Adam Jones - Orioles centerfielder

Well, at least that’s what some in the advanced statistics community say…

Adam Jones has collected back-to-back Gold Gloves for his efforts as Baltimore’s center fielder in 2012 and 2013. The only thing is, Jones’ defensive statistics indicate that he’s actually a below average defender at his position.

Neil Weinberg of writes that he believes managers, who vote for Gold Glove awards, see Jones as a strong defensive center fielder due to his ability to hide his flaws through the strength of his arm and the natural bias created by his flashy numbers at the dish.

Let’s start with some data. If we look to Jones’ Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in center field over the last five seasons, he’s been 9 to 14 runs worse than the average defender at the position. By Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) he’s been 3 to 9 runs worse than the average defender at the position. By Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), he’s ranged from 18 below average to 15 above average. In other words, most of the information we have suggests that he isn’t a good defender relative to other center fielders.

If we break it down further, DRS and UZR knock him heavily for his range and give him credit for his arm. The data is telling us that Jones doesn’t turn batted balls into outs particularly well, but when it’s time to use his arm to cut down a baserunner, he does so very effectively.

Jones range factor per nine in 2013: 2.34
League average at his position: 2.66

Weinberg suggests that Jones’ could move to corner outfield spot in coming seasons. I’m not sure I see that happening if for reputation alone.

What do I think of all of this?

I’m certainly a proponent of advanced stats and continue to learn more about them every day. As a fan, I also might be just as biased as the Gold Glove voting managers.

I continue to find myself questioning the defensive metrics. Jones’ began last season in a bit of a defensive slump, but managed to get back to his level of performance after the first month or so of the season. These statistics all measure his performance over the entire duration of the 2013 season. I would be curious to see his defensive marks over a smaller duration.

AJ’s speed in centerfield, highlight reel catches and strong arm are enough of a reason for me to support his back-to-back Gold Gloves to disagree with Weinberg’s analysis. I’ll be curious to see the metrics Jones’ posts in 2014.

Image Credit: Keith Allison