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Braves Hall of Fame Profile: Andruw Jones

The greatest defensive center fielder of all time is in his seventh year on the ballot.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Atlanta Braves Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images

There are many players throughout baseball history who began their careers on a Hall of Fame path before injuries or a production dropoff caught up with them. Former Atlanta Braves outfielder Andruw Jones may be a special case in that discussion. Jones is regarded by many as the best defensive center fielder in the game, once recording 10 straight Gold Glove Awards. He was no slouch at the plate, either, slugging 434 home runs, but his career took a nosedive after leaving the Braves in free agency in December 2007.

Jones’ story begins in Curacao, where he signed with the Braves as a 16-year old while receiving a $46,000 signing bonus. He hit .290/.368/.412 with three home runs and 21 stolen bases in 63 games between the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League in 1994. As an 18-year-old in Low-A in 1995, he hit .277/.372/.512 with 41 doubles and 25 homers and was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year and the No. 1 overall prospect heading into the 1996 season.

His career took off in 1996 where he rocketed through three levels of the minors to make his major league debut at age 19 with the Braves. Jones dominated his way through the minors, hitting .339/.421/.652 with 34 home runs in 116 games.

He made his major league debut on August 15, 1996 against the Phillies. He hit the first of his 434 home runs in the second game of his career off Denny Neagle. He hit .217/.265/.443 with five homers over the final 31 games. During the postseason, Jones operated mostly as a defensive substitute, but made a mark in Game 7 of the NLCS with a two-run single and a homer in a 15-0 blowout win. His coming-out party, though, was in Game 1 of the World Series, where he homered twice in Atlanta’s Game 1 win over the Yankees.

Despite those heroics, Jones still wasn’t a full time starter for the Braves in 1997, sharing the outfield with Ryan Klesko, Kenny Lofton and Michael Tucker. He routinely entered games late as a defensive sub and ended up appearing in 153 games while hitting .231/.329/.416 with 18 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

Jones took over in center field full time in 1998 and remained there through the 2007 season. He hit at least 31 home runs in five of the next seven seasons. Then in 2005, he broke out, leading the majors with 51 home runs and 128 RBI and finishing second to Albert Pujols in MVP voting. He put together another big season in 2006, with 41 homers and 129 RBI. Cracks began to form in 2007, though, as he suffered through a banged up season and hit just .222/.311/.413 with 26 homers in his final season in Atlanta.

So far so good, but that is where things get dicey for Jones’ Hall of Fame candidacy. He signed a two-year, $36.2 million deal with the Dodgers that December, but reportedly showed up to the season out of shape and hit just .158/.256/.249 while striking out 31 percent of the time in 75 games. He had three different stints on the Injured List due to knee issues. Jones’ debut in Los Angeles was so bad that the Dodgers negotiated a buyout on the second year of his contract.

He bounced around from there, finishing his career with the Rangers, White Sox and Yankees, before heading to Japan. His image was further tarnished by a domestic violence arrest in 2012, which he later pled guilty to.

We’ve talked a lot about his offensive production above, but memories of Jones’ playing career are driven by his defensive prowess. Defensive metrics were in their earliest stages during his time and he would no doubt have been a Statcast darling in today’s game. His 235 fielding runs leads all outfielders and places him 50 runs better than second place Willie Mays. He has been lauded by his Hall of Fame teammates Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux for the positive impact he had on their careers.

The Braves inducted Jones, along with former GM John Schuerholz into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2016. The team finally retired his No. 25 in a ceremony at Truist Park this past September.

Jones’ support for the Hall of Fame was punchless over his first couple of years on the ballot, hovering around seven percent. He has gained more support of late and topped out at 58.1 percent in the last voting cycle which was his sixth year on the ballot. He is currently tracking at 71.2 percent on 177 ballots on Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker. Still, he is just +2 over last year with tracked voters during this cycle.

JAWS was created by Jay Jaffe (currently at Fangraphs) as a means to measure a player’s Hall of Fame-worthiness. Jones ranks 11th on the list for center fielders and ahead of Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn, Andre Dawson and Billy Hamilton (not that one). Mike Trout, who ranks fifth, is the only active player ahead of Jones. Carlos Beltrán, who is in his second year on the ballot, ranks ninth. Kenny Lofton ranks just ahead of Jones at No. 10 and failed to reach the five percent threshold to remain on the ballot after his first year.

There are some serious questions to Jones’ Hall of Fame candidacy:

  • The aforementioned domestic violence arrest;
  • His career batting average of .254 would be one of the lowest enshrined, and honestly, his career 111 wRC+ isn’t that good either. It was only 114 as a Brave, too, and “only” 119 during his stint as a full-time Braves starter, if you exclude his down 2007;
  • He failed to reach 2,000 hits in his career;
  • His value is tied to a 10-year peak where he was among the best in the game, but subsequently went off a cliff. S

Still, the defense matters, and he is regarded as one of the best ever. That in itself is Hall of Fame-worthy.

Voters have rallied towards Jones of late. He still has four more voting cycles counting this year, so he is trending in the right direction. If he somehow misses out on the writer’s ballot, he seems to be in good shape to gain induction through one of the committees down the road.

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