Ever since we had to watch Abraham Almonte man center field, James Jones has ultimately been regarded as a savior. He gets on base, he steals bases, and he plays great defense.
Yeah…… not quite.
Getting on base
For all of the flack that Dustin Ackley gets and all of the love James Jones receives, Jones is actually performing worse. Jones owns a .288 wOBA and 82 wRC+ while Ackley owns a .290 wOBA and 83 wRC+. It’s not a world of difference, obviously, but while over the whole year they’ve been performing at around the same level hitting. This is likely justified due to Ackley being a can’t miss, second overall pick while Jones was in the minors for five years. Jones previously was a player who hit for a good average, got on base, and got a decent amount of extra base hits. Now, Jones is struggling to get on base (.308 OBP), owns a SLG% that looks more like an on-base percentage (.340), and isn’t getting extra base hits (Justin Smoak has five more on the year).
This is the one area that Jones has shown improvement in. He’s on pace to surpass his season high in the minors (28 stolen bases) and he has only been caught stealing once. This is where James Jones needs to earn his money. Bringing value on the base paths can help to mitigate some of his issues offensively since he mostly hits singles. However, if Jones isn’t getting on base like a #1 or #2 hitter then it diminishes his value as a base stealer. Obviously if you’re not on base then you can’t score runs and steal bases. I don’t need to tell you that. An alarming statistic is his walk and strikeout ratios. His BB% stands at 3.9% (11 walks) while his K% stands at 19.0%. Terrible. His BB% is just a touch above Endy Chavez’s and Mike Zunino’s strikeout percentages and he strikeouts more than Logan Morrison, who just so happens to hit for a lot more power than him.
To the average fan, James Jones passes the eye test. He has wheels and he flies to the ball. He’s made a couple nice catches. To someone watching more closely, his first step is usually subpar, he takes bad paths to the ball, along with making bad reads. His speed can sometimes make up for things, but relying on speed to make up for other bad fielding qualities is typically a recipe for disaster. Hiding Jones in right field would be a better option because he has a cannon for an arm (he can throw a ball from home plate over the outfield fence) and because there’s less ground to cover. The problem there is that Michael Saunders is a superior fielder and hitter. With a DRS of -11 in 568 innings, a UZR of -9.1, and a UZR/150 of -25.6 I think it’s suffice to say that Jones has been a nightmare in the field. Evidence is yesterday when he took a bad route on a Travis d’Arnaud hit, slid, and let the ball roll past him for a triple. This scored Abreu and gave them the lead.
While Jones has still managed to be an upgrade over Abraham Almonte, he has also managed to be the sixth best Mariners hitter according to wRC+ and sixth best Mariners hitter to wOBA. After 71 games, his WAR is -0.2 and he hasn’t shown much signs of being a regular in center field yet. However, it is easy to be critical of a rookie just learning how to play in center. He’s mostly played in right field in the minors and he’s still getting the hang of everything. Jones would be better suited in right field, at the bottom of the order, or as a fourth outfielder. As a contender, I think the Mariners would be best off trading for a player like Desmond Jennings that could relegate James Jones to a bench role. We need to upgrade wherever we can (especially on offense) and center field is a place where people seem to be looking over. James Jones isn’t our biggest problem, but he’s not helping our cause.