Roundtable: Is Andruw a Hall of Famer?

December 9th, 2021

The 2022 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on July 24 in Cooperstown. This year’s ballot was released by the BBWAA on Nov. 22, and voters have until Dec. 31 to submit their ballots. Election results will be announced live on MLB Network on Jan. 25, 2022.

It’s Hall of Fame election season, and several candidates, while not first-ballot selections, have strong arguments as to why they are Cooperstown-worthy. One is former center fielder , who was arguably the most dominant player at his position for more than a full decade. A roundtable of reporters gathered to discuss Jones’ candidacy.

Alyson Footer, moderator/editor: Andruw Jones is an interesting case, because from 1996-2006, he was one of the best center fielders in the game and appeared to be on a Hall of Fame trajectory. The drop-off over the next six years, though, was dramatic -- though it should be noted that he produced an OPS+ of 100 (league average), 120 and 126 from 2009-11. Is the decline why he’s not getting more support in voting? (Editor’s note: Jones was arrested on a domestic violence allegation in 2012, which also might sway some voters to not put him on their ballot.)

Sarah Langs, reporter/producer: I’m curious what others think. I tend to think his lack of support is because of the HOF star power he played with -- Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz. He was so outstanding, but perhaps overshadowed?

Mark Bowman, Braves beat reporter: You can say that Andruw was overshadowed by some of the others, but he wasn't necessarily outperformed by them. Andruw produced MLB's third-best WAR from 1998-2007. The two players ranked ahead of him were Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. The man ranked immediately behind him was longtime Braves teammate Chipper Jones, a first-ballot HOF inductee in 2018.

Langs: Absolutely agree there. I just meant that I wonder if voters view those Braves teams as "set," so to speak, HOF-wise.

Jon Paul Morosi, reporter, Network: To those who aren't voting for Jones because he played his way out of the Hall of Fame once he signed with the Dodgers, I don't think that's fair. I vote for him, because he was a historically significant player for that 10-year span.

Here's the list of center fielders to win 10 or more Gold Gloves: Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Andruw Jones. Sure, there is inherent subjectivity in Gold Glove Awards. But winning that honor for 10 consecutive years surely represents an extraordinary achievement and shouldn't be overlooked.

Langs: Here are ALL the players with 10-plus Gold Gloves and 400-plus home runs: Mays, Griffey, Mike Schmidt, Andruw Jones. The other three weren’t just HOFers, they got in on the first ballot.

Bowman: Before evaluating Jones' candidacy, it must be remembered that he broke into the Majors at 19 and played a physically taxing position at a peak level for a decade. Yeah, the decline was steep once he turned 30. But should the greatness he showed during his 20s differ from the greatness a player might have shown for a decade after debuting at an older age?

Daniel Kramer, Mariners beat reporter: The decline has to be the reason he’s not getting more voting support, though is that necessarily fair? So much HOF consideration these days is made on a player’s 10-year peak, and Andruw’s peak was among the very best in baseball during that stretch. Take a look at his numbers from 1998-2007, all with the Braves. His 57.6 WAR, per Baseball-Reference, trailed only Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds. As J.P. noted, he also won 10 Gold Gloves in that stretch and hit 25-plus homers each season, with a franchise-record 51 in 2005. He was also a five-time All-Star in that stretch.

Morosi: Daniel is exactly right: There's always the balance in HOF voting between the greatest achievement in a player's prime years vs. accumulation of extraordinary numbers over time. When players have both, they're likely first-ballot inductees. Jones has the first but not the second. To me, his fulfillment of the first criteria is notable enough that he belongs in Cooperstown.

Bowman: There may be subjectivity in the Gold Glove selections. But there's no doubt Andruw was the best defensive player during the first decade of his career. He led all Major Leaguers with a 26.7 defensive bWAR during his 11 full seasons (1997-2007) with the Braves. Ivan Rodriguez ranked second with 16.5.

Kramer: What I think gets lost in his greatness was his ability to stay healthy. During that 10-year peak, he played in 1,577 games -- more than any big leaguer in that stretch -- for a whopping 157.7 per season. Think about that. He missed an average of fewer than five games per season across a decade. Even considering his decline after he left Atlanta, Jones played in 2,196 career games over 17 seasons. Only five other big leaguers played more in that stretch: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Chipper Jones and Bobby Abreu.

Footer: To J.P.'s (and others) earlier point: I always felt like if a player was dominant for 10 years and considered the best at his position while also being one of the league’s more feared hitters, that is the threshold for being HOF worthy. But when it comes time to vote, it seems like a lot of voters decide 10 years isn’t enough. Should 10 years be enough?

