall worthiness. 

Three years ago, five-time All Star Larry Walker was named on just 21.9% of Hall of Fame ballots, but managed to climb past the elusive 75% threshold needed to achieve baseball’s highest honor. With the help of social media, word of Walker’s worthiness began to spread, and it wasn’t long before some of baseball’s most prominent media figures were lobbying for his induction. Andruw Jones, a five-time All Star himself, could see his numbers trend in a similar fashion. Atlanta Braves fans have as big a presence on the Internet as any fan base, notoriously starting a Tiger Woods meme craze that wound up becoming a staple of the 2019 season for more fan bases than just Atlanta’s. These same fans will be the driving force behind the push to get Andruw into the Hall of Fame, but it’ll also take some help from the BBWAA writers

As has been customary in past years, the infamous ‘small Hall’ crowd will turn in their share of lackluster ballots, but even this exclusive group of voters should have plenty of reason to check Jones’ box next time around. As more light has been shed on defense through new metrics, it’s become clear that Andruw Jones was not only a prolific slugger, but an invaluable asset to one of baseball’s most iconic dynasties. Below is the first of a series of three Tweets containing MLB Hall of Famers who amassed fewer total WAR in more plate appearances than Jones.

Fellow defensive wizard Omar Vizquel received support from 52.6% of voters this year, and has long been seen as a fringe candidate due to his lack of offensive production. Despite collecting 2,877 hits across 24 seasons, Vizquel’s career OPS+ of 82 and .352 slugging percentage are a testament to how little impact his bat provided. For context, former Chicago Cubs hurler Carlos Zambrano had a career .388 slugging percentage in 744 plate appearances.

Just one Gold Glove shy of Vizquel’s total of 11, Andruw Jones was the man you wanted in center field in the late 90’s and into the 2000’s. Jones’ streak of 10 straight Gold Gloves began when he was just 21, and until he hit his 30’s, there was no challenging Andruw for the title of baseball’s best defensive center fielder. Jones amassed a remarkable 234.7 defensive runs saved over the course of his 17-year career, surpassing even the great Willie Mays by more than 50 runs. Druw had it on lock. His superhero-like physique, quick reaction, and laser focus allowed him to make even the most difficult snags seem routine, and just as quick as he’d take a homer away, he’d belt one of his own the next half-inning. While Andruw had dozens of notable web gems throughout his career, there might not be one more memorable than this off-the-wall grab in 1999:

Andruw Jones makes a spectacular catch against the outfield wall

What Andruw couldn’t do with the glove, he could certainly accomplish with a bat in his hands. Early in his career, he was even known to swipe 20 bags in a season. In 10 seasons from 1998 to 2007, Jones put together an impressive .266/.344/.503 line, which translated to a 115 OPS+. Throughout those 10 seasons, he averaged 67 extra-base hits (30 doubles, 3 triple, 34 homers) 97 runs, and 103 RBI per season, all the while playing better defense than O.J. Simpson in a court of law. If Omar Vizquel and his noodle bat are polling above 50%, it makes no sense for Andruw Jones to be receiving barely a third of the love.

The only scruples to be had by BBWAA writers with Andruw Jones’ career are longevity (or lack thereof) and the domestic violence allegations brought forth by his now ex-wife following his final season with the Yankees in 2012. The Hall of Fame does have a loosely-interpreted “character clause” of sorts that allows for certain players to be excluded from the Hall due to either off-the-field issues or their on-field demeanor. Since little elaboration has been provided as to how the clause is to be used, it’s sometimes been used as a lazy excuse for writers to exclude a player they may have qualms with, be it personal or professional. More often, it’s used to keep alleged steroid users such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall. Jones had one major off-the-field event that took place after his final MLB game, so certainly his perceived character wouldn’t be holding him back, right? After all, even greats like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth weren’t known to be too kind at times on the field.

Outside of his 12-year tenure with the Atlanta Braves, Andruw Jones was but a shell of himself. He shuffled through four teams in five seasons after parting ways with Atlanta, never accumulating more than 331 plate appearances in any one season, although his power numbers suggested there may have still been a little left in the tank when the 35-year-old hung the spikes up for good in 2012. Between 2010 and 2011, Jones tallied 550 plate appearances with the White Sox and Yankees, batting .237 with 20 doubles, a triple, 32 home runs, 74 walks, and 135 strikeouts. As one full season, this would have been just below par by Jones’ career standards, but alas, he ventured into Japan after posting just a .701 OPS with the Yankees in 2012.

It’s fair to say that Andruw Jones’ career derailed immediately after his time with the Atlanta Braves, but what more can you expect for a high-motor outfielder who played with the tenacity of a pit bull? He gave the game everything he had until he couldn’t anymore, and that came at the expense of not being able to play at a high level in his late 30’s. From 1998 through 2007, though, Jones averaged 157 games per season with the Braves. Omar Vizquel never once played 157 games in a season throughout his 24-year career. Some positions are more physically demanding than others, and smaller frames such as Vizquel’s tend to withstand the test of time a bit better. Through no fault of his own, Andruw Jones played himself out of an able body before 35, and has been under intense scrutiny because of it.