Games like the one that took place last night make it hard to remember a time in which Adam Jones’ defense was the subject of debate on local radio and at water coolers all throughout Birdland. Remember BubbleGate? Or the questions as to whether Jones was playing too shallow?
Yeah. All that seems pretty silly when you see him do something like this:
So looking at all that, you could forget that Jones has been heavily criticized over the last several years, for his defensive prowess. His occasional glaring miscues in the field (that drop against the Yankees still keeps me up at night) are painful in the moment, but we usually end up looking back at his body of work and say “huh. Jones had a pretty good year.”
He is difficult for fans to deal with, because the expectations on him are so high. Like with his offense, Jones’ defense shows flashes of superstar ability, but spends most of his time being very good. We, as baseball fans, struggle with “very good.” There is no Hall of Very Good for a reason. We’re well equipped for hero worship, and for complete derision (paging Kevin Gregg), but very little in between.
If you think the casual fan has been hard on Jones, so too, have the stat guys. Now, before you go saying that you don’t “buy into” defensive metrics, let me just say that as imperfect as defensive metrics in baseball are, they serve as a much better reference for the discussion than “he blows too many bubbles.” Jones has rated unfavorably in defensive metrics for most of his career in Baltimore.
In Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Jones has been 9-14 runs worse than the average center field defender, and 3-9 runs worse in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). In Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), he’s had seasons as bad as 18 runs below average, and in 2013 alone, Jones was was dead last (21st) in center fielders who logged at least 800 innings in terms of Revised Zone Rating (RZR).
It’s not all bad news. The stats above tell us that, whereas he has pretty good range, his ability to make the plays on all the balls he gets to is poor. This is not to say that Jones makes a lot of errors, but rather he doesn’t convert balls in his zone into outs as well as other center fielders. Where Jones excels is the number of runs he saves with his arm. He is consistently around the top of the leader board for outfield assists.
So sure, defensive metrics might be crap, but if they’re all pointing in the same direction, you have to start paying attention. Maybe Jones has been collecting all that Gold Glove hardware on the strength of his bat, after all.
But regardless of your feelings on defensive metrics, and whether it matches the story your eyes have been telling you about Adam Jones in center field for the Orioles, one thing the stat guys have to admit is that Jones saw a stark turnaround in 2014, and his 2015 numbers are holding steady above his career averages.
Maybe Adam Jones is turning it around, and is finally becoming the plus defender we’ve taken him to be all this time. Or maybe he’s having more superstar flashes in the outfield, that bring up the average. No matter what the case, we should remember to stop and smell the roses, and take in the times when Adam Jones is a very good baseball player.
Last night was one of those times. Those plays were real, and they were spectacular.