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    Monday, December 17, 2012

    Fighting Tomorrow's Ignorance Now 3: Andruw Jones Is Going to Japan and Might Be Done

    Andruw Jones is officially signing with the Rakuten Eagles. It seems weird to think that he’s only 35 going on 36, yet he might be done in the Major Leagues. If this is the end of his career, since it’s Hall of Fame season, it makes sense to combine the two thoughts and start looking at his Hall of Fame case.

    The first thing to do would be to look at his counting numbers, since that will be the first thing most voters look at. He played parts of seventeen seasons in the majors-which is actually incredible when you combine that with the information that he’s retiring at the age of 35. He debuted in 1996 at the age of 19.

    Anyway, in those seventeen seasons, he amassed 1933 hits and 434 home runs. Among players who spent a majority of their games at center field, that puts him fourth behind Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey (630), and Mickey Mantle (434), and just ahead of Duke Snider (407) and Jim Edmonds (393). That’s a pretty solid group. However, that isn’t a totally accurate representation of his offensive output.

    Through his career, his batting average and on-base percentage were a little low, at .254 and .337, respectively. His power made up for it to some extent, as his .486 slugging percentage brought up his OPS to a more respectable .823, although that does leave him 23rd among center fielders. OPS+, which adjusts for era and home park, puts him at 111, or 11% above league average. That’s more in line with Vada Pinson, Torii Hunter, and Richie Ashburn, tied for 43rd all time. Granted, Ashburn is a Hall of Famer, but that’s still not quite the same level as the first group.*

    *The other five, in case you’re wondering: Mantle-172, Mays-156, Snider-140, Griffey-136, Edmonds-132. Jones is someways behind them.

    So based on his hitting, he’s probably just a little short. There are seventeen center fielders in Cooperstown now, and when you take into account his longevity, he probably makes it into the top thirty at least (he’s one of only two dozen players at his position to make it to 2000 games played).

    But his offense is not his most defining skill. For over a decade, he ranked as the premier defensive center fielder in the game, by no matter what way you want to rank him. He won ten straight Gold Gloves from 1998 to 2007. As for more advanced stats, Total Zone Runs rates him as not only the top center fielder of all-time, but also as the second best fielder ever. His 242 runs saved trail only Brooks Robinson’s 293 mark. Fangraphs rates him similarly; his 280 runs saved trail only Robinson again, at 294.

    Either way, that seems to be an overwhelming mark in his favor. Even if you don’t trust fielding stats enough to call him the second best fielder ever, he’s still pretty far and away the best fielding center fielder ever in both rankings. It feels pretty safe to say he was a historic fielder who also had an above-average bat. That definitely seems worthy of induction into the Hall.

    For a final point, Wins Above Replacement gives a good overall view of how he stacks up historically. According to both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs’ calculations of WAR, there are two pretty clear tiers to center fielders. Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Griffey rank as a sort of top tier.

    The next tier down is still well within Hall standards; it consists of a clump containing Jones, Reggie Smith, Snider, Edmonds, Ashburn, Kenny Lofton, Max Carey, Billy Hamilton, and Carlos Beltran. That seems like a lot, but consider; I’ve only listed fifteen players. As mentioned, there are seventeen center fielders already in the Hall, and five of these fifteen aren’t even eligible yet. Snider, Ashburn, Carey, and Hamilton are all in the Hall too.

    It seems to me that, given the current standards apparently set for induction, Andruw Jones clearly fits in. However, it will be interesting to see if the voters see it that way in 2018 (if that is when he comes up for election). It will be even more interesting if Scott Rolen can’t win a job in 2013, too. Both represent some of the greatest fielders in the history of their respective positions. Will the voters actually recognize some of the values that they’ve long extolled? I’m not sure; they’ve proven in the past to be rather narrow-minded, and they’ve overlooked many players who provided a lot of value with their gloves. Maybe things will change by 2018, though. Only time will tell.

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