2014 Fantasy Baseball: Will Adam Jones Fall?
On the surface, Adam Jones appears pegged to finish the 2014 season as a top-5 fantasy outfielder. After all, he did just have a 2013 campaign that saw him accumulate 33 home runs and 14 stolen bases with a .285 average. Jones also happened to achieve this success during his age 27/28 season, so he is still in those prime years. Of course, Jeff Zimmerman’s latest work with age curves may have us approaching peak years a bit differently these days. Normally when a hitter puts up back-to-back productive fantasy season before reaching age 30, we don’t worry about that hitter falling off a cliff. But then there are the numbers that aren’t home runs and stolen bases that help define Adam Jones as a hitter. And those are the most worrisome.
Adam Jones swings a lot. In fact, when compared (since 2006) to his age 27/28 peers with at least a .310 wOBA, he has swung the most. He also ranks 26th in contact percentage among that list. And those are individual seasons. If we take his career and line it up against hitters with at least a .330 career wOBA, he would be 4th in swing percentage. Since 2006, Vladimir Guerrero, Pablo Sandoval, and Josh Hamilton are the only hitters who have Jones beat in that statistic. Out of the four, only Hamilton has a higher strikeout percentage and lower contact rate. Among both groupings, Jones has the lowest walk percentage out of everyone. In short, when you consider his awful walk rate, high strikeout rate, and lack of contact considering his enormous swing percentage, it is astonishing that Adam Jones is a successful major leaguer.
It is difficult to single out a statistical measure that one can say, ‘that’s it. That’s why he is having so much success. The one key stat that stands out is HR/FB ratio. It has increased the past three seasons, bordering on excellent. And if we go back to that age 27/28 leaderboard, Jones is placed 15th in HR/FB, among some quite impressive company. His fly balls and homers traveled an average of 297.49 feet in 2014, placing him 24th among hitters. So there is power delivered by that swing.
However, the rest of the profile leaves a lot to be desired. The contact rate is below league average (81%). The swing percentage is very high compared to the rest of the league (46%). Jones hits more grounders than league average, while doing less with line drives and fly balls compared to the rest of his peers.
There is a lack of Hit F/X data available to the public, and this would be a time to believe that when Jones makes contact, it is hard contact. That may help explain his HR/FB ratio and batted ball distance. Jones having great athleticism would help explain his success. Outside of being a great athlete because he plays baseball at the highest level, Jones also handles a tough position in centerfield and has shown some speed during his career. And he actually came up as a shortstop who could also throw in the low 90’s as a pitcher. The athletic tools were always apparent.
Jones also has the ability to punish pitches outside the zone:
Athleticism may be Jones’s blessing. He’s strong and seemingly makes hard contact when he swings at pitches he shouldn’t.
Jones has produced strong fantasy lines the past few seasons, but when will that athleticism begin to decline? If you follow Zimmerman’s age chart, it has already begun. Jones’s best season was during his age 26/27 season in 2012. He had a higher ISO, wOBA, and Spd rating in 2012 than he did in 2013. So, what happens in 2014?
A quick demise during Jones’s age 28/29 season would be rather shocking. Will it happen? It would be bold to declare. The question that is difficult to answer is, “when will the athleticism dip enough to swing the pendulum?” Adam Jones taking another step back and falling outside the top-10 of fantasy outfielders would be a lot less shocking, and a lot more likely. As for you dynasty/keeper owners, isn’t it better to sell a year early than a year late?
Thanks to Fangraphs.com, BaseballHeatMaps.com, BrooksBaseball.net, and PerfectGame.org for the data