In the seventh inning of Tuesday’s 2-1 Orioles win over the New York Mets, as Mychal Givens was protecting a narrow lead, Mets right fielder Jay Bruce hit a soft fly ball to center field off the end of his bat that fell in for a single.
The ball was hit softly enough that Adam Jones was able to barehand it on a hop, but he couldn’t get his glove on it before it fell in. While ultimately harmless because Givens stranded Bruce, it’s part of a troubling spell for Jones in the outfield. When the Orioles last played Saturday, he had a ball near the wall go off his glove for extra bases and also committed a throwing error, both in the same inning.
Manager Buck Showalter skirted around the idea of whether he’s seen anything worth worrying about from his 32-year-old center fielder.
“If I had, I certainly wouldn’t broadcast it,” Showalter said. “I wouldn’t talk about it. Adam, he’s a guy that plays every day — obviously, not quite as much as he has in the past. But he’s made some adjustments in his positioning and what have you.
“Nobody is as good as they were when they were 22, but there’s some things he brings with experience and what have you. It’s something that everybody has a point, all of us — players, coaches, managers — where some adjustments have to be made in the way we approach things. But Adam is not in that phase yet. It’s not something that has been noticed to an extent. I like the way he’s been doing most things.”
Even when Jones was winning Gold Glove awards from 2012-14, there wasn’t much consensus about him in the data community — his value came from the proverbial eye test. But over the past few years, even as Jones adjusted his positioning to accommodate some of the new data trends available in the game, he hasn’t been viewed favorably.
There’s plenty of noise in these measurements in a single season, let alone barely over two months of one. Showalter often points to a ball Jones lost in the lights in center field at Yankee Stadium during the first week of the season that has killed his numbers.
But that’s just part of a statistical package that doesn’t like what Jones is doing in center field.
According to MLB Statcast data on BaseballSavant.com, Jones entered Wednesday 67th out of 72 outfielders with at least 75 chances with -6 outs above average, which takes the catch probability of a batted ball and either adds or subtracts that from a fielder’s total based on whether it’s caught.
Elsewhere, Jones is rated at -15 defensive runs saved and -19 UZR/150, both of which use similar formulas to estimate the run value of batted balls and assign the value to hitters based on whether they make the play or not. Of 23 qualifying center fielders in each category, Jones rates 22nd, one spot ahead of the Colorado Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon.
Jones is still providing plenty of value with his bat, entering Wednesday with a .284/.302/.470 batting line with 10 home runs that qualifies him as the second-best hitter on the club behind star Manny Machado. But as Jones nears free agency and a crossroads of his career on several fronts, his play in center field will become more and more of a factor in his evaluation.
Reliever Darren O’Day (hyperextended right elbow), who walked three of the five batters he faced in his first rehabilitation appearance for High-A Frederick on Tuesday, will need at least another appearance, Showalter said.
“He felt good,” Showalter said. “One of [the walks] wasn’t, but he’s going to have at least one more outing. He felt good. Obviously, the command was off a little bit, but he felt good. He’s close.”
Also with Frederick, outfielder Colby Rasmus (hip) went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and still doesn’t have a hit in three rehab games.
“He got his at-bats in,” Showalter said. “Not a whole lot of production yet as far as statistically, but he’s getting his reps in. he’s had a long time off.”
Both O’Day and Zach Britton (Achilles), who had a scoreless 1 1/3 innings Tuesday with Triple-A Norfolk, will pitch again for those respective clubs Thursday, Showalter said.