I don’t think Andruw Jones should be elected to the Hall of Fame. He will be eligible for inclusion on the BBWAA’s 2017 Hall ballot. With near blindingly brilliant stretches in a career spanning 17 seasons, The Curacao Kid still remains a borderline case at best. I can afford him approbation, but without scraping sycophancy.
From 1997 to 2001, Andruw Jones was the gold standard for center fielders. It seemed as if no ball was out of reach, persuading fans watching SportsCenter that he made plays this awesome every game. He won a Gold Glove the last four straight years of that span (and six more straight after that, too). Jones amassed nearly 100 Fielding Runs Above Average* in that span. That included an insane, maybe even unbelievable, 39.0 FRAA in 1999. Even the old “eye test” came back with glowing reviews of his naturally lithe and expansive range in center. He was an absolute joy to watch, and was most certainly a good friend to all those studly starters the Braves had back then.
Oh yeah, and he could hit, too. Now, he wasn’t as elite as Ken Griffey, Jr. with the stick in his hands, but he was a top of the line talent. A career OPS of .823 is nothing to sneeze at. Eighty four points higher and he’d be Griffey. Hey, how about you tack on 434 career homers while you’re at it, Mr. Jones. In the 1996 World Series, he decided to introduce himself to the baseball world outside of Atlanta by homering in his first two at-bats. I guess he can garner some style points for that.
However, it is when you start to dig deeper into his career numbers that Jones appears to be destined only to get into the Hall as a ticket-purchasing visitor.
Those 434 bombs leave him shy of the magical plateau of 500 career home runs, a number that may mean less and less as time marches forward. And while we can all agree that batting average isn’t what it used to be as a measuring stick, a career average of .254 is pretty poor for a player to get his mug Han Solo-ed and put up on the wall in Cooperstown. And what about that career .823 OPS? Sure, I said it wasn’t anything to sneeze at. It isn’t, but there are only five Hall of Fame center fielders with a lower career OPS than Jones. That group includes Max Carey, Lloyd Waner, Richie Ashburn, Edd Roush, and Andre Dawson. Let’s throw out the first four, since they aren’t contemporaries of the Curacao Kid’s (which isn’t to say Dawson is by pure definition of the word, as their careers didn’t overlap, but it is a better comparison than the other four; playing in the 1980’s is more familiar to the so-called Steroid Era than in the 20’s-50’s). That leaves The Hawk as a comparable. Dawson’s career OPS is .806, a negligible difference at 17 points apart. Are the Hawk’s extra 1300 or so plate appearances at advanced age on crappy knees enough to pull that OPS down? Sure, Dawson took 4 more seasons to hit four more home runs, but it still points to him as a comparable player. It should be mentioned, as the folks over at HighHeatStats so astutely pointed out, that, while Dawson’s numbers are comparable on the surface (and in particular the slightly lower OPS), Dawson achieved this in an era thirsting for offense in relation to Jones’s time. In fact, if you parse out just slugging percentage, Dawson’s .482 to Jones’s .486 is even more telling. It’s not a strict correlative, but accounting for the changes in offense, The Hawk’s slugging percentage shines a bit more.
Just as an aside, I don’t want anybody out there thinking this is an indirect argument that Dawson shouldn’t be in the Hall, because that’s not what this is. Taking into account the context of offensive change from era to era, it certainly should be clear I’m not calling Dawson’s Hall legitimacy into question. It should further strengthen the argument against Jones.
Back on track. I haven’t even gotten around to WAR (or JAWS! I didn’t forget you Jay Jaffe!). There are 18 Hall of Famers who played the majority of their careers in center field. Their average WAR is 70.4. Andruw Jones compiled a career WAR of 62.8* (Dawson slightly bests him with 64.5, by the way), which hurts his chances a bit. His WAR7 is 46.4, compared to the HoF center fielder average of 44.1. That is hardly analogous to winning a swing state like Ohio. Then, when you inspect his JAWS score of 54.6 (compared to the HoF average of 57.2), Jones’s candidacy comes under more scrutiny. It is clear that the BBWAA has yet to adopt utilizing advanced metrics in their voting processes across the board, but for those voters who are hip to it, this should lean them towards excluding Jones from their ballots.
In regards to the BBWAA, one thing they have adopted in recent years is a moral gate to Cooperstown in their collective process. As Bud Selig has designated us looking clearly at the Steroid Era in the rear view mirror, the BBWAA is implicitly assigned as the janitorial crew to the aftermath of that era. Players with dozens of emboldened numbers on their baseball-reference.com pages are wallowing far below the 75% approval line. While I am not at present arguing the cases of those players, it is clear, no matter your stance on the issue, that they have suffered, in regards to induction, because of their guilt and/or association with PEDs. Though there is no evidence of Jones having any ties to PEDs, my argument would be, essentially, one last nail in The Curacao Kid’s Hall of Fame coffin. If we (fans, MLB, journalists, and the BBWAA) are using a moral compass to script revisionist history based on the “morally abject” and “dirty” usage of PEDs, then where do we stand on domestic violence? Andruw Jones was arrested for attacking his wife a little over two years ago. How are we measuring the moral depravity of “cheating” as opposed to a player beating his wife? I would say, that “cheating” undoubtedly carries with it, in the eyes of the baseball community (aforementioned “we”), the additional transgression of shaming the game. We’ve all heard that, in any generation. Shoeless Joe Jackson shamed the game. So did Pete Rose. And on and on and on, ad nauseam. That attitude is a moral shame in and of itself, but our veneration of the game above all else blinds us to that.
So, due to the new rules, which have shrunk the window of opportunity to be voted into the Hall from 15 years to 10, the BBWAA will have ten years to make up their minds on how to approach Andruw Jones. On the merits of his on-field performance and the detriment of his off-field behavior. Andre Dawson barely scraped over the line, at 77.9%, on his 9th year on the ballot. That is without speculation as to the use of PEDs or any evidence of domestic violence.
I just don’t see Jones making it in with five fewer years of ballot eligibility, slightly unconvincing numbers, and a sketchy off-field track record.
*According to baseballprospectus.com
**According to baseball-reference.com