The Braves Show's Bill Shanks says the decision on Andruw Jones should not be this difficult.
Jones struggling more than ever before
Andruw Jones has had tough stretches before, but nothing like this. It's now June 17th, and he should've been out of this funk by now. Right? Well he's not, and the way he looks at the plate gives you reason for concern that it might take much longer than normal for a turnaround.
The Braves are averaging only 3.6 runs per game in the month of June, which explains the team's 7-9 record. If the team had been just a little more average, it would be in first place about now. And if Andruw Jones was having a typical Andruw Jones season, the Mets would probably be in Atlanta's rearview mirror.
Instead the Mets continue to keep the Braves in it with their Braves-of-2006-like month of June. But this all exposes a bigger issue: will Andruw be able to snap out of this in the near future?
It's first necessary to see exactly how much Jones is struggling. Overall, the numbers look more like Henry Jones than Andruw Jones. And if you don't know who Henry Jones is, you might want to take a look. That's okay, I'll save you the trouble. Henry Jones had a .220 batting average in his career. And that's even better than what Andruw Jones is doing this season.
Through Saturday's game in Cleveland, Jones is hitting only .211 with 11 home runs and 42 RBI in 251 at bats. He's on pace for only 26 home runs and 99 RBI, both far below his averages from the last two seasons: 46 home runs and 128.5 RBI. In the nine seasons prior to 2007 that Jones was a regular (1998-2006) he has averaged 35.4 home runs and 104.4 RBI per season.
Jones's struggles are even more glaring in the numbers since May 1st: .184 batting average (30-163), six home runs, and 23 RBI. He has 43 strikeouts in those 44 games.
And certainly you've been frustrated with all the attempts Jones has had to drive in runs in the last few weeks. Well here are some scary numbers of how many men he's left on base:
June: (16 games) 37 LOB in 64 AB
May: (27 games) 48 LOB in 99 AB
April: (25 games) 50 LOB in 88 AB
He's currently on pace to leave 65 runners on base this month.
When Jones has hit in the cleanup spot in Atlanta's order, his numbers are quite shocking: .205 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI in 200 at bats. He's hit .250 (36 ABs) when hitting fifth and .200 (15 ABs) when hitting sixth.
From the seventh inning on, with the game on the line, Jones has been horrific. He's hit only .158 (12-76) with three home runs and 12 RBI. In a stat they call 'late inning pressure,' Jones is hitting .171 with one home run and five runs batted in.
Jones has not fared well either with runners in scoring position, hitting .235 with five home runs and 34 RBI in 81 at bats. And when there are two outs with runners in scoring position, the numbers are even worse: .222 batting average, four home runs, and 14 RBI.
The Braves keep waiting for Jones to get out of this slump, but the month of June has not been any better. Andruw is hitting .156 in 64 at bats so far this month.
Has Jones ever been in anything similar to this prolonged slump? Well let's look back at the last five seasons.
In 2002 Jones had a rough stretch in July and August, hitting .211 in those two months with eight home runs and 22 RBI in 180 at bats. But then he bounced back in September of that season to hit .359 and finish strong.
The next season Jones started very well, hitting .294 through July with 25 home runs and 77 RBI. But then in August of 2003 he fell off to .190, only to bounce back with a .303 clip in September.
Jones got off to a good start the next season, hitting .291. Then in May and June he hit a combined .234 with only eight home runs and 26 RBI. Jones then hit .272 the rest of 2004.
The 2005 season was one that was strong in the middle but weak at the beginning and the end. Jones hit .239 in April and .208 in September, but between May 1st and the end of August Jones hit .281. Then last season Jones struggled later, hitting only .243 after July 1st, but he did have 23 home runs and 64 runs batted in.
If you take the second half of last season and combine it with Jones's numbers to start this year, here's what he's done since last July 1st: .227 – 34 HR – 106 RBI. The production is obviously very decent, but the batting average is unacceptable. In fact, it makes you wonder if Andruw has become a Dave Kingman-type hitter – all power and a low average.
History does show that Andruw has bounced out of prolonged slumps in the past, but the difference is he's never been in a slump for this long. Again, it's June 17th now; he's still struggling and showing no signs of bouncing out of it.
This big picture shows why it's very logical to be very concerned about Andruw, and you also have to wonder how good the Braves can do this summer if he does not bounce out of this funk. He's been in slumps before and recovered, but he's just never gone this long. And it's not just the numbers; his at bats are often a horror show.
The shame in all of this is that Jones's struggles are coming just after Jayson Stark of ESPN painted him as an overrated player. The Braves' Nation scoffed at that notion, but Stark's premise was partially based on Jones's offensive numbers. Now that Jones is in the worst stretch of his career at the plate, Stark's argument sounds more believable.
There is no doubt Jones's defense has not suffered in the wake of his offensive troubles. He continues to play a great center field, and despite what even Stark might believe Jones remains one of the best defensive players in this generation. But with little offensive production, he has now become more of a one-dimensional player. The defense is definitely enough to keep him in the lineup, but the hole he is creating offensively is causing problems for the entire team.
We all know that Jones is a free agent at the end of the season, and we also know that he can veto any attempt by the Braves to trade him. Perhaps all of this is getting to Jones; something certainly has. But there is little doubt that he has to bounce out of this if the Braves are to return to the playoffs. He's still vitally important to this team, and Jones has to somehow, someway snap out of it so the Braves can once again have a huge threat in the middle of the batting order.
Right now, he's not a threat, but instead just a very troubled offensive player that is not fun to watch at the plate at all.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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