In case you haven’t noticed, Hall of Fame voting has become a bit of a circus in recent years. Between the growth of baseball on Twitter and Facebook and those sites aptitude for amplifying any disagreement along with the recent trend of tracking and reporting individual ballots, having a Hall of Fame conversation these days can be hazardous to your health. And that’s especially true when the name in question is right on the margins of selection. When it’s names like Greg Maddux or Chipper Jones, there’s barely any need for a discussion, much less an argument. Those guys are first-ballot Hall of Famers, absolute locks for selection, and produce very little in the way of controversy. But when it’s a name like, say, Braves’ centerfielder Andruw Jones, the takes get hotter and the conversation much more interesting. And since it’s an entirely a subjective exercise, there’s really no right answer. Just opinions. Lot and lots of opinions.
Well today at Talking Chop, we’re going straight into the belly of the beast to ask, and hopefully answer, THE question: Is Andruw Jones a Hall of Famer?
Now there’s several ways to go about trying to answer this question, but for me, the simplest is first making the case why he is a HOF, then making the case why he isn’t, and letting you the people decide which case holds the most water. I do think it’s a bit of a copout on pieces like this not to conclude it with my own opinion on the subject so that’s how we’ll wrap it up.
Why Andruw Jones is a HOF
If I’m making this case in a court of law and want to start out with bang, my opening salvo is this: There are 4 players in the history of baseball with 10 Gold Gloves and 400+ Home Runs. Those 4 players are:
- Willie Mays*
- Ken Griffey Jr*
- Mike Shcmidt*
- Andruw Jones
* denotes Hall of Famers
Four players in the history of the sport have won 10 gold gloves and hit 400+ HRs, Jones is one and the other three are not only Hall of Famers, but all first-ballot Hall of Famers. By this, not only should Jones be in the Hall of Fame, the fact that he’s in his fifth year on the ballot and still waiting is disrespectful in itself.
After throwing that opening haymaker, I’m following it up with his 10-year peak. Often, players whose HOF credentials are being questioned are in that position because, in the eyes of many, the peak of their greatness didn’t last long enough. Andruw Jones doesn’t have that problem. From 1997-2006, a 10-year span, here are the top 3 players in baseball by fWAR:
- Barry Bonds
- Alex Rodriguez
- Andruw Jones
For a decade, Andruw Jones was one the best 3 players in baseball, besting guys like Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones, who were both in their primes and both are currently Hall of Famers. For those 10 years, Andruw accumulated 60.1 fWAR, won 10 gold gloves, hit 337 HRs, an average of 33 HRs/year, and played in 1576 games, an average of 158 games/year. He was elite defensively, a force offensively, and was available to play damn near every day for 10 years. People often bring up his sharp decline once he turned 30 but they rarely mention how many games and innings he put on his body between ages 20-29. With that many miles on your legs, the decline was never going to be pretty. But his prime was elite. The Hall of Fame is about recognizing greatness and for a 10-year period, Andruw was truly great.
The defense can never be talked about enough, as for many who watched him play, he was the best defensive centerfielder they’d ever seen. Even if you don’t want to use subjective awards like Gold Gloves to evaluate him, Baseball Reference measures him as one the very best CF to ever play in both fielding runs and defensive war. By FanGraphs’ Defensive WAR, Jones is the greatest defensive OF of all time. And even if Gold Gloves are subjective, when you win 10 of them, it takes a lot of the subjectivity out it. Here’s the complete list centerfielders to ever win 10 Gold Gloves: Mays, Griffey Jr, and Andruw.
And it wasn’t just his defense. For a primary centerfielder, Jones ranks 6th all-time in HRs at 434. From 1998-2008, Jones never hit fewer than 25 home runs in a season, including his career-high 51 HRs in 2005. Andruw was a power and defense player and he did both exceedingly well.
