Adam Jones has been a solid big leaguer for the Orioles since coming over in the Erik Bedard trade. He's constantly tantalized with his raw skills, but hasn't been able to fully utilize them to turn into the star player many hoped (or expected) he'd be.
I didn't think a break-out season was coming in 2011; just a bit of steady improvement:
Despite the various stats being pretty close, Jones' actual offensive production was more impressive (+9 runs instead of +3-4) because offense was down as a whole in baseball. 2011 was more "step forward" than "a star is born" overall though (it could have been the latter, but his .295 wOBA in August/September dragged his line down).
Still chasing the ball out of the zone all the time? Check. Rarely walking as a result? Check. Helping bump his OBP up be getting plunked (more on that here)? Check (9 times). Bump up his hits total by dropping down the occasional bunt (more on that here)? Check (6 times). Reverse platoon splits? Check (at this point, I think even regressing his career splits will get them to close to even for versus righties and lefties).
That Jones hit 25 home runs despite still hitting the ball on the ground a lot speaks to his power (and his HR/FB rate of almost 17% was the second highest of his career), and he continued to show the ability to hit the ball out to center as well as left-field. If Jones elevated the ball more often, I certainly think he could hit 30+ homers.
The .304 BABIP was the lowest mark of Jones' career, but still above average - which kept his batting average from getting too low. The plate discipline numbers moved in the right direction a tad, but they're still not very good. I think part of the reason he doesn't strike out more (even with a below average contact rate), is that his at bats end relatively quickly (only 3.6 pitches seen per plate appearance).
Before the season I looked at how guys who had poor strike-out to walk ratios developed, and it wasn't encouraging; they didn't tend to improve much in that particular area (went from awful to bad) or overall (OPS went up about 20 points from their first 5 years in the league to their next 5).
In mid-August, before the slump had taken much of a toll, I looked at what could happen from Jones going forward:
"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)."
The end of the season pushed Jones from #3 towards #4, which is not where the team needs him to be.
Defensively, the disconnect between the numbers and the eyes (of some) continued. Jones was named by Baseball America as one of the best center-fielders in baseball (based on opinions by, I believe, managers and the like). On the other hand, his UZR was -9, his DRS was -9, and his TZ was -17(!). Jones occasionally makes an amazing looking play - he has the tools to be a decent fielder, I think - but sometimes an actually good fielder would have made the same play in a routine looking manner. Shifting Jones to a corner is something that may need to happen at some point, but at least he still has a good arm.
With Jones moving into his second arbitration year, he's going to start getting expensive (I could see him doubling his salary to the $6.5-7 M range). Signing him to a longer-term deal could cost upwards of $50 M at this point. I don't know if that's a risk the team would take with a talented player going into what should be his prime years (he only just turned 26), but who may actually not develop much more.