ATLANTA -- Before assuming Andruw Jones’ Hall of Fame candidacy is doomed by the decline he experienced after turning 30, it’s important to remember how great he was during the first decade of his career.
After Jones had collected a decade's worth of Gold Glove Awards and positioned himself for a realistic shot to join the 500-homer club, it would not have been outlandish to project him to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
But the former Braves center fielder’s previous four years on the Hall of Fame ballot have ended in disappointing fashion. He received just 7.3% and 7.5% of the votes in his first two years and then jumped to 19.4% in 2019. The most encouraging leap occurred last year, when he received 33.9% of the votes.
That number is far from the 75% required to be elected. But with six more years of eligibility, Jones is trending in the right direction, like 2020 electee Larry Walker did during his final years of eligibility.
Jones batted .254, tallied 434 home runs and constructed an .823 OPS over a 17-year career that included 10 Gold Gloves, five All-Star appearances and the National League Hank Aaron Award he captured in 2005 when he finished second to Albert Pujols in balloting for the NL Most Valuable Player Award.
But Jones was the author of an uneven career that started with a bang and ended with a thud. He produced MLB's third-best WAR from 1998-2007. The two players who ranked ahead of him within this span were Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. The man ranked immediately behind him was his longtime Braves teammate Chipper Jones, who received a first-ballot HOF induction in 2018.
Andruw Jones' resume is highlighted by the 10 consecutive Gold Gloves he captured from 1998-2007. Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline and Ken Griffey Jr. stand with Ichiro Suzuki as the only other outfielders to win as many.
Jones led all Major Leaguers with a 26.6 defensive bWAR during his 11 full seasons (1997-2007) with the Braves. Ivan Rodriguez ranked second with 16.5. The 60.9 total bWAR Jones produced during this 11-season span ranked third in the Majors, behind A-Rod (85.7) and Bonds (79.2). Chipper Jones ranked fourth at 60.9.
When Andruw Jones won his 10th Gold Glove Award at 30 years old, there was certainly reason to wonder if he would surpass the career record (12) shared by Clemente and Mays. But as his legs and athletic frame deteriorated, he made just 68 more starts as a center fielder and a total of 241 more starts as an outfielder over the five seasons that followed.
Through his age-29 season in 2006, Jones had tallied 342 home runs. The slightly above average 116 OPS+ he constructed within this span wasn't necessarily HOF-worthy, but it was certainly much more impressive than the 92 OPS+ he compiled as he batted .214 and totaled just 92 home runs over the final six seasons of his career (2007-12).
Jones' offensive decline blemished the greatness he produced at the start of his career. Still, he will forever be considered one of the game's greatest defensive outfielders, and his standing within this category might have been further appreciated had Statcast been around in time to provide a clearer understanding of how Jones compared to Mays and the game's other all-time great center fielders.
Voters provided Ozzie Smith a first-ballot induction in 2002 based solely on the defensive greatness he displayed over a 19-season career, within which he became widely recognized as the best shortstop in Major League history.
As Jones spent a decade proving to be elite at one of the game's most demanding positions, he earned the privilege of being included in any argument about the best center fielder in baseball history.
But with his rapid decline, Jones put himself in this position, where his Hall of Fame candidacy creates strong debate on an annual basis.