As he has done for nearly a decade now, Adam Jones served as the Baltimore Orioles everyday center fielder during the 2016 season. It was a tough campaign for the 31-year-old. He battled early-season injuries and offensive woes, transitioned to the leadoff spot, and saw his production on the field dip to career lows in many categories.
The four-time all star and gold glove winner played 152 of the Orioles games at centerfield. Those 10 games he missed were the result of a “ribcage” injury in early April and then a hamstring problem in late August. Neither required a DL stint but could very well be the reason behind Jones’ subpar stats.
He batted .265 with a .310 on-base percentage and .436 slugging percentage. Jones has not had numbers that low across the board since 2008, when he was a 22-year-old in his first season with the O’s.
Jones is as streaky and unpredictable as they come, hitting .241 in May, .314 in June, .267 in July .309 in August and .223 in September. Lefties dominated him to the tune of a .218 average. In 2014, he hit .344 against southpaws. None of this makes sense.
It is the power department where the California native struggled most. His 29 home runs were great, the fourth most on a dong-hitting team. But a .436 slugging percentage was the result of hitting only 19 doubles and zero triples. Jones had never gone a full season without a triple and his previous low for doubles was 22, again in 2008. As a result, his isolated power was just .171.
The Baltimore Orioles, as they are currently built, do not have a prototypical leadoff hitter on the roster. Manager Buck Showalter basically waved the white flag in that regard on May 27, when he penciled Jones into the spot. And that is where he stayed, with three exceptions, for the remainder of the season.
Over 108 games at the top of the lineup, Jones did improve. His line as leadoff: .282/.320/.471 with 24 home runs and 64 RBI. No, he didn’t work the count as much as people probably would have liked, but he batted .302 on the first pitch of an at-bat. On a 1-0 count that number rocketed up to .426. This is Adam Jones. You take the good with the bad.
Is Jones a good fielder or not? Well, it seems to depend on the year. Jones has four Gold Glove awards to his name, but his performance swings from awful to outstanding on a season-to-season basis, according to Fangraphs.
But we are talking about 2016. This was a year where he struggled. FG gave him an overall defensive rating of -7.8 and he earned the worst UZR of his career, -10.1. Jones’ lack of range cost the Birds 10.3 runs, the third straight year he saw a decline there. Even his throwing arm, which has long been a calling card of his through thick and thin, cost the Orioles a run.
The nagging injuries are starting to pile up. Jones is past is prime. And his struggles on the field beg the inevitable question to be asked...Is it time to move Adam Jones out of centerfield? Maybe he could move to right. He would probably translate to an above average fielder there and would surely be an improvement over the Mark Trumbo experiment.
Five other players appeared in center for the Birds this year. Two of them were Drew Stubbs and Julio Bourbon. Neither of them did too much and they aren’t likely to have a huge impact on the 2017 team. If they do, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Pending free agent Michael Bourn got some time in center, but is more of a corner outfielder at this juncture of his career.
Nolan Reimold made a few cameos (48 innings) in centerfield. Look, he’s fine. Whatever. The guy seemed lost at the plate for most of the season and it is a minor miracle he made it through the year without being shown the door. He is 33 years old now and will likely be invited back for another Spring Training. Whatever that’s worth.
Joey Rickard spent the most time there (60 innings) apart from Jones. Remember him? Joey Baseball? At this point, Rickard feels more like a fried chicken spokesman than a baseball player, but we all had the fever back in April. The Rule 5 draft pick from Tampa started so hot, beginning his big league career with an eight-game hitting streak, but then struggled in May before picking things back up in June and July, when a thumb injury wrecked his season.
The 25-year-old has a good chance to find himself on the Orioles roster again in 2017. His .313 batting average against left-handed pitching is a valuable tool on a team that struggles in that area. As is his speed and versatility to play all three outfield positions. However, his defense leaves a lot to be desired. FG gave him a UZR of -9.9; a result of his poor routes and weak throwing arm. The arm isn’t going to improve, but his routes should. If he can do that, he is an ideal fourth outfielder to start against tough southpaws.
What can you expect in 2017? Who really knows. Ideally, it probably makes sense to move Jones to a corner position sometime soon. There would be less stress on his body. His physical skills would play better there and he still has enough power to be an everyday guy in right or left field.
However, it is highly unlikely that ever happens on Jones’ current deal, which expires after the 2018 season. Plus, the team has no heir-apparent in-house. Rickard could do a job in center for a day or two, but may be exposed for an extended period of time. And the free agent market (Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gomez, Jon Jay) looks to be thin and expensive.
AJ had a bad season. I’m sure he would be the first to admit that to you. But if there is any Oriole primed for a bounce-back year, it’s Jones. His ribcage injury likely took more of a toll then he led on and it possibly lingered all season.
Let’s be honest, as much grief as Jones is given by the fans, he was far from the Orioles biggest problem this season. He will be fine. The team has more pressing needs than worrying about replacing their longtime franchise centerfielder this winter.