What can the Diamondbacks expect from new OF Adam Jones?
For a seven-year stretch between 2009 and 2015, there weren’t many outfielders in baseball that were more productive than Adam Jones.
During that time span, the former Oriole made five All-Star Games, finished in the top 15 in the AL MVP race three times and was a key contributor to a Baltimore team that made the postseason on three different occasions, including a berth in the ALCS in 2014.
The last few years haven’t been kind to Jones, however, as he has seen his production steadily go down since his last All-Star campaign in 2015. The market for Jones in free agency was notably quiet because of this, and the Diamondbacks were able to take a flyer on him for a mere $3 million over one year.
So what can the D-backs expect from Jones? He may not be the player he once was, but can D-backs fans expect him to hold down the center field job in 2019?
First of all, the most encouraging thing about Jones going forward is that even though his offensive numbers have been on the decline over the past few years, he still grades out as a decent hitter.
Since 2016, the year his production first started to noticeably dip, Jones has posted a slash line of .277/.315./440 with an OPS+ of 103, which is three percent better than league average and better than what the D-backs received last season from their center field group of A.J. Pollock, Jarrod Dyson and Jon Jay.
What is concerning about Jones’ bat, however, is the huge dip in power that he underwent last season. Jones only hit 15 home runs in 2018, which was his lowest total since 2008 (his first season as an everyday player) and the first time he had gone below 25 home runs in a season in seven years. As a result of this, Jones’ slugging percentage cratered, falling from .466 in 2017 all the way to .419 last year.
This may have been a case of bad luck more than anything, though, as his hard hit percentage and his line drive percentage were both better than they were in 2017 and only marginally worse than what they were earlier in his career. If last season was an aberration and Jones is able to regain his power of previous seasons, then he may be able to provide a big boost to the middle of the D-backs’ lineup.
Most of Jones’ value will come with the bat, as his play in the field leaves a lot to be desired. The 33-year-old graded out as a decent fielder by most defensive metrics during his prime, but his value on that side of the ball has plummeted over the last three years. According to defensive runs saved, Jones was the fourth-worst defensive outfielder and sixth-worst fielder in all of baseball in 2018.
Jones especially struggled with going back on balls, which may have been due to a combination of positioning and declining speed. At an average of 316 feet from home plate, Jones plays a very shallow center field, but his speed (which has fallen every year since Statcast started tracking it in 2015) no longer allows him to reach balls that he might’ve gotten to earlier in his career. Jones looks to profile better as a corner outfielder from here on out, but with David Peralta in left field and Steven Souza Jr. in right, there’s more of an opening in center. That is, if Souza’s injury from Monday night isn’t serious. If that’s not the case, though, the D-backs will surely use Jones more in right.
Ketel Marte began to make the transition to center field before Jones signed with the team, but he has only played out there one time since Jones’ first spring appearance on March 19. He still looks to be an option, though, and the positional flexibility that he adds will give the D-backs the opportunity to mix and match when necessary.
“Ketel’s versatility allows Ketel to play second base one day and insert somebody like Adam Jones into center field,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said on March 12, shortly after Jones had signed. “The very next day [Marte’s] versatility could put him in center field and allow us to play somebody as valuable as Wilmer Flores at second base. That’s the value of moving Ketel around.”
Dyson is also still in the outfield mix for the D-backs, and his combination of speed and defense provides a good complement to Jones’ offense-heavy skillset.
All in all, most of Jones’ value to the D-backs looks to hinge on whether or not his power is able to return to what we are accustomed to. He is a great presence in the clubhouse by all accounts, and if he is able to get back to his pre-2018 home run numbers on top of that, he will more than likely be worth the D-backs’ investment in him this year.