In Birdland, home of Cal Ripken Jr. and his streak of 2,632 consecutive games played, playing every day has long felt like a great virtue towards which all players should aspire. Those times where, like right now, the Orioles have the longest active consecutive games streak held by a member of the team - Manny Machado in this case, the only MLBer to play in every game this year - it's a fun little curiosity. Hey, he'd only have to play X more years to pass Cal!
With The Streak fresh in everybody's memory thanks to the recent passing of the 20th anniversary of when Cal took the record for himself, it's worth keeping in mind that there is a reason that no other player has ever even come close to Cal's streak, and maybe never will. It takes a lot to have a player able to play every day. Not only do you have to have the combination of genetics and luck to avoid a serious injury that lands you on the disabled list for so many years, but also the kinds of nagging injuries that cost you a game here and there.
Tuesday's game against the Yankees was not the first of the year that did not see Adam Jones in the starting lineup. Jones came out of Monday's game after trying to double up a runner at first base. He tweaked a shoulder that has been ailing since he crashed into the chain link fence in the Kansas City outfield, a collision that also left his wrist dealing with nagging pain.
In the aftermath of that collision, Jones posted a tweet that explains a lot of why we love him:
And I'll run into another wall for my pitchers. #StayHungry— 10 (@SimplyAJ10) August 28, 2015
Who doesn't want a center fielder who would run into a wall for his pitchers and his team? But there is a cost to be paid, too, and part of that cost is that it's nearly two weeks later and Jones is missing games in part because of that injury. Players play through a lot, much more than is ever talked about.
Though Jones has never been in danger of breaking The Streak, he has been a very durable player for the past three seasons, playing in 162, 160, and 159 games over the past three seasons. It's pretty much automatic that Jones in the lineup would have been better than whoever was the fourth outfielder in any of those seasons. It's true this year too, mostly. A dinged up Jones is still better than the parade of failure the Orioles have marched through the outfield this season.
That's true most of the time, though there does come a point where that's less the case. Unfortunately, that point has been reached a couple of different times this season. This may not be the last time these things happen, either, as Jones conceded in an interview that aired on MASN's pre-game show before Tuesday's game.
Jones commented that he always heard things change once you hit 30, which he turned just last month. Not surprisingly, this is the year where it's taking longer for his body to bounce back from things that happen. Jones took the long view about missing a couple of games, pointing out that it's not just about one game or one series, but also "about the offseason and three more years left on my contract."
With the Orioles not exactly in a close race to try to make the playoffs, there is just no reason to rush Jones back out there. And even if he wasn't battling any specific injury, it might not be a bad idea to give him some more rest from time to time. In his big league career, Jones' two worst months of batting have been August and September.
Jones has that in common with the Iron Man himself, seen below comparing each player's OPS by month across a whole career:
|Month||Ripken OPS||Jones OPS|
These are just two data points, not anything that can be used to present something that is true across the whole population of big league baseball players. But it does kind of fit what you would expect - that in general a player who is in the lineup every day or nearly so, whose position can at times take a lot out of them physically, may slow down as the year grinds on and the calendar reaches August and September.
The numbers stand out even more in the case of Jones, with the 5th-best month being nearly 60 points of OPS lower than the 3rd/4th best months, and his worst month of August being over 60 points lower than those others. Venturing into an even smaller sample size, the .414 OPS Jones has combined in his two postseason trips could be even more of an extension of this issue.
Is all of that because he has played a ton of games the last three years? Probably not. And even to the extent that some of it might be caused by playing so many games, what is the solution? Give Jones an extra game off each calendar month? Let him DH a couple of times per month?
The last one feels like an idea with potential as Jones has only been inserted into the lineup at designated hitter a combined 12 games over this season and the previous three. It's easier to make a choice like that when there's a competent-fielding outfielder waiting on the bench, and when Jones at DH doesn't force an all-bat, no-glove player either into the field or onto the bench.
Those conditions in effect, the Orioles haven't really had the luxury of resting Jones at DH more often over the last couple of years. That is something they can and should work on for next year. I think the Orioles even tried to work on it for this year, but with the way that the outfield situation shook out, and also the health of Matt Wieters, they couldn't do something like have Jones as the DH every 10-12 games or so. The spot has been taken.
It's a tough one to figure out even in ideal roster conditions because, unless the nagging injury is as bad as Jones has dealt with this week, there are not many days where Buck Showalter can look at a blank lineup card and think, "The Orioles will be a better team today if Adam Jones doesn't play," or if he's just the DH. They aren't better with him on the bench, except for maybe in the long run.
If nothing else, the occasional rest day is one fewer day where he might run into the unpadded outfield wall of one of these uncivilized baseball stadiums like the one in Kansas City that has left him still shaken up weeks later.
After just one day of rest, Jones told reporters prior to Wednesday's game, "It's a lot better than it was the other day. Time heals all wounds, man." Two days of Jones at 50% does not add up to one day of Jones at 80%, especially if playing Jones the two days at 50% risks an even more serious problem cropping up.
Still, Father Time is undefeated, and Jones seems already to be aware that not all is as it once was with his body. He's not anywhere near his last legs as a player, but he does sound like a guy who has reached the point where occasional rest for rest's sake will do him well. Hopefully the O's can keep their star player fresher in future seasons.