Adam Jones: Too Good to be True?

Many Orioles have gotten off to a great start in 2013.  Last week we took a look at the hot start of Chris Davis, to determine if his success was due to good luck, or a change in approach.  This week, we’ll take a gander (thank you Microsoft Word thesaurus!)* at the hot start for Adam Jones, and see if we can answer the same question.

*just kidding, I don’t need Microsoft Word’s thesaurus to help me write anymore

As of May 6, Adam Jones is the owner of a very healthy triple slash line, which is sitting at .331/.360/.519 (AVG/OBP/SLG).  All of three are above the levels of his breakout 2012 season, when those statistics were also career highs.  Despite the .519 slugging percentage, he is hitting for slightly less power this year compared to less, as his ISO is currently 0.030 lower than it was in 2012.  Still, between last year and 2013’s great start, the Orioles front office and its fans are feeling pretty good about that extension Jones signed last year to stay with the team through 2018.

Similar to Davis, the first thing that jumps out about Adam Jones’ season so far is his extremely high BABIP, which is currently at .400 (career .320 BABIP), and ranked as the 7th highest in all of baseball (Chris Davis is ranked 17th).  While BABIP can be an indicator of good or bad luck, luck is not the only reason for a high or low BABIP.  As previously discussed in the Davis post, hitters who are fast and hit line drives have a better chance to maintain high BABIP’s.  Jones certainly has above average speed and his line drive rate is currently 3.3% above his career average.  However his 2013 LD% is basically the same as it was last year, when his BABIP was .313.

One reason being touted for Jones’ great start to the season has been his improvement when hitting with two strikes.  The numbers back this up, as Jones is hitting .302/.333/.476 with two strikes in 66 PA’s.  He also has an ABSURD .545 BABIP with two strikes.  Read that last sentence again.  In a count where the pitcher likely has a huge advantage, Jones getting hits on over half of the balls he puts in play.  In his career, Jones’ numbers with two strikes look a lot different, with a line of .211/.257/.329 and a BABIP of .331.  Even Chris Davis has a.228/.297/.491 line, with a BABIP of .409, is not even close to Jones’ two strike numbers in 2013.

While there is no reason why Jones will keep up his pace with two strikes, maybe he has changed his approach at the plate with two strikes through a shortened swing, better strikezone awareness, etc.  I have admittedly not watched enough Orioles games this year to make that claim one way or another, but the plate discipline numbers do not back this up.  Cue the table!

table

Jones is basically right around his career averages in the above plate discipline categories.  These numbers in addition to his current walk and strikeout rates don’t really show any sort of change in approach.  Jones has never been known to take a lot of walks, but so far in 2013, both rates are trending in the wrong direction (the blue line indicates league average).

BB Rate

BB Rate

K Rate

K Rate

Finally, before we finish up, let’s look at a couple players in the BABIP top ten with similar BB%, K%, and AVG/OBP/SLG as Jones…

compare

Any idea who those players might be?  Hint: it’s probably not who you were hoping for.

  • Player A is Chris Johnson, third baseman for the Atlanta Braves.  If his name sounds familiar, he was part of the package Arizona sent to the Braves with Justin Upton this past offseason.  Over the course of his career (1,400+ PA’s), he’s basically been your average hitter, with a career triple slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .279/.318/.432.
  • Player B is Nick Hundley, catcher for the San Diego Padres.  Hundley has almost 1,500 major league PA’s in his career and has been a below average hitter, with a .242/.300/.397 line.
  • Player C is Starling Marte, left fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Marte has accumulated roughly a half season of PA’s in his two years in the majors and was one of the Pirates top prospects as recently as last year.  Scouts love his potential, but a lot believe he will never learn the plate discipline needed to reach it.  I don’t believe that it is unrealistic to say that Marte would be fortunate if his ceiling is Adam Jones type production, but he has a long road to get there.

If you don’t feel good about these players continuing to produce at those levels for the rest of the year, you shouldn’t, because it’s not likely that they will.  Unfortunately, the same can be said of Jones, especially since his plate discipline numbers indicate that his approach at the plate has not been any different this year than in previous years.  At some point, Jones’ balls in play will stop finding holes (especially with two strikes), and his numbers will regress to last year’s levels, or even closer to his career levels.

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