Andruw Jones has been a hot topic around baseball this offseason, as this marks the first year of his Hall of Fame eligibility, and his candidacy has been a divisive issue for many. Regardless of where the Baseball Writers Association stands on Jones and his merits as a Hall of Famer, maybe the most-deserved honor eluding the long-time Brave is a number retirement ceremony. The Braves enjoyed some of their most successful years as a franchise with number 25 patrolling center field, so why is his number absent from the facade at SunTrust Park?
The case for Jones, both as a number retiree and as a Hall of Famer, begins with his claim to fame: defense. For reference, Andruw Jones is the all-time leader among outfielders in dWAR and Total Zone Runs, where he rates 25% better than the second-place finisher, Willie Mays. On top of his statistical exploits, Jones was of huge aid to the success of the Braves pitching staff in the 1990’s and early-2000’s. Because he was so gifted at going back on the ball, Jones played a very shallow center field, which kept balls landing in front of him to minimum while simultaneously deterring baserunners from taking extra bases.
Jones was among the best defenders of all-time, regardless of position, but his ability at the plate separates him from names like Mark Belanger and Ozzie Smith as an all-around player. Jones amassed 434 home runs, 152 stolen bases, and a 111 OPS+ in his career, while producing a 10.3% walk rate and .337 on-base percentage. Those numbers would place him among the greatest center fielders ever regardless of defense, and when taking into account his strong postseason resume, where he batted .273/.363/.433 with 10 home runs, Jones begins to look more like a first-ballot Hall of Famer than a fringe candidate who could barely gain 5% of the vote.
The totality of Jones’ game made him among the best players in baseball for nearly the entirety of his time with the Braves. His steep decline after leaving the Braves may be a contributing factor in keeping Jones out of the Hall of Fame, but should have no bearing on whether or not his number is retired by the Braves.
For comparison let’s take a look at Jones alongside another Braves great, Dale Murphy, who has his number retired with the organization. Oddly enough, Murphy ranks as the most similar batter to Jones in baseball history, according to Baseball Reference’s Similarity Score feature.
Dale Murphy played 15 seasons with the Braves spanning from 1976-1990, and amassed a batting line of .268/.351/.478 with 371 home runs, 160 stolen bases, and a 125 OPS+ in 8,095 plate appearances. As a Brave, Jones finished with a batting line of .263/.342/.497 with 368 home runs, 138 stolen bases, and a 113 OPS+ in 7,276 plate appearances. As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between the two, with Murphy being slightly more consistent and Jones being slightly more powerful. The real discrepancies between the two come on defense, where both excelled, but Jones was an all-time great. This is illustrated in the difference between Jones’ 61.0 WAR and Murphy’s 47.0 WAR while in Atlanta.
The gap between Jones and Murphy from a value perspective is quite large, and while the purpose of this article was certainly not to slander or demean Dale Murphy’s career, the vast difference between the two only serves to empower the argument that Jones deserves to have his number retired by the Braves.
Andruw Jones was a staple in the Braves lineup for over a decade and contributed greatly to the great success enjoyed by the pitching staff and the team as a whole in the 1990’s and early-2000’s. The organization has excluded him from its most exclusive club for long enough, and now with his exploits being debated around the league, he needs to be fully supported by the Braves in every way. Andruw deserves more than just social media posts from the organization, he deserves to have his name etched alongside Chipper Jones, Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, and all of the Braves’ other number retirees. Make this happen Atlanta.