There is a narrative that Adam Jones is in decline. But is that true?
First, let’s distinguish real-life decline from fantasy baseball decline. Many of the “Jones is in decline” crowd point to his defense, which is not relevant to fantasy baseball. Jones posted -10 Defensive Runs Saved last year, but Jones had positive grades in 2014 and 2015 despite posting -13 DRS in 2012 and -6 DRS in 2010.
It seems difficult to believe that he simply goes from being a good to a bad defender year to year, or that the poor 2016 DRS stat means he is suddenly in decline when he posted worse numbers many years prior. Nevertheless, whether his defense is really in decline or it is a mirage, do not let it affect your perception of his fantasy value.
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2017 Fantasy Baseball Outlooks
Below are selected stats since 2009:
Jones has been remarkably consistent. The last two years, he struck out less and walked more often. His 2016 ISO was down to 2009-2010 levels, but as recently as 2015, it was well above his career average. These stats suggest business as usual for Jones, not a decline. But let’s take a look at further stats:
First, stolen bases are no longer a part of Jones’ game, which is likely partially due to aging but also due to the Orioles’ philosophy that stealing bases is not worth the gamble given their lineup of boom-or-bust sluggers. Second, over the last two years, Jones missed games and his BABIP dropped, which brought his average down with it. Jones’ numbers also could have been affected by injuries. Third, while Jones’ homers have been steady, his run production has declined. The latter two points require a closer look to see if he is in decline.
In 2016, Jones hit more fly balls (40.6%) than any year prior in his career (34.6%), and fly balls are less likely to result in hits than ground balls. The trend of hitting the ball in the air more often also applies back to 2015. His line drive percentage (16.5%), which is the most likely batted ball in play to result in a hit, was also the lowest of his career (18.3%). However, his hard-hit percentage (32.6%) was above his career average (31.8%). Between his speed likely taking a slight hit (lower base running grades and stolen bases), and him hitting the ball in the air more, his BABIP is not likely to return to his .308 career level. However, considering how he played hurt at times last year, a return to his 2015 numbers seems reasonable, and a .270 average may be expected.
Jones' Run Production
|Team Runs Per Game||Jones’ (R+RBI per game)||%|
While the last two seasons may seem like down years when just looking at Jones’ runs and RBIs, this table suggests that may not be the case. The lower 2016 ratio can be explained by Jones being forced to bat leadoff for the better of the team, but the hope is that he will return to the middle of the lineup next year. With a return to a .26 ratio, last year’s team runs (which I expect), and a full slate of games, he would get 193 runs + RBIs over a full season.
Jones is not stealing as often and is hitting the ball in the air slightly more. But with a healthy 2016, we should see a bounce back in run production, albeit with his newly lowered average and stolen bases. I project a .270/30/95/90/3 line if he stays healthy and returns to the middle of the order, but the injury risk does affect value slightly. In leagues where others perceive him as being in decline, he may present a nice buy low opportunity.