Sunday, June 27, 2004

Would Andruw Jones Help The White Sox Defensively?

The latest rumor is that the White Sox will trade Magglio Ordonez and a "pitching prospect" (perhaps Jon Rauch) to the Atlanta Braves for Andruw Jones and Russ Ortiz.

Much of the scuttlebutt about Andruw Jones is that he will dramatically improve the Sox in terms of outfield defense. Andruw Jones is, by reputation, one of the best defensive centerfielders "in the last thirty years." But, as seen with Derek Jeter's lame reputation as a good fielding shortstop, reputations can be outright wrong.

Digging deeper into Andruw Jones' fielding statistics, we see a couple of things.

First, that his zone rating (which defines what percentage of the balls hit to his area of the field are fielded by him) has steadily declined from .922 in 1998 to .786 this season. By comparison, Aaron Rowand's ZR in CF is .910 this year, was .960 in 65 games last year, and .946 in 76 games in 2002. Note that Rowand was mostly a defensive replacement in CF in 2003 - he averaged fewer than 6 innings per game in CF in 2003.

Second, note the number of balls in play that are doubles and triples against the White Sox vs. against the Braves. Here's a table (haven't done one of these in a while):

Year/TeamBalls in Play2B3B% 2B/3B
2004 Braves2071131106.81%
2004 White Sox203311966.22
2003 Braves4556309257.33%
2003 White Sox4334279246.99%
2002 Braves4371240326.22%
2002 White Sox4514287166.71%

As you can see, the Sox have been better over the last two years in preventing doubles and triples as a percentage of balls in play than the Braves. This is backed up by other data putting the Sox second only to the Mike Cameron-led Mets in fewest doubles and triples per fly ball. The three-headed monster of Rowand/Lee/Maggs looks good in these data, and either Chipper and Sheffield were dragging Andruw down, or Andruw has been tailing off (as his ZR suggests).

Third, I looked at the number of putouts in CF by Andruw Jones vs. Rowand over the last three years. Here's the data:

Year/PlayerPOINNPO/INNPO/9Team FBTeam FB/9% Team FB
2004 Rowand 96 308 0.31 2.81 759 10.69 0.26
2003 Rowand 101 378 0.27 2.40 1588 9.80 0.25
2002 Rowand 203 601 0.34 3.04 1706 10.53 0.29
2004 Jones 160 613 0.26 2.35 636 8.83 0.27
2003 Jones 390 1329 0.29 2.64 1464 9.04 0.29
2002 Jones 404 1357 0.30 2.68 1534 9.47 0.28

Here, Andruw comes out a little better than Rowand - he's more likely to get a fly ball than his LF and RF teammates. This suggests that maybe Andruw was carrying the weight in Atlanta - and could help to explain the previous 2B/3B figure.

After sorting through all this data, it's hard to tell whether Andruw Jones would have a signifianct impact on the White Sox with his defensive play. I'd probably say he's better than Rowand in CF, but not so much so to warrant a CF/RF combination of Jones/Rowand over Rowand/Maggs. The latter is going to create many more runs than the former. Of course, there are contract issues involved with Maggs (Jones is signed through '07 at about $13 million per, while Maggs is a FA), but unless Atlanta is going to pick up $4-$5 million of Jones' salary over the next few years, this deal simply isn't worth making.

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