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Andruw Jones arrived 10 years too early and he's still paying for it

If Andruw Jones played 10 years later, he would be revered in Braves Country.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

From personal experience, Andruw Jones was often frustrating to watch as a fan.

The longtime Atlanta Braves centerfielder struck out more than 20% of the time in six of his eleven seasons with the club, and during that time, he posted a batting average of .263 with an on-base percentage of .342. Those are, of course, highly respectable numbers, but when evaluating superstars, they aren't the norm.

As a result of that perception, the Braves have yet to retire Andruw Jones' number 25, and that decision remains a controversial one in Braves Country. However, Jones is guilty not of simply being a frustrating baseball player, but rather one that arrived about 10 years too early.

Andruw Jones was awesome.

For all intents and purposes, Jones is the best defensive centerfielder in the history of baseball, and even if that isn't universally accepted as "fact", it would be impossible to argue that he isn't, at the very least, in the conversation for that honor. Defense is held in much higher regard in 2016 than it was during Jones' run in Atlanta from 1996 through 2007, to the point where players like Andrelton Simmons and even Jason Heyward are now accurately evaluated for their greatness in run prevention.

Just how good was Andruw Jones defensively? Beyond the narrative argument, Jones finished as either the top or second-best defensive outfielder (according to FanGraphs) in eight consecutive seasons from 1998 through 2005, and during that time, he rated as the top overall defensive player in the sport on two occasions with three additional top-two finishes. FanGraphs should not be counted as the end-all, be-all for this type of evaluation, but when examining range and overall impact, only Adrian Beltre (at third base) can match Jones for excellence and duration.

Oh, by the way, he was also very good offensively.

We've covered the "issues" in batting average and on-base percentage, but Jones posted a .497 slugging percentage (.839 OPS) over more than 7,000 plate appearances in Atlanta. In addition, Andruw Jones topped 25 home runs in ten (yes, ten) consecutive seasons during his time with the Braves, and that figure includes five seasons with 35+ home runs to go along with a 51-home run explosion in 2005.

From an overall standpoint, the good folks at FanGraphs also weigh impact with their fWAR metric. Yes, this is a controversial measure in the eyes of some, but when considering the elite defense from Jones, it isn't a leap to think that the following statement could be true.

Andruw Jones ranks as the 8th-best centerfielder of all time and he comes in at number 65 overall regardless of position.

No, this is not an argument for Andruw Jones to make the Hall of Fame, though that should be seriously considered. The standard for retiring numbers at Turner Field (er, SunTrust Park?) should, theoretically, be slightly lower than that of the Baseball Hall of Fame and, well, Jones deserves inclusion.

The advancement of statistical metrics and, in general, the evaluation of defense as a whole would have seriously aided Andruw Jones in terms of public perception. For many young fans during that era, he was a "great defensive player" that struck out a lot and couldn't get on base. Instead, he would've been treated in the way of an Andrelton Simmons except for the wildly important fact that Andruw Jones was always an above-average hitter at worst, and an exceptional hitter (again, he hit 51 home runs in a single season) at best.

Andruw Jones wasn't as valuable as Chipper Jones or Greg Maddux during his time with the Braves, but he holds a higher fWAR mark in an Atlanta uniform than Tom Glavine and Dale Murphy. Again, this is not the article that takes shots at former Braves greats, but instead, it's something of a mea culpa toward Andrew Jones.

If the metrics were better, if we treated defense fairly, and if we "got it" earlier, Andruw Jones would have his number retired and, maybe, he would be a Hall of Fame candidate.

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