FanGraphs writer Jay Jaffe came up with the JAWS ranking a few years ago to rank HOF eligible players against their positional contemporaries. One of the key factors in a players JAWS ranking is their 7-year peak WAR. The 19 centerfielders currently in the Hall o Fame have an average 7-year peak WAR of 44.7. Andruw Jones’ 7-year peak WAR is 46.4. In fact there are only two centerfielders in the history of baseball whose 7-year peak WAR is above 45.0 and not in the Hall of Fame: Mike Trout and Andruw Jones. And remember, his peak was just 7 years, it lasted a decade. Any line we draw when discussing how long a player needs to be great is going to be arbitrary, but if 7 years is good enough for most guys, 10 years should plenty for Andruw.
Why Andruw Jones is not a HOF
Had Jones’ career ended gradually, with a graceful decline into retirement, he probably would’ve been a first-ballot HOF. As we stated above, his peak years were arguably better than teammate and first-ballot HOF Chipper Jones. But Chipper played solid baseball all the way through his mid-30s, while still heavily contributing to winning teams. Andruw did not. After his age 30 season through the rest of his career, Andruw hit .210/.316/.424 while accumulating just 2.7 fWAR over his last 5 seasons. And not only did it happen, it happened under the bright lights of the now infamous 2-year/$36 million contract he was given by the LA Dodgers. But it wasn’t just his performance that soured that deal. Jones started showing up to Spring Training 20-25 pounds overweight and displayed a general disinterest in improving. Not playing well after signing a big contract is enough lose fan support by itself. But combining it with a certain degree of not even trying, makes it all much much worse. And writers and fans don’t forget how you went out.
After his disappointing stint with the Dodgers, Andruw went on to play 3 more seasons with White Sox and Yankees, but was never anything more than a part-time/bench player, only reaching 100 games played in a season once after leaving Atlanta in 2007. In 2006, Andruw was 29-years-old, a 6 WAR players who had just hit 41 HRs and posted a 124 wRC+ and by 2008, he was 31 and completely done as an impact player, or even a starting caliber player. He didn’t decline, he fell off the face of a mountain. And probably more than anything else, this is why this debate is happening in 2022.
But it’s not the only reason. Andruw was a flawed players. Because the end of his career was so abrupt, and he was never really considered a great hitter to begin with, Jones finished his career with just 1933 hits, a decent number overall, but when compared to other HOF, comes up quite a bit short. Sub-2000 hit guys have always struggled to get to Cooperstown, as there are many voters who believe certain counting milestones need to be reached before membership should even be considered. Andruw’s .254 career batting average would be the second worst batting averages to ever be elected in the HOF, behind catcher Ray Schalk. Batting average, of course, isn’t a very good stat, which is good news for Jones, but a lot of voters still use and very much care about that number, and it’s one that definitely hurts his chances.
But even if you don’t use batting average, Jones has a career 111 wRC+, which again, is certainly not bad. It’s a solid number, but when talking about enshrinement, it’s one of the lowest offensive outputs by any outfielder currently in the HOF. Even Braves’ fans, wearing their most rose-colored glasses will tell you, while Jones’ was a great power bat, he was never a great pure hitter. And with so many voters still unsure about defensive metrics and their place in these discussions, often a player’s fate comes down to what he did on offense. And for Andruw, despite the HRs, offense certainly isn’t the strength of his argument.
And then there’s the incident in the early hours of Christmas Day 2012. Jones was arrested on charges of domestic battery after putting his hands around his wife throat and threatening to kill her, all according to the police report. Jones later pleaded guilty, was given probation and paid a fine, and within a week of the initial charge, his wife Nicole filed for divorce. Where all of this fits into HOF voting is up to each individual voter but there are absolutely writers who wont even consider voting for him on this alone. 2022 will be Jones’ fifth year on the ballot, and he’s never been included on more than 34% of ballots cast. His vote totals have increased every year he’s been included, which is obviously good news, but it’s tough to a see a jump from 34% all the way up to the needed 75%. We’ll obviously know more when they announce the results of this years voting on January 25th live from Cooperstown.
If I was a BBWAA member and I had a vote, all things being equal, I would vote for Andruw Jones on my ballot. I think he’s arguably the greatest defensive player at one of the games most important defensive positions, while also hitting 400+ home runs and having an elite 10-year peak. I understand the reservations that some have and why this is a debate, but his on-field accomplishments are extraordinary enough that if it’s up to me, I put him in the Hall of Fame.
What say you? Is Andruw Jones a Hall of Famer?