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    Tuesday, May 29, 2012

    The Adam Jones Extension: Better Than I Thought

    I’m going to be honest; for a long time, I wasn’t sure about whether the Orioles should extend Adam Jones. I mean, he has been impressive so far this year. But how much of his performance would be repeatable? Would he be worth locking up long term if he regressed back to his pre-2012 numbers? If there was someone willing to buy high on him, I would have probably considered it depending on the offer.

    Well, it appears that the Orioles are extending him, for $85.5 million over 6 seasons. Now that the there’s a definite value on the deal, and combined with the things I’ve been reading about Jones since news of the deal first broke, I feel much better about locking him up. That’s actually more than reasonable. Most estimates that I’ve seen for the 2012 season put the value of a win around $5 million, which means that Jones will need to be worth 17.1 WAR over the next six years, or just under 3 WAR per season.

    That is actually very reasonable for Jones, considering his recent breakout: in 2010 and 2011, he was worth 2.6 and 2.9 WAR, going by Fangraphs. In just shy of 50 games this year, he’s already been worth 2.8. On top of that, ZIPS (the projection system used on Fangraphs) predicts that he’ll finish the season worth 5.8 wins. Seeing as this is his age 26 season, he should still reasonably have peak years ahead of him. In addition, this contract only takes him through his age 32 season, so the Orioles should (in theory, at least) have him until right before his major decline years start.

    So really, this already looks to be a fair deal at the least, and possibly a great deal for the Orioles. Obviously, it’s the latter case if Adam Jones can repeat this season (at least a few times) over the life of the contract. Just how likely is that, though? Earlier in the season, I would have been more skeptical; players get off to flukey hot starts all the time. Jones could just be the latest in a long line of Aprils that proved to be mirages. However, we now stand a third of the way through the season, and Jones has only gotten better, if anything. Is this something we can expect to see more of between now and 2018?

    At first, I was a little doubtful. Jones wasn’t walking any more and was striking out just as much as he had in previous years, meaning his plate discipline hadn’t really improved at all. However, his K% has shrunk to the lowest it’s been in his career as of late. Even more important, his reluctance to take walks may be less of an issue than I first thought. As Dave Cameron points out, Matt Kemp started walking more last year once he proved himself a power threat. Jones could soon follow suit: pitchers will start throwing him fewer strikes the more damage he does with the strikes they give him. As long as he can keep hitting up, we could likely see him reaching base on walks more as well.

    Can he keep this hitting up though? Well, his batting average, despite being a career high, is not driven by a spike in batting average on balls in play, so it should stay close to where it is now (barring a change in his luck for the worse). His power has been the biggest change so far, though. He currently has an isolated slugging of .287, sixth in the majors right now* and .100 better than his previous career best. He is 26, though, and this is pretty close to his peak years. Power is also generally seen as part of the skills of an older player, so it doesn’t seem unreasonable that he’s developed it. Besides, even if he isn’t actually this good of a power hitter and his slugging percentage slips, he can still supply value above and beyond what he’s getting paid.

    *behind Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn, Carlos Beltran, Edwin Encarnacion, and Ryan Braun; I’m pretty sure if you had given me five guesses, I would have gotten all of those except for Encarnacion. Encarnacion would have taken me another hundred or so.

    The more I look into the deal, the more comfortable I am with it. It locks up a hitter for his best years, possibly before he establishes himself as an MVP-level player and thereby necessitates a larger contract, for a rate that is likely less than he would have gotten on the open market and which is easily reachable. This is definitely a good sign for the O’s, both as a team and for their new front office in particular.

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