With this article, I know that I’m walking into the fire, but I’m prepared. I will craft my Cooperstown argument for Andruw Jones, the greatest defensive outfielder the game has ever seen. Receiving 7.3% of the 2018 Hall of Fame votes is insulting to his career, and I hope that, upon reading this article, you’ll see why.
Tale of Two Andruws
30 and under Andruw Jones was on the fast-track to Cooperstown as the greatest defensive centerfielder of his time. When he wasn’t patrolling the outfield for the Atlanta Braves, he was swatting home runs at a superhuman rate.
By age 31, that Andruw had disappeared, and he would play parts of 5 disappointing seasons with the Dodgers, Rangers, White Sox, and Yankees before retiring from Major League Baseball. He gained some serious weight, and the athlete of his younger days was gone forever.
Putting Andruw Jones in Context
In my recent Mike Trout article, I brought up a plethora of stars with short careers to make the case for Mike Trout. However, Andruw Jones is a very different type of player than Mike Trout, and Andruw deserves a different argument.
Too many baseball critics view Andruw Jones as a power hitter that failed to hit the 500 home run mark. For reference, Andruw Jones hit 434 career home runs, still good for 47th all-time tied with Juan Gonzalez, but well short of the 500 mark.
Andruw Jones’ case will be created by framing his defensive ability and his home run ability in the context of history. While he didn’t play a full season after age 30, what he did contribute to the game was Hall of Fame worthy, as he was only 19 when he joined the Majors.
The Greatest Defensive Outfielder, Ever
Seriously, Andruw Jones was not just the strongest defensive centerfielder of his time, or centerfielder of all-time. He is undoubtedly the greatest defensive outfielder, ever. And his defensive wins above replacement (dWAR) statistics prove it.
If we are looking at defensive skill and Andruw’s ability to perform run-saving, highlight reel plays on the daily, he is the best to ever do it in the outfield.
Baseball Reference has a nicely compiled list of the leaders in career dWAR. Ozzie Smith sits atop as the greatest defensive player in the history of baseball, with 43.4 career dWAR. Others high on the list are Brooks Robinson in 3rd (38.8 dWAR), Cal Ripken in 4th (34.6 dWAR), and catcher Ivan Rodriguez in 8th (28.7 dWAR).
These players, along with the top 19 in general, have one thing in common. They all played infield. It’s no secret that infielders are likely to have more defensive opportunities, thus having the ability to post higher dWAR each year. Though playing infield requires quick reaction time and instinctual play, there is not much running involved. Infielders can often play at an elite level for longer, since covering massive amounts of ground isn’t required. If you don’t believe me, watch the below video and ponder how many 30+ year olds could chase that ball down.
That video displays the defensive patrolling that is reserved for the outfield. Elite fielding outfielders above the age of 30 rarely exist because the sheer amount of running required just isn’t feasible on legs over 30 years old.
Now, I’ve held you in suspense long enough, and you’re still wondering where Andruw Jones ranks, and who number 20 is on the list of career dWAR. That man, with 24.1 career dWAR, is Andruw Jones. Okay. Yay! Cool. So Andruw Jones has the highest dWAR of any outfielder, ever. Where do the other great outfielders rank?
Before we can answer a question like that, let’s first keep scrolling down the list until we reach another outfielder. Hmmm……
Of the top 50 career defensive WAR players, only Andruw Jones played in the outfield. That’s strange. It must be a mistake. There’s no way he was this good and only received 7% of the vote. Ozzie Smith was inducted first ballot as the best defensive infielder of all-time. Brooks Robinson was inducted first ballot as the best defensive third baseman of all-time.
We have to move down to position number 60 to find the next highest outfielder on this list: Paul Blair, Orioles’ centerfielder in the 60s and 70s, recorded 18.6 career dWAR.
But Josh, Andruw Retired Early!
This is the unfortunate argument where we assume that because Andruw Jones didn’t play much as he got older, his career dWAR stayed in-tact, never declining with age. While true that his dWAR dropped from a peak of 26.2 to 24.1 due to 5 sub-par half-seasons as he aged, Andruw Jones was still far better than other greats with longer careers.
Willie Mays played about a decade more full seasons than Jones, so you’d expect his 18.1 career dWAR to be more a factor of negative dWAR seasons as he grew older. You’re correct in that Mays’ peak career dWAR was above 18.1, but sadly, Willie reached a peak career dWAR of only 19.3, according to Baseball Reference. Even with almost a decade of additional playing exposure, Willie Mays was never even close to Andruw Jones’ 26.2 peak dWAR. Even though Willie Mays was an above average outfielder into his mid 30s, his career of defensive excellence is still dwarfed by Andruw Jones’ decade of greatness.
