Andruw Jones was inducted into the Braves’ Hall of Fame at a luncheon on Friday. He and another famous Jones will be eligible for a bigger Hall of Fame — the one in Cooperstown — on the ballot distributed in December 2017. Chipper Jones will be enshrined on his first try. Andruw Jones might never be.
Then again, he might.
Having watched the 19-year-old Andruw Rudolf Jones hit two home runs in Game 1 of the World Series in Yankee Stadium — the second landing in Monument Park, which seemed fitting — I confess that the remainder of his career left me wanting a bit more. (Yeah, maybe I expected too much.) But the nice thing about numbers is that they’re finite. Looking at his now, I’d argue that they’re more than worthy of Cooperstown consideration.
Andruw Jones had a career WAR (wins above replacement) of 62.8. That ties him for 104th all-time with Home Run Baker and Ken Boyer among non-pitchers. The only eligible position player with an 80 WAR not to gain enshrinement is Barry Bonds, who has other issues. A 70 WAR doesn’t guarantee induction but comes close. A 60 puts you in the conversation.
Hall of Famers with a lower WAR than Andruw’s include Harmon Killebrew, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Hank Greenberg, Willie Stargell, Bill Dickey, Luis Aparicio, Joe Gordon, George Sisler, Wee Willie Keeler, Tony Perez, Gabby Harnett, Mickey Cochrane, Kirby Puckett, Orlando Cepeda, Ralph Kiner, Jim Rice, Ernie Lombardi, Nellie Fox and Lou Brock. Is there anyone among those 20 about whom you’d say, “He’s no Hall of Famer”?
Here are what sabermetric folks like to call the “counting numbers” for A. Jones: 434 home runs and 1,289 RBIs, a batting average of .254. Among Hall of Famers, only Ray Schalk — a catcher in the dead-ball era — has a lower BA. (Schalk’s is .253.) But if we’re counting, we also have to tick off Andruw’s 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, which are only just the beginning.
Among all outfielders who have ever played, A. Jones is the career leader in defensive WAR. He’s at 24.1. Paul Blair is second at 18.6, Willie Mays third at 18.1. From 1997 through 2002, here’s where Andruw ranked among all major-leaguers (not just outfielders) in dWAR: Fifth, first, second, second, second and fourth.
Because he could also hit — he had an OPS+ of 116 or better eight times in a nine-year run; league average is always 100 — A. Jones became a WARlord at a time when WAR wasn’t fit for mass consumption. He finished among the top 10 position players in WAR in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2005. Contemporaries included Bonds, A-Rod, Griffey, Pujols and Chipper.
If A. Jones was never the best player in baseball — on in his league, or sometimes on his team — in a given year, he was consistently among them. His first 10 full seasons were actually better than Chipper’s first 10. From 1997 through 2006, A. Jones’ WAR was 58; from 1995 through 2004, C. Jones’ was 52.2. But Chipper is an HOF lock is because he kept going. (He won a batting title and had a 7.3 WAR season at 36.) Andruw stopped.
He was 30 when he left the Braves after the 2007 season. He played five more years for four different clubs. His aggregate WAR for those five seasons was 1.8. Over his final 10 seasons here, A. Jones hit at least 26 homers. He had 51 in 2005. He hit a total of 66 home runs as an ex-Brave. He went from being one of the 10 best players in baseball to being somebody’s fourth outfielder.
If Andruw had managed two more years of 3.5 WAR — he’d bettered that number eight times — he’d be right at 70 for his career. That wouldn’t put him in on the first ballot, but it might in Years 3 or 4. As it is, A. Jones’ best chance of election is that he becomes a Talking Point: “Why isn’t the best center fielder ever in the Hall of Fame?”
“If it happens,” Andruw said, “it will be because of defense. I took pride in my defense. In spring training when we were running sprints, I would tell Bobby (Cox), ‘I’m just going to shag (flies) today — those will be my sprints.’ ”
That worked for him. This might, too. The Hall of Fame has begun to cull its voting rolls. If you haven’t covered baseball within the past 10 years — if you’ve retired, say — you’re no longer allowed to vote. By 2023, say, the electorate will have gotten younger and more saber-savvy. And they’ll surely know that the go-to defensive metric — DRS, or defensive runs saved — didn’t come into being until after Andruw’s heyday. (He’d have owned that category, too.)
I’m not big on guarantees, but I told Andruw Jones on Friday: “You watch. A lot of writers are going to be making the Hall of Fame case for you soon.” Consider this my little attempt to beat the rush.