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Garrett Jones’ performance

The best story of the 2009 Pirates, and perhaps even the 2010 Pirates has been Garrett Jones’s performance. No one expects a rookie to suddenly make it big at his age. For a franchise that has been about as unlucky as possible, it was a welcome change. In half a season last year, Jones was worth 2.7 WAR. In 2010 though, he’s been worth about half that in almost the same number of games. Where lies the difference between the 2009 and the 2010 Garrett Jones?

The BA and OBP are both lower in 2010, but they have been increasing recently, and its fair to say that the difference between them, while somewhat important, is not quite as important. The drop in SLG% though is about a 100 points and it has had the biggest impact on Jones’ performance. Jones has struck out 4% less and walked 1% less than 2009, but his control of the strike zone seems to have cost him power- the ISO is more than 100 points lower.

The difference between singles, doubles and triples is not particularly important, but the number of homeruns hit has been halved this season. The biggest culprit here is regression-to-the-mean, which shows that Jones’ HR/FB has come down from over 21% to about 12%. The ground ball rate, however, has also gone up a bit and the fly ball rate has come down, which seems to suggest that Jones perhaps isn’t picking his pitches. Again, there is the possibility that pitchers are being much finer with him this year than last, but we look at the strike zone stats to see if there may be something to the original hypothesis of him swinging at pitches he shouldn’t be swinging at.

Nope! His swinging rates are almost the same form last year, and the swinging strike rate is lower! The contact rates on pitches in and out of the zone are also higher! The only appreciable difference is in the number of pitches seen in the zone, which has gone down by over 4%. Pitchers are throwing him less to hit, and Jones is perhaps turning some of them into outs instead of taking them for balls. I would say that his performance this year is slightly below what we can expect from Garrett Jones, with the true performance level lying somewhere between 2009 and 2010, but much closer to 2010. I’d expect that Jones ISO will go up slightly, as perhaps will the homers and a slight increase in SLG%. In the best case, the Pirates can probably expect a 3 WAR player for another 2 years. That brings us to 2 other interesting questions: his position and his trade value.

At 1B, the performance level is average or below average, while in the outfield, it puts him at around 40 among all OFs which is above average. Certainly, his glove isn’t necessarily rock solid at 1B either, which combined with his athleticism should indicate that OF is the position best suited for him. However, the Pirates have a tough decision to make here. This may be the time that Jones’ trade value is at a peak, and given that his performance level might start to dip, he may not be the best choice 3 years from now. The Pirates are not particularly competitive either, but take Jones out of the lineup and the power is almost non-existent, while Alvarez finds his feet. The best time to trade him (or to take the decision) is probably around a year from now, when the fates and abilities of Milledge, Pearce and Clement are clearer. If Milledge can find some power, and Pearce can fill in at 1B at or close to Jones’ level, something his minor league performance indicates he should be able to do, then the Pirates need to pull the trigger. Further, with teams overvaluing prospects more than ever and perhaps not certain if Jones value is for real, allowing a year and hoping Jones keeps it up is perhaps the best course of action.

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