Zach Wilt: Revisiting Adam Jones and plate discipline

As I watched the Orioles battle the Yankees last night on MASN, I kept a watchful eye on Tweetdeck to read the continuous stream of commentary, as I typically do. On this particular night, one tweet from former major league outfielder and 2004 World Series champion Gabe Kapler stuck out to me. It’s a point that has been made before, but one that proved to be valid throughout the remainder of the game in the Bronx.

“I salivate at how good Adam Jones could be with 15% more plate discipline. He struck out on the foul ball he chased off the plate away,” Kapler tweeted. Interestingly, Kapler’s thought hit Twitter shortly after Jones’ first strikeout of the night. The O’s center fielder would go on to fan two more times, stranding four men on base.

Last July, I wrote about Jones’ plate discipline in a guest blog, as it has been an hot topic around Baltimore - and, as Kapler has shown, around Major League Baseball for quite some time. Everyone, including Jones himself, wants to see him stop chasing that low-and-away breaking ball out of the zone with two strikes. A year ago, I concluded that Jones happens to be a relatively effective bad ball hitter and I wondered how his offensive metrics would change if he stepped into the batter’s box with a suddenly more patient approach.

Certainly Kapler, who has 12 years and 3,315 plate appearances more professional baseball experience than I do, could answer these questions (although, I did go 3-for-4 in my co-ed softball league debut last night). Would telling a free-swinging hitter to lay off more pitches improve that batter’s overall performance? Or would Jones have to sacrifice some of his power for a few more walks? What’s more beneficial for the team? Obviously, a home run is more valuable than a walk, but how many times are free bases sacrificed over the course of a season?

It’s an interesting talking point. Over in Cincinnati, Twitter is usually abuzz for the opposite reason. Joey Votto, the 2010 National League MVP, is often criticized for his overly patient approach at the plate. He led all of Major League Baseball with 135 walks in 2013 and some fans, as well as certain baseball critics, wonder if Votto is letting hittable pitches go because he knows they’re balls. He’s certainly shown an ability to hit for power, but refuses to swing at anything outside of the zone. The Reds signed Votto to a 10-year, $225 million contract extension in 2012, which makes many fans upset when they look at his RBI and home run numbers. What’s more beneficial, getting on base or risking a plate appearance for a chance to drive in runs?

This offseason, executive vice president Dan Duquette talked openly about his desire to see some more patient at-bats from the Orioles lineup. In 2013, the Orioles walked 1,125 times, ranking 28th in the majors. In our small sample size of 2014, the Orioles find themselves in a similar position with 70 walks, 26th in the league. On the young season, Jones has recorded three free passes. Last season, his third base on balls wasn’t recorded until the Orioles’ 27th game of the season. Perhaps we are seeing a more patient approach from Jones this season.

Again, we’re playing with a small sample size, but heading into Wednesday night, Jones had swung at only 31.2 percent of the pitches he saw outside of the strike zone, a dramatic decrease from the 44.8 percent in 2013. Amazingly, Jones made contact with 75 percent of the pitches he swung at out outside of the strike zone, up from 61.0 percent last season. His overall swing percentage is down nearly 10 percent, from 58.1 percent to 48.5 percent, but contact rate is up from 74.1 percent last season to 83.3 percent so far in 2014.

According to these numbers, it seems like last night’s game was the exception. Jones has shown a more patient approach and has still managed to hit .303 in the process. The perfect win/win scenario. Despite all these statistics, information and opinions, I’m not sure than anyone could ever fully change a veteran’s approach at the dish, but then again, why would anyone want to change Jones?

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zamwi. His views appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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