Change-UpSeptember 02, 2009
Along Came Jones
By Patrick Sullivan

Baseball pundits, purists, analysts and announcers disagree on a wide array of issues relating to the game. DH or no DH? What are the virtues of the sacrifice bunt? Small ball or the three-run homer? But one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that what makes baseball particularly neat is that you never know when you might witness something extraordinary. Maybe it's a perfect game, or a speedster steals home or a nail-biter between division foes ends in an unassisted triple play. When you show up at the park, you never know what you might witness.

One can extrapolate that very same principle over the course of a week, a month or an entire season. You just never know. For instance, Mark Reynolds has 40 home runs. I find that to be absolutely remarkable. The New York Yankees have had five key contributors - Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Andy Pettitte - all on the wrong side of the age of 35, make marked improvements over their 2008 campaigns. What are the odds? And perhaps most stunningly of all, Garrett Jones, 28 year-old Garrett Jones, Garrett Jones of the 1,038 Minor League plate appearances in 11 seasons at a .258/.312/.450 clip, is hitting .291/.360/.602 for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009.

Jones' transaction history (thanks B-Ref) offers a glimpse of what an afterthought he was coming into 2009:

June 2, 1999: Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 14th round of the 1999 amateur draft. Player signed June 18, 1999.

May 21, 2002: Released by the Atlanta Braves.

May 24, 2002: Signed as a Free Agent with the Minnesota Twins.

November 3, 2008: Granted Free Agency.

December 16, 2008: Signed as a Free Agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And yet, here he is. Let's have a look at how Jones is stacking up in 2009. Let me caveat everything I am about to present by noting that small sample size warnings apply. Jones has played in just 53 games and come to the plate only 228 times in 2009. He may tank before the end of this season. Still, it's fun to have a look. Here is how he ranks among MLB hitters in AB/HR (minimum 200 PA's):

Pujols     10.9
Pena       11.6
Reynolds   11.8
Jones      12.4
Dunn       12.8

And what about the Major League OPS+ leaders? Again, minimum of 200 plate appearances:

Pujols      190  
Mauer       181
Gonzalez    162
Fielder     161
M. Ramirez  157
H. Ramirez  156
Dunn        156 
G. Jones    153
Utley       152
Beltran     149

Ok ok, so we know that Jones is right there offensively with the best sluggers in the game for 2009. But is his rookie season, at the age of 28, taking on historic significance? Is there much precedent for the way Jones has performed in 2009? The answer is "no".

Oh sure there was Johnny Schulte in 1927 and Bill Kenworthy in 1914 - I am sure you remember both - but for ballplayers in their rookie campaigns at the age of 27 or later, it does not get much better than Jones in 2009. Have a look for yourself.

It's unlikely that Jones keeps up anything resembling this clip but let's put his rookie campaign in perspective, much the way we would when we witness a cycle, no-hitter or 4-home run game. Maybe they lack big-picture significance but they're significant achievements on their own.


Using fangraphs component stats, the big differences seem to be in 2 categories: his IF fly % is at 3% this year (should prob be 10-15%). And his HR / FB rate (which we know is one of the more unstable component numbers) is clocking in at 26%. So even though he is hitting fewer fly balls, they're going out. I'd imagine that hittracker would be useful to figure out *where* his HR have been going (his HR have been the big change for his jump in production).

Looking at hittracker, 6 of his 15 HR are classified as "just enough".

While he has been very productive so far this year, my guess is that he's producing way better than his true talent level.

Shane Specer had less than 100 AB, but his numbers were tremendous (I think he was 26?). And Kevin Maas, though I think he was a year younger.

Good ones, quotemeister.

Travis L, I have little doubt he will come back to earth soon. But sometimes achievements take on singular significance. We remember Tuffy Rhodes and the night Tom Browning tossed a perfect game. Why not recognize an extended period of time's worth of excellence?

I thought it would be fun to put his accomplishments to date in perspective. It's been really cool to see this guy tear it up.