Baseball Hall of Fame debate: Defensive wizard Andruw Jones trending towards Cooperstown?

Known for his power hitting and exceptional defense, outfielder Andruw Jones was part of an Atlanta Braves team that won division titles in each of his first 10 seasons. He  vaulted from Class A to the majors as a teenager in 1996 and made an instant impact in his first World Series game at age 19, hitting two home runs in a 12-1 rout of the New York Yankees.

The native of Curacao was a five-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glover in 17 major league seasons. His best individual year was 2005, when he led the majors in home runs with 51, topped all National Leaguers with 128 RBI and finished as the runner-up in the NL MVP voting to Albert Pujols.

The case for

Jones’ career was full of defensive highlights, demonstrating his specialty – the diving, almost impossible-looking catch – on what seemed to be a nightly basis.

His 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards in center field are more than anyone except Willie Mays.

While defensive stats are highly subjective, Jones is elite on any scale. He ranks first all-time among outfielders (and second overall to Brooks Robinson) in Total Zone Runs above average, which Baseball-Reference regards as the best all-encompassing historical defensive stat.

On offense, he displayed both power and speed. He hit at least 25 homers and drove in at least 84 runs in every season from 1998-2007. Plus, he had four seasons with at least 20 stolen bases.

The case against

Although Jones was clearly on a Hall of Fame track with the Braves, things changed dramatically after he turned 30. In his final season in Atlanta, he hit what was then a career-low .222 (albeit with 26 homers and 94 RBI).

Once he became a free agent, his production hit the skids almost immediately. The Los Angeles Dodgers bought out his contract after one injury-plagued year and he played for four teams over his final five seasons. No longer the defensive wizard of his prime, Jones hit a combined .210 over that injury-plagued span and never reached 20 homers or 50 RBI in any single season.

He retired with 434 home runs, 1,933 hits, 1,289 RBI. Those numbers, while solid, don’t quite rise to the level of other Hall of Fame outfielders. His .254 career average is lower than all but one Hall member, catcher Ray Schalk (.253).

Braves center fielder Andruw Jones makes another one of his patented diving catches in a 2005 game against the Mets. Jones won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1998-2007. (Photo: Gregory Smith, AP file)

Voting trends

This is Jones' fourth year on the ballot. His previous results: 

2018: 7.3%

2019: 7.5%

2020: 19.4%

Of the 127 ballots from BBWAA members as of January 10 entered into Ryan Thobodeaux's Hall of Fame Tracker, Jones has support from 43.3%.

He's definitely trending upwards, gaining 15 votes – and not losing any – from returning voters who have made their ballots public. Jones is doing even better with first-time voters, receiving support from five of the six (83%).

Consensus

Perhaps the best defensive center fielder of his generation – and one of the greatest in history – Jones was a five-win player in eight different seasons. He posted good, but not dominant offensive numbers for most of his career and finished with 62.7 career Wins Above Replacement, which ranks 108th all-time.

Based on his 10-year peak, Jones has a solid case for Cooperstown. The question is how much his final seven seasons bring him down. Based on his significant jump in the early returns, a lack of any definitive first-ballot candidates on the 2021 ballot seems to have created a valuable opportunity for voters to give Jones a second look. 

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