Daniel Moroz: Predicting Adam Jones’ development as a hitter

As a younger player, one of the biggest knocks on Adam Jones was his poor plate discipline. Jones chased a lot of pitches out of the strike zone, which led to a bunch of strikeouts and not many walks. Working on that looked like one of the keys for Jones to get his production more in line with what his tools suggested he could accomplish. In 2009, it looked like some progress was being made, as Jones walked in a career high 6.9 percent of his plate appearances (even though league average was 8.9 percent) and struck out in a career low 17.9 percent of them (league average is 18 percent). That helped make him a slightly above average hitter with his .277/.335/.457 line.

In 2010, Jones hit about as well overall (.284/.325/.442 - but you need to remember that offense was down across the board in baseball), but regressed in the walk and strikeout areas, to 3.7 percent and 19.2 percent, respectively. In fact, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was the worst in the majors - and by a fair bit.

This year, Jones has really broken out, hitting a well above average .293/.332/.489, which had made him the Orioles’ top batter. One would think that one of the factors behind such a substantial improvement would be better plate discipline. Is that the case? In a word, nope.

Jones still strikes out at around the league average rate (though more because his at-bats end quickly because of his contact skills - he whiffs a fair bit), but doesn’t walk. His 4.6 percent walk rate is better than 2010, but that’s small comfort when he’s closer to Vlad Guerrero in that area than even Jeff Francoeur (of “if OBP is so important, why don’t they put it on the scoreboard?” fame). That number isn’t surprising given that Jones swings at the ball - a lot. Only Guerrero and Yuniesky Betancourt take their hacks more often than Jones (and he’s neck-and-neck with Betancourt, so he could easily be No. 2 any day now), who swings at almost 57 percent of pitches thrown his way.

So what’s wrong with swinging if you get a good pitch to hit? Not much in general, but Jones is swinging at junk, too. Only Guerrero has gone after pitches out of the strike zone more often than Jones this year.

This is pretty amazing stuff. Jones is one of the least disciplined hitters in baseball, and yet he’s now hitting about as well as the likes of Ryan Howard, Victor Martinez and Andre Ethier. How’s he doing it? By doing damage when he actually puts the bat on the ball.

Jones has hit a career-high 21 home runs already, and that’s in only about 500 plate appearances. This isn’t necessarily a new influx of power though - Jones has hit a handful of shorter (350- to 380-foot) homers right down the left-field line. He’s still showing the solid pop to center that he added to his game in 2010, but it’s not unreasonable to think he’s more a 20-25 homer guy at the moment than the 28-30 he’s on pace for - especially given that Jones is one of the more groundball-prone hitters around.

The grounders do help with the average, though (they fall in for hits more often flyballs do). As do his bunting skills (he gets a hit about half the time he lays one down, which is pretty good). Between the home runs and the extra hits on balls in play (Jones’ career - and 2011 - BABIP of .321 is solidly above average), he’s able to keep his batting average high enough to maintain a decent on-base percentage without the benefit of many free passes.

I see, with some obvious blurring, two main factors that lead to four different paths:

1) More walks, great hitter: Jones continues to hit for this kind of power with his higher BABIPs, while also refining his game on the plate discipline side. That’s the kind of guy who can hit .300/.375/.500 and be a star; the kind worthy of, say, a $25 million-a-year contract if he were a free agent now.

2) More walks, not-so-great hitter: He trades some slugging percentage for some OBP, and ends up being pretty much as valuable as he is now - a very good player (the kind worthy of, say, $18 million a year). This is where I was hoping he’d start going after 2009, since his raw talent leaves open the chance to jump to the above.

3) No walks, great hitter: Guerrero has not only imparted his proclivities for hacking (even more) on Jones, but also some of his amazingly rare ability to be a plus hitter anyway, and therefore Jones will continue to be a very good player (same $18 million yearly contract).

4) No walks, not-so-great hitter: The 2011 power surge is at least partially aided by a few cheapies, his plate discipline doesn’t improve and he goes back to being an average to slightly above player (the kind worthy of, say, a $9 million a year).

I guess we’ll have to wait and see how things play out.

Daniel Moroz blogs about the Orioles for Camden Crazies and joins MASNsports.com as part of our season-long initiative to welcome guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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