There aren't many players who stick around with the same team for a decade in today's game. Adam Jones has now joined that club with the Orioles, as the 2017 season was his 10th with the club. Even better for the Orioles, after a bit of a dip in production last year, Jones bounced back at the plate this season.
You can never be entirely sure that a player is going to bounce back from a tough year. Just ask Chris Davis. This is especially true once a player crosses past age 30. That's not OLD, of course, but it's professional sports-old. something that sounded like it was on Jones's mind in an interview with O's writers near the end of the season.
Jones did miss seven of the team's final sixteen games, including the last five games of the season, with what was just described as "general leg soreness." This was alluded to regularly by Gary Thorne on MASN telecasts. The missed games were part of a September that saw him hit zero home runs for the month.
Despite that, Jones batted over .300 in September, so the month wasn't a total loss - like, say, last September. In contrast to many of his teammates, he batted better over the second half of the season than he did over the first half.
These are admittedly not great things to have to write about a season that is being called a bounce-back season, but there's no denying the full-season numbers. Across 147 games, Jones batted a combined .285/.322/.466. That is his best batting average since 2013 and best on-base percentage since 2012.
Jones also improved his slugging percentage over last season, though his 26 home runs were his fewest since 2011. One of those home runs gave him the record for most home runs hit at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
That batting line adds up to a wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created) of 107, which means that Jones was 7% better than the average hitter after adjusting for park and league. That was an improvement over his 97 wRC+ from last year. A 107 isn't going to win you any MVP awards, of course, but it's improvement, enough where we don't have to ask, "Is this guy toast?" Jones is not toast. He is just fine.
The 2017 season ended up being an eventful one for Jones, if not always in the ways that anybody would want them to be eventful for him. An early-season storyline was that the Orioles finally succeeded in getting him to play deeper in the outfield, one of those things that had been talked about for nearly his entire Orioles tenure. More on that later.
This was in evidence to an extent before the Orioles season began when Jones made that phenomenal catch in the World Baseball Classic, robbing Orioles teammate Manny Machado of a home run in a game between the USA and the Dominican Republic:
So much has happened this year that it doesn't even feel like that happened in the same year that we're still in right now, but it did. Man, that was even more awesome than I remembered it being.
On the negative side, there was the incident with the racist taunts hurled at Jones in a May 1 game at Fenway Park, putting Jones at the center of an MLB-wide discussion about what should be done about people like that at games. I don't want to speak for you, but Jones's comments afterwards, when he said "it was just the right time" to speak out, made me proud to have him on my favorite baseball team.
It's probably a coincidence that May started off for Jones with that happening and it ended up being his worst-hitting month of the season. He got just four hits in his next 29 at-bats following that game and batted only .228 for the month. It could have just been luck evening out after an .848 OPS April where he posted a .342 BABIP. You never know. Baseball players are people who go through ups and downs, too, something it can be easy to forget.
June, July, and August all saw consecutive improvements from Jones at the plate. So, again, it all ended up to where Jones had a solid season. If you look at Baseball Reference WAR, he was worth 2.5 wins. Fangraphs was a bit less generous, at 1.7 wins. A team has problems if that is its best player. The Orioles are not in that situation, fortunately.
In either case, Jones racked up a number of post-game Pies Above Replacement, bringing great joy to Orioles fans before the fun-hating Mark Trumbo apparently ended the practice. The team finished the season 5-20 after the pie ban took effect. This is also probably a coincidence.
Though Jones answered concerns about his bat with his 2017 performance, there is still the question about whether his glove is up to the task of playing center field for much longer. Although there were those early-season stories about Jones playing deeper, they don't appear to have had any positive effect on his defensive metrics by year's end.
Keeping in mind the usual caveats that public defensive metrics are known to have their problems, and that you generally need three years of data to draw conclusions, the numbers don't look good for Jones.
By Defensive Runs Saved, Jones was worth a total of -12 runs in the field, with double-digit negatives for range and a negative number for his arm as well. That's a second consecutive season where Jones had a significant negative DRS. He was also -10 last season. The other big one, Ultimate Zone Rating, was no more kind, giving Jones -13.3 runs with negatives for both the range, arm, and error components. UZR was -10.1 last season, too.
What it all seems to add up to is that, wherever the O's position Jones, he isn't the center fielder of the future any more, though he remains the center fielder of the present because there's nobody else to put there and there's no sign the Orioles want to find someone else to do it. Hopefully another year of Jones in center field works out better than it has seemed to do, based on the metrics, the last two years.
Though he's mentioned less frequently than Machado and Zach Britton, Jones will also be a free agent following next season, as the contract extension he signed during the 2012 season will finally run out. It would be nice if the two sides could reach a good deal that would let Jones finish his career here. He's absolutely my favorite current Oriole. That said, it won't be good for anybody if the next Jones contract turns into the next Trumbo contract.
The Orioles needed a bounce-back season from Jones this year, and that's exactly what they got - at least, at the plate. If Jones can keep producing like that next season, the O's will be in good shape.