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Is Andruw Jones overrated?

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Jason Stark at ESPN emphatically says yes! In fact he reckons that Andruw is the most overrated CF of all-time. Whoa! That's a pretty ballsy statement. Today I want to dissect Jason's thesis and give my thoughts on the matter. Here's the case for the prosecution:
  • Jones arrived on the scene with a bang, belting a couple of homers in his first World Series appearance. At this point everyone thought that he'd make Babe Ruth look like Brad Ausmus
  • 9 Gold Gloves, the majority of which have been predictaed on a declining number of put outs and chances. In 1999: 493 PO; 2005: 365 ... chances down by 100 as well over the same period.
  • Out of all CF Jones was last in ZR in 2004 and 2006, and fifth from bottom in 2005 ... the insinuation is that many of those gold gloves aren't deserved.
  • In his 2005 mega-season Andruw has the lowest OPS, AVG, SLG and adjusted OPS of any 50+ HR hitter
  • Bunch of quotes from some scouts saying that Jones is the most overrated CF ever ... yada, yada, yada
Let's take the case for the defense: Were Andruw hitting .300/.400/.600 with 15 gopher balls we wouldn't be having this conversation. Period. Just because someone is in a slump there is no need to go for the jugular. Remember back to October last year? A-Rod was the devil incarnate. Couldn't play in the clutch, couldn't buy a hit ... look at him now ... the face and future of the Yankees franchise. He can do no wrong. Right, rant over. Let's look at the bald facts:
  • Chances and put-outs: First that 1999 season was the highest point in his career. He was never close to that make again, either before or after. Without going through the PBP† data I suspect that that year represented a bit of a fluke in terms of PO. Also in that year he played every single game. As time went by he played in fewer games and was pinch hit for more often. From this we'd expect C and PO to decline. I'm not saying that Jones' fielding prowess hasn't declined -- I'm just saying that Stark has over-egged the facts.
  • Zone Rating: ZR has always been slightly unkind to Andruw. Why? Well, largely because Zone Rating is anchored around a fixed set of zones. If a CF catches balls out of zone he won't get as much credit as players who capture balls in-zone. A much better metric in Dewan's +/- ... or UZR, but that data is proprietary. From 2003-2005 +/- has Jones as the best CF in the NL. Jones may have lost a yard of pace and by no means reaches all the balls he used to in CF but he is still above average
  • His 50 HR season: The last part of Stark's arguments. There have been 39 50 HR seasons. So that puts Andruw in some pretty exclusive company with about 25 other hitters (including repeats). If you narrow the criteria to CF the list is 9 long, across 6 player -- esteemed company, for sure. If you cast your mind back 2005 was another slow start and on April 26 his line was .182/.244/.312 with 2 HR to his name. Exclude that little patch and Jones was nowhere near the bottom in terms of AVG/SLG/OPS. The fact that he plundered over 50 longballs is even more impressive
So, what's the final score then? Who's right? I can see where Stark is coming from. Jones is now not much more than an average† fielding CF† at the moment, though his talent hasn't dropped as precipitously as Stark suggests. Perhaps in the last year or so he has slowed up but remember that from 97-05 he was one of the elite CF in the game -- the data prove it. As for the timber, there too Andruw has excelled. He is a typical power hitter and as a result his AVG is often a touch depressed. This feeds into the AVG/OBP/SLG data. Combining work with the timber and glove and Jones has been one of the top 10 CF in the game of all time and in the top 2 over the last 10 years (along with Ken Griffey Jnr). Sure, he isn't as good now as he was, and his current cold streak does him no favors, but overrated??? You've got to be kidding.

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