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July 5, 2007
Due to his massive platoon split and inconsistent defense, Jacque Jones has never been an appealing option at any of the outfield positions. In 2006 he managed to have himself a decent year for the Cubs, belting 27 home runs while hitting .285/.334/.499 in 578 plate appearances. Whatever baseball deities he pleased last season seem to have turned on him in the present. He is now hitting a sub-replacement level .227/.288/.319 with a .214 EqA. Jones has had his poor seasons, but never this poor. What's behind this drop in offense, and is it going to stick?
The Royals drafted Jacque Dewayne Jones prior to his college days in the 31st round of the 1993 draft, but he didn't sign, preferring to attend USC. He had a solid college career that earned him a few awards, such as Freshman First-Team All-America outfielder in 1994, Pac-10 Conference All-Southern outfielder and Summer League First-Team All-American outfielder in 1995, along with Pac-10 Conference All-Southern outfielder, Summer League First-Team All-American outfielder, and third-team College All-American outfielder for the 1996 season. The Minnesota Twins took him in round two of the 1996 draft, and he would sign two months later, which held him to just three at-bats for the year. His first full season in the minors was not all that impressive, although the follow-up seasons went well:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 1997 Fort Myers(A+) 539 .297/.340/.464 34% .167 39 5.7% 19.1% 1998 New Britain(2A) 518 .299/.349/.508 41% .209 42 6.5% 23.7%
Jones didn't show much power in 1997, and his lack of plate discipline was noticeable given his low level in the minors. He would improve on both in 1998 by increasing his Isolated Power to .209 and earning a small boost in walk rate, but the jump in his strikeout rate was larger still. Besides his awful stolen base rates, the only really worrisome aspect for either of these seasons is Jones' BABIP figures of .350 and .369. His Double-A number is especially alarming, given that the league average BABIP for that level is not all that far off from the major league average. Jones has been a below-average line-drive hitter throughout his major league career, posting a 17.4 percent rate since 2002. His high BABIP throughout his career has been a product of his very high groundball rates; from 2002 onward, Jones is just under 57 percent for grounders.
The Twins would place Jones in Triple-A for the 1999 season. The 24-year-old would only play in 52 games for Salt Lake before the Twins came calling and made him their center fielder:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 1999 Salt Lake(3A) 198 .298/.325/.444 32% .146 15 4.3% 17.1% 1999 Minnesota(MLB) 322 .289/.329/.460 38% .171 26 4.9% 18.2%
Salt Lake was his worst performance as a pro, with over a two percent drop in his already low walk rate, and a dip in power. His batting average was supported by his BABIP once again, which encouraged the Twins to call him up. He would do more of the same in the majors with a little bit more power, but his plate discipline was still awful, and his EqA was below average.
Baseball Prospectus 2000 liked Jones, but wasn't overly excited about him:
A fun player to watch, although not somebody I'd want on my team. He's a singles hitter who swings from his heels. While he isn't the type who draws walks, simply calling him impatient doesn't do him justice. With nobody on, he's hacking early to get the ball in play. With somebody on, he seems to foul everything off and work the pitcher until he gets the pitch he wants to put in play. Naturally, he's a great bad-ball hitter. He can make the highlight-reel catch in center field, and he throws well.
Jones would not play another minor league game after 1999, and split his 2000 season between left field and center as Torii Hunter settled in as the club's everyday center fielder. During his first few seasons, Jones was a below average corner outfielder and center fielder, posting EqAs of just .245 and .250 following his major league debut:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2000 Minnesota(MLB) 523 .285/.319/.463 34% .178 31 4.7% 21.2% 2001 Minnesota(MLB) 475 .276/.335/.417 30% .141 25 7.6% 19.4%
There was no improvement to his game in 2000, as his walk rate stayed in the Dunston Zone and his power continued to come up short for a corner outfielder in the majors. There was some improvement in 2001 as far as his patience was concerned, with a jump in his walk rate to a much more manageable 7.6 percent, but he lost 37 points of Isolated Power, making him just as ineffective as before.
Baseball Prospectus 2002 criticized Jones' development against southpaws, and rightfully so. Forcing a player into a platoon role immediately can hinder whatever development they may have left against the handedness you hide them from:
Tom Kelly worked hard to protect Jones from left-handed pitching. Like Todd Walker before him, Jones was protected so well that he still doesn't recognize what lefties are doing on the mound. It's time to find out whether he's ever going to be a regular, but on a team filled with right-handed slugs looking for playing time, it's unlikely he'll get the at-bats he needs to develop.
Tom Kelly was no longer the manager in Minnesota starting in 2002, so Jones was moved to the leadoff spot in the lineup, where his bat would have more value as long as he could get on base and work the count. He didn't do much of either, but he did manage to hit .300, keeping his OBP afloat and slugging over .500. Things didn't work out quite as well in 2003, but it was still an improvement on what was to come as a Twin:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2002 Minnesota(MLB) 577 .300/.341/.511 38% .211 39 6.0% 22.4% 2003 Minnesota(MLB) 517 .304/.333/.464 32% .161 34 3.9% 20.3%
So, 2002 was a neat season, as his .279 EqA made him average at the plate for his position, and his Rate2 of 111 reflected that he was also an asset with the glove. He struggled defensively the next season with a Rate2 of 94 though, and despite a .304 batting average, was only on base a third of the time he batted. His BABIP was .356, so you can imagine what would happen if his grounders didn't have eyes and his BABIP suffered, or if his line-drive rate tanked. In fact, it would look something like his 2004 and 2005 seasons brought on by his .283 and .282 BABIP figures:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2004 Minnesota(MLB) 555 .254/.315/.427 33% .173 23 6.7% 21.1% 2005 Minnesota(MLB) 523 .249/.319/.438 38% .189 26 8.9% 22.9%
Despite some pop and improved walk rates, Jones' low batting averages kept him from being productive. He was well below average for a corner outfielder most years, but this just exacerbated the issues. From 2000-2003, Jones hit just .230/.273/.329 against lefties, and those numbers did not improve during the 2004 and 2005 campaigns. His numbers against right-handers dipped to .262/.328/.465, which made his inability to hit southpaws even more glaring. The Twins rightly did not pursue Jones when his eligibility for free agency came up, finally shedding a player who came at a hefty price during his arbitration years.
