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Hall of Fame Case: Andruw Jones

This month, Cooperstown will send the annual Hall of Fame ballots to the BBWAA voters through the mail. Hopefully by the time they release the results, we’ll know the results of Nevada’s presidential voting. Either way, those who receive 75% on the ballot will be enshrined into Cooperstown alongside Larry Walker, Ted Simmons, Derek Jeter and Marvin Miller.

This poses the question: what do you think of when you think of Hall of Famer? Dominance, postseason pedigree, a force on both sides of the baseball. The best of the best. One team that has a number of Hall of Famers is the ’90s Braves, whose inductees range from all-time great starting pitching such as Tom Glavine to all-time great switch hitting such as Chipper Jones, as well as extraordinary leadership from men like John Schuerholz. Ted Turner’s roster was loaded with superstars, featuring four different Hall of Famers. Yet, it also featured Fred McGriff who is considered by many to be the biggest snub of the last few election cycles, David Justice who just missed Hall of Fame statistics by two or three seasons and perhaps the most popular young phenom in team history Andruw Jones. The Braves were baseball’s team of the ’90s. Furthermore, in 1996 it was one rookie who burst onto the scene that left an indelible mark on the sport. The name on the back of the jersey? A. Jones.

It was four years after Hurricane Andrew breezed through the south, but still recent enough for Joe Buck to christen the teenage sensation known for his patented and infectious smile “Hurricane Ahhh-ndruw!” in the 1996 World Series. It was 1996 when a 19-year-old kid from Curacao, who had hit to a modest .709 OPS in only 106 regular season at bats, had his first World Series at bat. In that at bat, he became the youngest player to ever hit a homerun in the World Series. In his second at bat? He did it again.

It was his at-bat in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Cardinals that made him the youngest player with a playoff homerun in baseball history, but this was even more special. Up until August, the starting centerfielder for the Braves was local hometown bred Marquis Grissom, who had caught the final out of the 1995 World Series for the Braves, in one of the most dramatic games in World Series history. But, #25’s performance in the World Series made every Braves fan excited to move on from Grissom. Not only that, he was in the World Series vs the New York Yankees and broke a longstanding record by Mickey Mantle, who had previously been the youngest player with a World Series homerun dating back to 1952. The game was at Yankee Stadium as Druw earned the ire of the Bleacher Creature faithful.

The Braves would lose the Series after a dramatic homerun from Jim Leyritz altered the course of the Fall Classic. This World Series saw eight players take the field that have a plaque in Cooperstown: Tom Glavine (Class of 2014), Greg Maddux (Class of 2014), John Smoltz (Class of 2015), Chipper Jones (Class of 2018), Wade Boggs (Class of 2005), Tim Raines (Class of 2017), Mariano Rivera (Class of 2019) and Derek Jeter (Class of 2020). Both managers also have a plaque. Andruw looks to become the ninth player in the series to put his name on this list this year. While he became an absolute superstar with the bat, let’s start with his defense.

Greatest Defensive Centerfielder Ever?

Joe Simpson’s call on that first catch tells the story. “I don’t know what to say about this kind of play because you’ve never seen it before.” He followed it up with “eat your heart out, Willie Mays.” Of course, before Andruw Jones The Say Hey Kid was the most renown defensive centerfielder to ever play the game, yet Druw surpassed him. That second catch is almost as spectacular as seeing a starting pitcher go the full nine, much like Glavine did in the clip. More of that in baseball nowadays, please? This compilation showed everything. The athleticism, the speed, the ground covered, the tremendous routes, the way he’d never make the same mistake twice. The final clip shows his arm strength to get one of the speediest runners in baseball doubled up.

Bobby Cox noted that he “had RBI in his glove” while Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz all credit him for making their careers longer. He won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, while going up against defenders such as Ken Griffey Jr and Jim Edmonds. During a 2018 interview, Tom Glavine noted that Andruw Jones is his biggest Hall of Fame snub and called him “the greatest centerfielder in history defensively.”

If you like advanced defensive metrics, Druw’s 234.7 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) are the most by any outfielder in the history of baseball, with the next closest centerfielder being Willie Mays with more than 50 less DRS. The second closest overall is Roberto Clemente who had 29.9 less DRS. His 24.4 DWAR as a CFer is the highest in baseball history. I mean, just look at these other defensive greats and how Jones stacks up:

No matter what, if Andruw Jones isn’t the greatest defensive centerfielder in baseball history (don’t try to argue though, because he is), then he’s cut from the same cloth from whoever you think it is that has him beat.

It is worth noting that a player such as Rays’ centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier could make a run at this title if he were to be able to stay healthy. His one healthy season in 2016 saw him posted a 4.6 defensive WAR, the highest of all-time in a single season for a centerfielder.

The First Ten Seasons

Most Hall of Fame voters look for a stretch of dominance. I’m not talking two or three years of brilliance that other legendary Braves outfielders such as Justice and Dale Murphy put up, but a ten year peak. Andruw was a Hall of Famer after ten seasons. When you watched him play, you felt like you were watching a once in a lifetime player.

