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August 12, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Discipline And Mr. Jones

by Craig Brown

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Looking at the big picture (that is, the entire season) you could say Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones has had a disappointing fantasy year.  

His batting average and power numbers are static and his RBI production is way down.  After hitting a long ball once every 24.9 at bats last summer, he owns a 27.9 AB/HR this year.  He’s hitting just .231/.292/.324 with runners in scoring position and is driving in just 12% of all base runners.  Plus, his base running - once thought to be a selling point with his double digit stolen base potential - is horrendous.  He’s stolen only four bases in 10 attempts this year and has been picked off five times.  

Overall, his .264 TAv represents a step back from last year’s career best .271 TAv.

A huge part of the problem is Jones is chasing pitches out of the strike zone almost 40% of the time.  He’s not approaching the levels of a Vladimir Guerrero (47%) or Jeff Francoeur (44%), but when you’re knocking on that 40% threshold, that’s never good.  Jones has always been a bit of a free swinger, whiffing once every 4.5 at bats and posting a career walk rate of 5%, but his chase rate represents a fairly large step back in his plate discipline.  Not for the squeamish, from Texas Leaguers, here are his swing pitch types from April when he hit .223/.245/.388:

Pretty similar to July, a month where Jones hit .257/.315/.376:



Yep… He can’t lay off the high, hard stuff and goes fishing for the junk low and away.  There are so many ways to get him out on these graphs, it makes me wish I was a pitcher.

Of course, focusing on his two poor months does him a disservice.  In between all that, Jones had a scorching June where he hit .320/.352/.600.  He did it by laying off the high cheese:



It looks as though he will never be able to resist the low off speed pitches, but his best stretches come when he reigns in his aggressiveness and lays off the fastball up and out of the strike zone.  Don’t look now, but he seems to have rediscovered that discipline:



Would it surprise you to learn that in 10 games covering 42 plate appearances this month, Jones is hitting .395/.452/.605?  Small sample and all, but an impressive start to August.  Unfortunately, given his ups and downs this season, it’s impossible to tell how long this stretch will continue, or if he's finally locked in at the plate.  It's been one heck of a streaky season for Jones. (While it may seem simplistic to break everything down by month, Jones does seem to start his streaks on or very near the first of month.)

So Jones' inconsistent approach at the plate leads to inconsistent results.  That's probably to be expected from a young player who lacks the overall plate discipline gene.  Still, his streaks of strike zone command provide reason to be hopeful for his future.  The hope is, he learns what makes him successful and modifies his approach permanently to get the most out of his talent.

Here's another reason to be hopeful about Jones: While his power may be static from 2009, he has shown something positive - the development of power to center field and the continuing ability to go the opposite way.  Here is a table breaking down his home runs by location.  The 2010 home run totals are one short because they do not reflect his inside the park home run he hit in May at Washington.       

The raw numbers really don’t do this justice.  From Hit Tracker, here is where Jones’ home runs have landed the last two seasons.  The chart on the left is from 2009 and the chart on the right is from this season.



As you can see, like most young hitters with power potential, in the past most of Jones’ home runs came to his pull field.  If he went the opposite way, those fly balls often were just loud outs.  (Maybe they fall for doubles.  Still, most of us are looking for home run production.)  His power may be down a click or two from last year, but when a player under the age of 25 (Jones turned 25 on August 1) exhibits the trend of hitting for power to all fields, that’s worth noticing as it portends well for future power development.

While Jones' season may be disappointing in the grand scheme of 2010, pay attention to the remainder of his season to see if he can continue to improve on his plate discipline.  If he can bottle that magic and combine it with his still developing power, he could be on the cusp of a breakout year in 2011.

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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