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Starting Nine: Is this the year Andruw Jones gets the HOF call?

Breaking down the outfielder’s chances in his sixth year on the ballot

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Atlanta Braves
Andruw Jones won 10 Gold Glove while amassing 24.4 bWAR, the highest of any outfielder in history.
Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

Fred McGriff will have the Atlanta Braves represented at this summer’s Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but will he have company?

On Jan. 24, the results of the Baseball Writers Association of America votes will be announced from a ballot that includes three holdovers who are former Braves: Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner.

Leading up to that reveal, the Starting Nine will be focusing on the cases of that trio, beginning with Jones. Is this the year he gets the HOF call?

1. Building momentum

In 2018, his first year on the ballot, Jones got just enough support to avoid bringing an end to his chance at election via the BBWAA, appearing on 7.3 percent of ballots (five percent is the minimum).

He didn’t fare much better the following year (7.5 percent), but Jones has been building, going from 19.4 percent in 2020 to 33.9 in 2021, and 41.4 percent last year.

So far, the invaluable Ryan Thibodaux’s (@NotMrTibbs on Twitter), tracker is showing Jones at 70.3 percent based on 110 public and eight anonymous/unverified ballots. He’s gained 22 votes so far and needs 206 additional votes to gain induction.

It’s similar to the case of recent inductee Larry Walker, member of the Class of 2020. He went from as low as 10.2 percent in 2014, to a climb that included 34.1 percent in 2018, and 54.6 percent in 2019 ahead of his receiving 76.6 percent in his year of election.

If it doesn’t happen for Jones in 2023, sitting in the 50 percentile or above has him trending toward induction very soon.

2. The ballot isn’t as crowded

One could argue that so far, in each year of Jones’ candidacy, he’s been a victim of a crowded and controversial ballot, and the rules that limit voters to checking off 10 players on the ballots.

In Jones’ first year of eligibility, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, and Jim Thome were all elected. Not to mention there were three players who would make it via the writers later in Walker, Edgar Martinez, and Mike Mussina.

A year later, the writers punched four more tickets to Cooperstown for Martinez, Mussina, Roy Halladay and Mariano Rivera. In 2020 there were just two (Walker and Derek Jeter), which coincided with Jones’ nearly 12-percent jump in voting, and in 2021, when no one was voted in via the BBWAA, Jones climbed again.

To this point, Jones has had to share space with a number of players linked to performance-enhancing drugs receiving higher percentages of votes than him in Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, and Gary Sheffield.

Ramirez and Sheffield remain, and Alex Rodriguez is in his second year on the ballot, but the absences of Bonds and Clemens — along with another player who has stirred the pot in Curt Schilling — only stands to benefit the likes of Jones. It also helps that there’s no clear HOFers on the ballot this time around.

3. Defensive metrics

If only Statcast had been around when Jones was patrolling center field, which would have given us an even bigger volume of metrics to extoll his greatness. But what we’ve got is pretty clear, and the further focus on defensive analytics should only strengthen Jones’ bid.

His 24.4 career defensive WAR is tops among all outfielders, and by a considerable margin. Next closest is Paul Blair (18.8), followed by Willie Mays (18.2). The only other Hall of Famer within 12 dWAR of Jones is Roberto Clemente (12.2).

Go off FanGraphs’ Total Zone — which is their lone defensive metric that’s used play-by-play, and hence can be calculated for any player in any era — and Jones with a career 135 TZ in center field. That’s second only to Mays’ 148.

If that doesn’t underscore Jones’ place in the hierarchy at the position, then let’s turn our attention to the hardware.

4. All those Gold Gloves

There are 15 non-pitchers who have won at least 10 Gold Gloves, and five of those are outfielders: Clemente (12), Mays (11) and Ichiro Suzuki, Ken Griffey Jr., and Jones with 10 each.

Three of those outfielders are first-ballot HOFers in Clemente, Griffey and Mays, and Suzuki is certain to be when he’s eligible in 2025.

That ship has sailed for Jones, and it’s a comparison that has been used over and over, but if Ozzie Smith gets in with 91.7 percent in his first year, why is Jones — with far superior offensive numbers and all that gold — still waiting?

The fall from Jones’ peak (which we’ll discuss shortly), hurts, but there’s no way to knock the defensive credentials.

5. The offensive company he keeps

Jones hit 434 home runs and drove in 1,289 over his 17-year career, with 368 of those HRs and 1,117 RBI coming with the Braves.