That 2005 season was incredible. It was his fourth of five total All-Star selections, as he hit over 50 homeruns and posted a .922 OPS. He drove in 128 runs.

Perhaps, Andruw was a bit overshadowed. His 62.7 cumulative WAR during his Braves run would’ve been the top on 28 of the 30 teams in baseball during that timeframe. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even number one on the Braves among players with the surname “Jones.” He hit 368 homeruns as a Brave to go along with the stellar defensive play, while stealing 138 bags and hitting to an .839 OPS. A true five tool player as he hit free agency at age 29. Unfortunately, that was his fifteen minutes of prominence.

Later Career

Every kid in Atlanta wanted to be Andruw Jones. Growing up, that was the swing to emulate in your backyard. Then he left before the 2007 season, signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers at age thirty looking like a surefire Hall of Famer receiving an AAV of $18M a year. It was the worst annual $18M the Dodgers would ever spend. He’d hit only four homeruns and under .200 as a Dodger before they bought out his contract. He put on weight, he wasn’t as mobile. He was an old Andruw Jones in what looked to be the prime of his career.

The next year, as a member of the Texas Rangers, he bounced back with 17 homeruns. In 2009 as a White Sox player, he posted an .827 OPS, well over league average and his best since 2006.

Then, Yankee fans finally had a reason to cheer for him, as he inked a deal with the Bronx Bombers. He was solid, but nothing special in 2011. Marred by injuries, he was a platoon player who saw 77 games on the season. He hit 13 homeruns with an OPS over .850. He earned one more year. That year was a year he’d like to forget.

Despite hitting 14 homeruns in 2012, he hit .197 and to a .701 OPS. A shell of himself defensively, he’d never get another Major League contract. If you want to see the highlight of his uneventful tenure as a Yankee, you can see this clip below:

He clearly had one of the worst production drop-offs in MLB history, but should that hurt him enough to take him out of Hall consideration?

How Does He Compare to Hall of Famers?

Druw with Hall of Fame teammates John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.

Having sub-2000 hits and a .254 batting average isn’t the most inspiring thing when it comes to Hall of Fame cases, but Jones stacks up otherwise very soundly.

The #HofJones account on Twitter is doing a new mystery series comparing him to different Hall of Famers. This week it was Yankee legend Joe Gordon.

One thing to look at is players in for their glove. Bill Mazeroski was a far worse hitter than Jones, but got in for his glove at second base and one major postseason homerun vs. the Yankees. Ozzie Smith is considered by many the greatest defensive shortstop of all-time, but hit only 28 homeruns with a .666 OPS. Andruw was the greatest defensive centerfielder of all-time, hit 434 lifetime homeruns with an .828 OPS.

Of players that started 50% or more of their career games in centerfield, his 434 homeruns rank fifth among them all-time.

“Playing with the guy day in and day out – and with all due respect to Willie Mays, who I never saw play–I can’t imagine there was a better centerfielder in the history of the game. I know Griffey gets talked about a lot, and Griffey obviously was a great centerfielder. But I’m telling you: the plays Andruw made day in and day out were just remarkable. He was as good as it gets out there, and he had the offense to go with it. I certainly think he deserves stronger consideration than he’s gotten, and hopefully over time people will come to appreciate that a little bit more.”

-Tom Glavine, who was enshrined into the Hall of Fame in his first time on the ballot in 2014.

I’m just going to drop some tweets that really show the greatness of Andruw.

Andruw Jones legitimately may be the best talent not in the Hall of Fame outside of those with heavy links to PEDs (Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, etc).

Impact on the Game?

The picture above is a picture of Andruw with a young kid in Andruw’s hometown of Curacao. Who did that kid grow up to be?

The above picture is Andruw with current Braves second base superstar Ozzie Albies, who’s currently the best second baseman in baseball. That was taken at the All-Star Game in 2018, which was Albies first appearance. It is the same kid from Curacao as the picture before it. Andruw was his idol.

Another young Brave is 21-year-old Cristian Pache, who’s been mentored by Jones in recent years, and recently got an Andruw tattoo.

Yes, Andruw Jones Warrants Enshrinement

Andruw Jones is probably the best overall player that isn’t in the Hall of Fame, despite his sharp drop off. He is the greatest defensive player at his position while hitting 434 homeruns. He’s done a number of things that no other player has ever done. He has the postseason pedigree dating back 19 years of age. He inspired a generation of international prospects. He was an absolutely insane talent. Unfortunately, as he enters his fourth opportunity on the writers ballot, it seems like a far cry. In 2018, he got 7.3% but in 2020 he saw an uptick to 19.4%. He could potentially be another case such as Mike Mussina, Larry Walker, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez, who all saw enshrinement in very late ballots due to a late surge of support from more analytically driven voters. With the ballot the clearest its been in seven or eight years, this is a prime year for Jones to see a huge increase in votes. Andruw Jones is a Hall of Fame player, he just doesn’t have the plaque that comes along with being one.

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