Glove first guys are often underrated. By bWAR, Andrelton Simmons has been the 8th most valuable player in baseball since 2013, yet he has never placed higher than 8th in MVP voting. In any other era, Simmons would have been renowned for his defense, but few would try to argue that he was even a top 25 player in baseball, much less top 10.
Even with modern analytics, Simmons and other glove first players are underappreciated. This is true of Andruw Jones as well, who is currently trying to remain on the ballot through the upcoming Hall of Fame election and induction process after receiving just 7.5% of votes last year, his second turn on the ballot.
The lack of support for Jones is a disappointing failure on the part of the voters of the BBWAA. Any discussion of defense and its importance to the Hall of Fame is incomplete without mentioning Ozzie Smith. “The Wizard” was the greatest defensive shortstop of all time (although the aforementioned Simmons may challenge him for that title). Because of his outstanding defense, Smith was deservedly enshrined in Cooperstown, despite his putrid career at the plate. While there is no clear best when it comes to defense in the outfield as Ozzie represents in the infield, Andruw Jones has just as much of a case for the title as anyone else. Among players to play at least 75% of their games in center field, the most difficult and important of the outfield positions, nobody can top Jones’ 24.4 career dWAR. In fact, only one player has even 75% of Jones’ career total (Paul Blair, 18.8). Center field, while not quite as important defensively as shortstop, is still one of the most important positions on the diamond, and as such, it stands to reason that the greatest to ever roam the grass deserves enshrinement. Jones was a historic defender.
Jones is not the only player on the ballot whose relevance comes largely from their defensive prowess. Omar Vizquel’s case, which has received significantly more support (named on 42.8% of ballots in 2019) than Jones’ , is built upon his defense and longevity. It has to be, given that Omar was only even a league average hitter (by wRC+) just twice in his 24 year career. Supporters love to mention Omar’s 11 career gold gloves, which is undoubtedly an impressive feat. However, Andruw’s 10 gold gloves are nearly just as impressive, but are hardly ever brought up. Jones’ feat is arguably more impressive, as he won them in ten consecutive seasons. Given that awards are a measure of a player’s perception and not their ability, it is important to note that despite amassing nearly 6000 more innings than Jones, Vizquel’s career dWAR total eclipses Jones’ by a relatively slim margin (29.5 to 24.4).
What really sets Andruw Jones apart from Omar Vizquel or Ozzie Smith is that while he was a tremendous defender, he was not a glove only player. He was a phenomenal hitter. In his injury riddled career, Andruw Jones slugged 434 home runs. Here is a list of every player to have both 15 dWAR and 400 home runs in their career:
Mays, Schmidt and Ripken are all enshrined in Cooperstown. Beltre will join them as a first ballot inductee once eligible. Not only are these players Hall of Famers, but they are legends – inner-circle greats of the game. Andruw stands right there with them. The only player in the history of the game to have both more home runs and more dWAR than Andruw Jones is Adrian Beltre.
This total package aspect of Andruw Jones is best represented by his incredible “peak” from 1998 to 2007. I put peak in quotes because ten years is a longer period than we would typically consider a peak, but these years were Jones’ best and it was during this time that he earned a plaque in Cooperstown. During this 10 year stretch, Jones averaged 5.8 bWAR. Below is a list of every position player to match that average over a 10 year stretch that is not immortalized with a Cooperstown plaque:
- Shoeless Joe Jackson
- Pete Rose
- Barry Bonds
- Alex Rodriguez
- Adrian Beltre
- Albert Pujols
- Chase Utley
- Robinson Cano
- Mike Trout
- Andruw Jones
Of the nine players listed above not named Andruw Jones, one would be in the hall if not for his PED use (Bonds), three will certainly be inducted once eligible (Pujols, Trout, Beltre), one would be inducted once he’s eligible if not for PED use (Rodriguez), two are banned from baseball (Jackson, Rose), and two are fascinating cases in their own right (Utley, Cano). This is inarguably a list of Hall of Fame quality players who are only being held back due to eligibility or questionable decisions off the field. Andruw Jones is eligible, not banned, and has no credible suspicion of steroid use.
It is time to recognize Andruw Jones for who he was as a player. He was a generational talent on both sides of the ball, whose career, while tragically derailed far too early, deserves to be immortalized with a plaque in Cooperstown.
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