Adam Jones has, for almost nine full seasons, been the Orioles’ everyday center fielder when healthy. He has four Gold Glove awards to his name, three of which came in succession from 2012-2014. His propensity to blow bubbles as he chases fly balls drives some O’s fans up a wall, even those with Adam Jones bubble-blowing bobbleheads perched atop their dressers. Say that five times fast.
In 2013, Rawlings began an effort to make the Gold Glove Award more accountable for truly determining the best fielders in the game by implementing the SABR Defensive Index into the selection process. Now, in addition to considering the votes of managers and coaches across baseball, advanced defensive metrics are taken into account.
Gold Gloves don’t tell the whole story, however. While many of them are pretty accurate, some, especially pre-2013, make very little sense. Derek Jeter is a perfect example. He had a certain finesse about his defensive game that made him look a lot better than he was. In reality, Jeter was a pretty bad defender. His -246.3 (yes, negative) career DRS is probably the worst all-time for any position. Jeter won five Gold Glove awards; in those five seasons, he posted a combined -58 DRS and -21.2 UZR.
Jones presents a similar case; albeit to a less extreme level. In his four Gold Glove seasons, he posted a positive DRS twice (2009 and 2014) and a positive UZR just once (2014). I’m not sure if that says more about the Gold Glove voting process pre-2013 or about Jones’ defensive abilities, though I feel comfortable saying that Jones has been and still is an overrated defensive outfielder.
Last season, Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays dethroned Mr. Jones, taking home not only the Gold Glove Award for center field, but the Platinum Glove as well. He deserved it, too, as his 42 defensive runs saved were the most all-time. Kiermaier’s brilliance means that Toronto’s Kevin Pillar, who is one of the best defensive outfielders I’ve seen in my lifetime, isn’t even the best center fielder named Kevin in his own division.
To take that argument a step further, Jones, who was once regarded as one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, is not only the worst center fielder in his division – he’s one of the worst in all of Major League Baseball.
Jones’ -7.9 UZR this season is the worst in the American League and is second worst in baseball behind only Denard Span of the San Francisco Giants. His -10 DRS bests only Tyler Naquin of the Cleveland Indians and Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
This argument is not based solely on metrics, however. Remember the days when Jones routinely made spectacular catches that would be shown on the highlight reels the next day? Am I wrong to say it feels like it’s been a while since we’ve seen one of those? Am I wrong in my observation that Jones looks like he’s lost a step or two?
So, what’s the solution?
I think the Orioles should consider moving Adam Jones to a corner outfield spot where he would have less ground to cover and where his declining arm could be better utilized. Obviously, the O’s have nobody right now who would be an upgrade in center field, which means one would have to be acquired elsewhere. Two intriguing options are Yoenis Cespedes and Dexter Fowler, both of whom the Orioles considered this past offseason.
Regardless of what happens, Jones will remain the heart and soul of the Orioles. His presence in the clubhouse and infectious personality mean more to this team than those nerdy numbers I listed above.
I still wouldn’t mind seeing him make the transition to left field next season.