There really haven’t been many players in the history of baseball who can boast a career as head-scratchingly odd as that of outfielder Andruw Jones. Jones comes to mind in large part because of two recent news stories surrounding him. The first let us know that the former MLB star was headed to Japan as his career fades into twilight, while the second reported Jones’ wife Nicole filing for divorce after her accusation of physical violence and threats. It’s been a tumultuous winter for Jones, but I doubt I should really be surprised.
It really doesn’t seem like that long ago when Andruw Jones first made a name for himself as a member of the 1996 Atlanta Braves. Jones was a sensation at the time, just 19 years old and getting ample playing time against the Yankees in the World Series. There really isn’t a bigger stage than that, and Jones proved quickly that he was going to be something special, a player with as true a shot at the Hall of Fame as any could have at such a tender age. Jones homered twice in that series, but his quick October flash was a mere foreshadowing of what was to come.
The next season, Jones established himself as one of the finest defensive center fielders in baseball and hit 18 homers along the way. Things only got better, as Jones posted a 7.3 WAR campaign in his age-21 season, hitting .271/.321/.515 with 31 homers, 27 steals, and the usual superlative defense. Low walk rates aside, Andruw Jones was easily one of the best players in the sport by the time he could legally drink, and the ball kept on rolling. After his 467 PA in 1997, Jones proceeded to post the following FanGraphs WAR totals in his next nine seasons: 7.3, 7.3, 7.9, 5.4, 7.0, 5.9, 5.9, 8.3, and 6.3.
But that’s not all Jones did over those nine seasons. He also posted a 51-homer season in 2005, won 9 gold glove awards for his defensive work, played in five All-Star games, and was a 20-20 man three times. Even if his triple slash lines weren’t quite as impressive as other stars around the game, the overall package Jones brought to the field was one worthy of countless accolades, and at this point in his career the guy still hadn’t even reached 30 years of age.
But then something happened. Jones got off to a terrible start in 2007, and he barely found the strength to make anything of the season at all. The end result was an appalling .222/.311/.413 line at age 30; given Jones’ track record, though, it was hard to assume his career was truly on a downward path. The stink of the 2007 slump was enough to send Jones packing, so the star center fielder signed a two-year deal with the Dodgers and managed to get significantly worse, managing just a .505 OPS in 238 PA in 2008. While Jones made himself somewhat valuable as a bench masher later in his career, he never came close to rediscovering what made him so great for a solid decade.
Looking back on Jones’ career, it’s startling to see that he’s actually been worth 72.1 WAR. That figure makes him a serious Hall of Fame candidate, and puts him above plenty of guys who have made it in or have received serious backing. Andruw Jones may seem more like a punchline than an all-time great now, but just six short seasons ago he was an elite player at the top of his game. I highly doubt the man ever gets elected to the Hall of Fame, but his run of dominance afforded him a career line that includes 434 home runs, 10 gold glove awards, and a peak that wasn’t rivaled by many. That’s worth remembering.