Morosi: Yeah, 10 years should be enough. Had Andruw finished his career the way he started it, he likely would have already been inducted. But like Dale Murphy and others, he is penalized by the fact he declined so rapidly at the conclusion of what at one point seemed destined to be a Hall of Fame career.

In voting for the Hall of Fame, I've found it's crucial to consider the historical context of the numbers we're talking about -- such as Sarah's note about the combination of 10-plus Gold Gloves and 400 home runs. That really gets your attention and drives home the all-time relevance of what Jones did.

For truly dominant players, 10 years is long enough. Jones meets that standard.

Langs: We had this conversation recently with Buster Posey. To expect 15 years of dominance seems unfair. In Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, WAR over a seven-year peak is one of the items listed. That isn’t even 10! Just seven to compare peaks of players. I think that’s notable. And Jones’ 46.4 WAR in his seven best years is ninth among center fielders, behind only Mays, Ty Cobb, Mike Trout, Mickey Mantle, Tris Speaker, Griffey, Joe DiMaggio and Duke Snider. ALL Hall of Famers (and one active one, in Trout).

Morosi: Great point, Sarah -- and consider how few of those players are Jones’ generational peers. That point raises a key distinction: The greatest two-way center fielders of the last 50 years are Mike Trout, Ken Griffey Jr. and Andruw Jones -- with Torii Hunter somewhere in the conversation, as well.

Kramer: To set the baseline of HOF greatness at anything more than 10 years isn't really fair. A decade is an incredibly long time.

Bowman: Was Jones as good as Willie Mays defensively? Unfortunately Statcast wasn't around to allow us to compare the metrics. But that the question was asked by folks who saw both play should validate the belief that Jones was one of the greatest center fielders to ever play. Shouldn't that be worth something in a world within which Ozzie Smith is a Hall of Famer because of his glove?

Langs: We do have Total Zone Runs (essentially a precursor to DRS) as a center fielder. It goes back to 1953. Most total zone runs as CF: Jones 230, Mays 176. That does miss the first two National League seasons of Mays’ career, which began in the Negro Leagues in 1948.

Kramer: That Andruw is widely regarded as the best defensive player of his generation (and possibly all time), attributed by not just his teammates but his opposition, should alone put him in the conversation for Cooperstown. It's also a premium defensive position. Tom Glavine once made an eye-opening remark on Andruw's glove, noting that the Braves' HOF-loaded pitching rotation of the '90s would not have put up some of its gaudy numbers without Jones backing them up in center.

Morosi: The Braves were a National League dynasty, a team we all watched in the playoffs every year. We can say they should have won more than one World Series during that time, but their historical significance cannot be debated.

Kramer: Andruw hit .273/.363/.433 (.796 OPS) with 10 homers in 76 career playoff games. He also is the youngest player to homer in the World Series, when he did so in his first two at-bats in the 1996 Fall Classic at age 19.

Bowman: Yeah, the 19-year-old kid who homered in his first two World Series plate appearances became one of the greatest defensive players baseball has ever seen. In between, he collected more than 400 homers, enjoyed a 50-homer season and was a key offensive performer for a club that won a division title in each of his first 10 seasons. Those are pretty impressive credentials.

Footer: Here are the voting numbers on Jones: Support increased 14.5% in 2021 from '20. He received 33.9% of the votes in '21. He is in his fifth year on the ballot. A 14.5% increase is a lot, and a good sign that he could make it eventually. Do you think support will build enough to get in by Year 10?

Kramer: I really do. I think as Andruw reaches the later years of eligibility and there is more urgency for his consideration, voters will appreciate his accomplishments much like they did with Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker, who were each elected in their 10th and final year of eligibility.

Morosi: I'm optimistic that Jones will eventually get in, but I would have said the same about Jeff Kent, and his totals remain mystifyingly low.

Langs: I know this is how these things go -- and ballots have been crowded lately. But look at Mark’s prior comment! I can’t believe we are even having to talk about this.

Morosi: I agree -- the ballot will probably become a little less complicated and crowded over the next few years, which should help.

Langs: I do think he will get in -- we’ve seen players gain momentum as the ballot years continue, and I expect that trend to help him, too.

Morosi: Over time, Jones will benefit from discussions like the one we're having here.

Bowman: Last year's voting increase was encouraging. I think we'll see that number rise closer to 50% this year. If that happens, I think Jones will be elected in the next two or three years.

Morosi: Writers remember his rapid decline and the diminished relevance of his last few seasons. That was very real, and it affected the perception of his career. However, the more years we move away from the end of his career, the better perspective we get when looking at the overall body of work. We remember him less as the platoon player he was at the end, and we remember him more as the historic two-way player he was.

For the 10-year period beginning with the mid-1990s, it would be difficult to write a one-page summary of MLB without significant mention of Andruw Jones. And that's one of the standards I always use in voting for the Hall of Fame.