Forty-five players on that list have hit more homers, and while 16 aren’t in the HOF, only six of them (Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran and Jones) haven’t been tied to PEDs.

Narrow it down to players who spent at least 75 percent of their career in the outfield, and Jones is one of nine players with those home run and RBI totals. There are only three not already in Cooperstown, with Jones joining Bonds and Sammy Sosa.

We all know the story with those other two sluggers.

6. The peak outweighs the fall

One of the key arguments against Jones being a HOFer is the dramatic decline after he left Atlanta following the 2007 season.

From 1997-2007, he had as high as a 7.9 fWAR (2005) and was no lower than 3.3 (2007). He amassed 64.2 worth of fWAR in that span, third among all players, trailing Bonds (82.7) and Rodriguez (82.5).

Jones was better than a number of first-ballot HOFers, including Chipper Jones (58.9), Jeter (53.7), Pujols (53.5), Guerrero (51.8) and Ivan Rodriguez (49.3). Among outfielders, Jones joined Bonds as the only player better than 51.8 fWAR in that span.

But from 2008 until his final season of 2012, Jones never had a fWAR higher than 1.5, totaling 2.7 fWAR. That was tied for 110th among outfielders in that period.

Nothing about that screams HOFer, but it also undermines how great Jones was for an 11-year stretch where he was outperforming a long list of players who were quickly waived into Cooperstown.

We’ll be back next week with a look at Sheffield’s candidacy. But let’s take a spin elsewhere around Braves Country.

7. New territory comes with new potential penalties

With Sean Murphy’s extension, which will see him make $4 million in 2023, the Braves have crossed the $233 million luxury tax threshold for the first time.

While the actual money — they’ll be taxed at 20 percent for every dollar spent between $233 million and $253 million — wouldn’t be more than $4 million in additional fees, there are other variables at play going into next season for general manager Alex Anthopoulos and Co.

As one of the teams that exceeded the tax, signing a qualified free agent next winter would cost the Braves their second- and fifth-highest draft picks in 2024, along with a $1 million drop in international signing pool money. Sign multiple players who received the QO, and Atlanta would also give up its third- and sixth-highest picks.

That could be a storyline worth watching next offseason if the Braves stay with internal options at shortstop and are unhappy with the production. It’s not a star-studded class but does include the Cleveland Guardians’ Amed Rosario.

8. On this day in Braves history: Phil Niekro leaves

While he’d return in 1987 for one final game on the mound for the Braves, HOFer Phil Niekro departed on this day in 1984, signing a two-year deal with the New York Yankees.

Atlanta had released Niekro in October of 1983 with the knuckleballer saying at the time of the only franchise he’d ever known “I guess this is the end of a 25-year marriage. This is the divorce. Everything I’ve got, except my wife and our three kids, was bought by the Braves.”

Niekro was informed by owner Ted Turner and general manager John Mullen that he wasn’t in Atlanta’s plans for 1984. But he’d find a new home in the Bronx, where he made $700,000 per year — $100,000 less than the Braves paid him in 1983 — and was an All-Star in his first season, going 16-8 with a 3.09 ERA in 215 2/3 innings over 31 starts.

The Braves finished second in the National League West and missed the postseason for the second straight year in 1984. Had they kept the 45-year-old Niekro, he would have led the team in wins, ERA and innings pitched.

9. HBD, Vaughn Grissom

If the Braves keep it to their internal options, Vaughn Grissom is the most likely option to be the Opening Day shortstop.

That’s subject to change with more than a month before the report date for spring training, but this isn’t about whether Grissom — who hit .347/.398/.558 with a 165 wRC+ in his first 26 games and .190/.286/.214 with a 47 wRC+ in his last 14 — is the right choice to man the position in 2023.

Grissom turns 22 today, so we celebrate the 11th-round pick in 2019 with a flashback to his epic debut in Boston, where he launched a two-run home run off the Red Sox’s Darwinzon Hernandez (scoring the other half of the Troublemakers, Michael Harris II in the process).

“I didn’t feel a thing. I didn’t feel one thing,” Grissom said of the home run during his on-field, postgame interview on Bally Sports South. “Literally, I hit it and blacked out until I saw my first-base coach and just started laughing.”

We’ll debate further later the long-term prospects of Grissom at shortstop, but for now, this is his day. So, HBD Vaughn.

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