Was Adam Jones Early Season Breakout A Mirage?

Earlier in the season Adam Jones was hitting like a legitimate superstar. With 16 home runs and a 300+ batting average by the end of May, the Baltimore Orioles were convinced that it was time to extend their slugging centerfielder. They signed him to the largest deal in club history, an $85.5 million deal that would ensure that Adam Jones next 6 seasons would be played in an Orioles uniform.

At the time the deal was signed many thought it was an excellent move by the Orioles. I was slightly less enthusiastic about it, suggesting that while it was a fair deal, it wasn’t the first time Adam Jones has started off a season hot before cooling down:

“However, it’s worth pointing out that in 2009 Adam Jones had a 1.005 OPS through the end of May, slightly higher than his current 958 OPS. He ended the 2009 season with a 792 OPS, and hasn’t been able to recapture his production from the early part of the 09 season.”

What’s interesting is that Adam Jones has suffered through a similar decline in production this season. After an unbelievable start to the season, Jones has crashed back down to Earth. Since June 1st Jones is hitting 271/306/449, good for a 756 OPS. He’s hit 8 home runs over that time, exactly half the number of home runs he hit over the first two months of the season.

The biggest reason for Adam Jones regression was the drop in power. Earlier in the season he was posting a 300 or so isolated power, essentially hitting for power like a Jose Bautista. But since June Jones has reverted closer to his career levels. Now, Jones has always been a solid hitter, so his extension is still good value for the Orioles. But if they’re expecting the superstar they saw during the first two months of the season, they’re going to be very disappointed.

Another reason for Adam Jones drop in power is that he’s hitting a ton of ground balls. For hitters like Ichiro Suzuki or Jose Reyes who have a ton of speed that isn’t a bad thing as they can beat out a lot of grounders with their speed. But Jones isn’t nearly fast enough to beat out a lot of infield grounders, so he needs to be driving the ball into the air so he can get his extra base hits. And he hasn’t been doing that since the end of May. It’s not a coincidence that his only decent month since May was when Jones flyball % was at a season high 39.1% in July, when he hit 5 home runs and has a slugging % over 500. In order to be successful, Jones needs to be driving the ball into the outfield, and until he does that with some consistency he will continue to be a black hole in the Orioles lineup.

Adam Jones new deal doesn’t officially start until 2013, so I’m not suggesting that he won’t be a valuable player in 2013. But it’s worth noting that he has come back to his career norms since the extension, and if he is only a good player as opposed to an elite player the deal won’t be a steal for the Orioles. Still, Jones is a young centerfielder with plenty of upside, and he’ll be a useful player as the O’s try to contend in the daunting AL East.

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