Ken Griffey Jr. is another popular name to throw around as a defensive stalwart in center, but he maxed out at 11.1 dWAR at age 30, before injuries and age reduced his career dWAR to a paltry 1.3. Jim Piersall reached a max of 16.0 career dWAR during the 50s and 60s. Andre Dawson reached the 9.0 career dWAR mark before declining with age. Jim Edmonds never crossed double digits either. Defensive whiz Lorenzo Cain is currently at 12.1 career dWAR, though he is showing signs of defensive decline.
Andruw Jones’ career dWAR, along with his peak career dWAR is better than any other outfielder. He is the greatest defensive outfielder in history. No further questions.
But Could He Hit?
Andruw Jones had a career .254 batting average, but once you get past that, a feared hitter takes shape. Jones launched 434 career home runs in a very short career. He also walked 10.3% of the time, which is no number to snuff at. He had a career slugging percentage of .486, good enough for 170th all-time. His career OPS+ sits at 111.
Before I dive into his career home run mark, let’s treat ourselves to game 1 of the 1996 World Series, where at 19 years old, Andruw Jones homered in his first two at-bats. By all my fact-checking, he is the youngest player to hit a home run in the postseason, let alone a World Series, and he did it in back-to-back at-bats.
If we look at the players on the all-time home run list that are higher than Andruw Jones, we note only a handful of players that accomplished this feat in fewer at-bats. These players are included below, with two objects to note. In parentheses is the player’s career dWAR, along with an asterisk if this player took any sort of steroids or HGH at any point in their career. While Juan Gonzales had the same amount of career HRs as Jones, I included him because he did it in fewer at-bats.
The short list:
- Mark McGwire* (-12.8 dWAR)
- Carlos Delgado* (-17.9 dWAR)
- Jason Giambi* (-20.5 dWAR)
- Dave Kingman (-17.1 dWAR)
- Adam Dunn* (-29.6 dWAR)
- Jose Canseco* (-14.5 dWAR)
- Juan Gonzalez* (-12.3 dWAR)
Note that all these players had career dWAR well below -10, and all but Dave Kingman were linked to steroid abuse. While none of these players is enshrined in Cooperstown, these players were all one-way guys. Clearly, none of them contributed from the field throughout their careers.
Andruw Jones had a career AB/HR of 17.51, placing him just ahead of Reggie Jackson on that list. Jones had an innate ability to hit the ball out of the park, and his career HR/dWAR combination resembles that of only Adrian Beltre (462 HR, 27.8 dWAR), who is a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer himself. Of course, it did take Beltre significantly more seasons to crush 400 home runs, along with much more time in the infield to reach 20 dWAR.
Defensive Specialists in Cooperstown
Cooperstown loves defensive specialists, and I too, believe they are often deserving. There is no doubt that players like Ozzie Smith and Brooks Robinson should be in the Hall of Fame. These guys were first ballot since there was no debate about their credentials. However, if we look at Smith and Robinson, and notice their career OPS+, we get 87 and 104 respectively. Both rank below Jones’ mark of 111.
In fact, if we look at the 19 players with more career dWAR than Andruw Jones, only three players have higher career OPS+: Adrian Beltre (117), Gary Carter (115), and Cal Ripken (112). Carter and Ripken are already in the Hall, and Beltre, as previously mentioned, is a lock for the Hall whenever he finishes his incredible career. Jones deserves to join them as well, and his abysmal 7.3% of the vote in 2018 worries me greatly.
The Whole Package
I used JAWS a lot in my Mike Trout article as an advanced way to look at Hall of Fame worthiness and included a snapshot of Andruw Jones’ JAWS stat (from Baseball Reference) compared to other CFs in the Hall.
His JAWS is barely below the average Hall of Fame CF, and his 7 year peak WAR is actually above this average. If we look at 7 year peak WAR for all centerfielders, we find only 8 guys with a figure above Jones’ 46.4, and 7 of those 8 are already in Cooperstown. And the 8th is… you guessed it, Mike Trout.
Below is a snapshot of Omar Visquel’s JAWS worthiness. Visquel was a defensive specialist who snagged 37% of the vote in 2018. Someone please tell me why his case for Cooperstown is better than Jones’.
Then we have the beloved Vladimir Guerrero, who entered the Hall this year, even though his 7-year peak WAR was below the average for RFs, and his JAWS score was about 8 points lower than the average Hall of Fame right fielder.
OK, rant over. Andruw Jones should be in the Hall. I’ll leave you with a final Andruw Jones moment, this one a broken bat home run to deep center field. Anyone see this happen recently? That’s what I thought. The next time I’m in Cooperstown, I hope to see a plaque of Andruw Jones there.