Orioles center fielder and Human Baseball Annihilator (Patent and Trademark Pending) Adam Jones has gotten off to one of the hottest starts in baseball. Jones added four more hits to his total on Sunday afternoon, including his fifth home run and third double. He also garnered five more RBIs, taking his season total to 16 which leads all of baseball. To back that up, Jones is in the top 5 in Isolated Power or ISO at .391 (a proxy for a extra base hit rate, last year's league average was .143), top 3 in wOBA at .599, and top 3 in wRC+. Not to mention he is a four-time gold glove winner playing at a premium defensive position.
Simply put, he has been amazing. Jones, the ever consistent player has managed to bat in the .280s and hit 25 or more home runs for 5 straight seasons, and has been an above league average offensive player for 6 straight seasons. Furthermore, Jones has posted in succession 1.5, 1.5, 2.4, 2.4, 4.3, 4.2, and 5.5 fWAR over the past seven seasons. He has been a great player for a long time now and has gotten better with age. Now, in his age 29 season, he has started off hotter than ever before and I believe it is for a specific reason.
The other constant of the Adam Jones experience has been striking out. He has a career 19.3 percent strikeout rate and posted a 19.5 percent strikeout rate in 2014. The interesting part to the start of the 2015 season is that Jones has only struck out 9.8 percent of his plate appearances. Now, obviously with an absurd overall batting line of .457/.490/.848 it is tremendously early in the season. On the other hand, statistics such as strikeout rate are known to stabilize early on in the season. In fact, according to the research strikeout rate stabilizes during a season at around 60 PA. So even though Jones has only 51 total plate appearances, some of the early numbers are still meaningful. (If you want to get more into the gory math I suggest you read Russell Carlton from Baseball Prospectus who has written extensively on the subject.)
An aside about stabilization rate: It is important to remember that stabilization does mean that no regression will occur. The general rule of thumb in these instances is that once a statistic reaches a stabilization point, you only have to regress 50 percent to the mean. Said another way, what has occurred thus far may only be 50 percent attributable to luck. For example, if Jones is striking out 10 percent of the time and his career average is 19.3 percent, than you can expect his season rate to stabilize at around 14 or 15 percent. Obviously, these numbers are not certain, but provide an interesting avenue to analyze players in the early portions of the seasons.
Now, back to Mr. Jones. A career low strikeout rate would intuitively mean that Jones is making contact. That is a great thing for a guy who has an average batted ball velocity of 96.67 mph, the second highest batted ball velocity of batters who have had at least 20 at bats end with a ball in play. The numbers back up the theory as well. As seen in the above table, Jones thus far has career highs in O-Contact% (pitches outside of the strike zone) at 65.8 percent and Z-Contact% (pitches inside of the strike zone) at an outrageous 93.2 percent. On top of that, he is swinging less than he has in the last four seasons, which is another statistic that stabilizes early in a season at around 100 total plate appearances.
If Jones can keep his strikeout rate down he would conceivably be able to add many more hits over the course of the season and if his batted ball velocity remains high those could be extra base hits. Even if his strikeout rate only falls two to five percent off of his career level, all that means is more strong contact from a hitter who has made a living of hitting the ball very hard. We could be seeing the next evolution to the game of Adam Jones or we could be seeing a fantastic start and nothing more. In fact we have nearly 4500 plate appearances that say one thing and only 50 recent ones that tell a different story. Regardless, the strike outs are going to be something to watch for with Jones going forward to see if he can take his game to that next level.