Jones went to the Chicago Cubs on what many felt was an ill-conceived three-year deal. Following his most productive season in years in 2006, he has fallen further than ever during the current campaign:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2006 Chicago(MLB) 533 .285/.334/.499 39% .214 32 6.2% 21.8% 2007 Chicago(MLB) 207 .227/.288/.319 30% .092 12 7.2% 15.9%
His .321 BABIP brought his batting average up near where it needs to be given his low walk rates and middling power numbers. With the Cubs' multiple younger options in the outfield and the preseason signings of both Alfonso Soriano and Cliff Floyd, this would have been a prudent time to move him, preferably to another team in the NL Central. Instead they sat on him over the offseason, and are essentially stuck with a 32-year-old corner outfielder who is very much below replacement level and cannot hit lefties. He apparently wanted to skip town once Dusty Baker was not retained as manager, and it's certainly possible that being shifted in and out of the lineup hasn't helped Jones' performance.
Jones' batted-ball data has not changed much over the years, although his BABIP has fluctuated a bit given his tendency to rely on grounders going for singles. What has changed significantly in 2007 is his HR/FB--normally, despite his presence towards the bottom of the flyball rate listings for qualified players, Jones also finds himself near the top of the HR/FB charts. When he lofts one, it usually finds itself in the bleachers a quarter of the time, which has helped keep his slugging percentage above sea level most years. This is not the case in 2007 though, as his HR/FB has dropped way down in the single digits:
Year P/PA FB% LINEDR% GB% IF/F% HR/F% BABIP eBABIP Diff. 2002 3.6 26.1% 19.4% 54.5% 7.8% 23.3% .347 .314 -.033 2003 3.3 21.3% 19.4% 59.3% 6.9% 18.4% .356 .314 -.042 2004 3.7 30.2% 14.2% 55.7% 7.7% 18.5% .283 .262 -.019 2005 3.6 26.3% 14.9% 58.8% 4.7% 21.7% .282 .269 -.013 2006 3.7 25.5% 18.6% 55.9% 1.9% 25.5% .321 .306 -.015 2007 3.6 23.4% 18.9% 57.7% 9.8% 4.9% .262 .309 +.047
Only in 2007 has Jones needed a positive adjustment to his BABIP, as all of the other seasons were kept afloat due to his speed and extreme groundball tendencies. He has been unlucky this year, so adjusting his line somewhere close to .274/.335/.366 would give him a superficial improvement that is still awful for almost any position, never mind for a corner outfielder. However, that still doesn't account for the difference in production from 2006 to 2007.
As previously stated, Jones HR/FB took a 20 percent nosedive in the course of a year, and he finds himself sans homer power. Thanks to an assist from Jason Pare, we can see that Jones has no ability to drive the ball long distances this year:
Jones flew out or popped up 69 times in 2006, and has already done so 38 times this year. That is 55 percent of last year's total in only 39 percent of the total plate appearances. You can see how short his flyballs have been by looking at his hit charts from MLB.com.
Last season, the average distance of a Jones home run was 397.3 feet, with an average speed off of the bat of 106.6. The average Wrigley homer traveled 400.3 feet with an average speed off the bat of 106.7 mph, with 2.45 home runs per game. This season, Wrigley has 1.9 homers per game, with an average distance of 396.8 feet despite an increase in the average speed off of the bat to 107.6 mph. Looking at the overall homer charts for Wrigley shows a decrease in distanc--could this be a problem with the wind conditions in Chicago? I wanted to look at this using home run statistics from Hit Tracker.
Home runs in Wrigley in 2006:
Home runs in Wrigley in 2007:
Of the 78 homers hit this year, 32 have lost distance due to the wind, with an average of 10.7 feet lost, and median decrease of 9 feet. The rest of the homers have gained 11.6 feet on average with a median of 10, along with nine shots that saw no change in distance due to conditions at all. In 2006, Wrigley wind gave homers a boost of 25.5 feet on average, with a median of 22 feet, while taking away just 16.2 feet on average and 14 feet for the median. So, the wind has not hurt as much as it did in 2006, but it has also helped far less.
Jones has not seen any of the boost show up in his numbers, given that he has just a pair of homers, but he has most likely suffered from the adverse affects of the wind. In 2006, five of his homers were adversely affected and four given a significant boost, with one neutral. Players with middling power like Jones have probably suffered, but his age, decline, and relatively short stack of skills to work from in the first place have just as much to do with it. At this point, the wind is just piling on.
If the weather conditions change in the second half and balls start flying out of Wrigley again, Jones will benefit. He will still be Jacque Jones either way, which isn't the best thing you want in an outfield corner, but it would increase his trade value to the point someone else could make the mistake of thinking he's better than he really is. If Jones wants out of Chicago-or if the Cubs would like him to start hitting better-they should start requesting help from Notus, rather than from the aforementioned baseball deities of luck and lofty BABIP.