Andruw Jones’ Hall of Fame odds keep improving

Braves manager Brian Snitker talks with Andruw Jones (left) and Chipper Jones during the team's alumni weekend Friday at SunTrust Park. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Braves manager Brian Snitker talks with Andruw Jones (left) and Chipper Jones during the team's alumni weekend Friday at SunTrust Park. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The belief here is that Andruw Jones belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s not there yet, but it’s now possible to see him making it. His candidacy figured to be one that gathers strength with deeper evaluation. That seems to be happening, as it did with Larry Walker, elected last year in his 10th and final time on the ballot, and Bert Blyleven, elected after 14 years of waiting. (The eligibility period was since cut to 10 years.)

Full disclosure: Three years ago, I wasn’t sure A. Jones would clear the first hurdle. He became eligible the same year as Braves teammate Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, first-ballot locks for Cooperstown. It was unclear if enough voters would look beyond A. Jones’ career batting average – a pedestrian .254 – to keep him around for further consideration. A player must receive 5% of the votes to remain on the ballot.

It was close. A. Jones finished 19th of those listed on the 2018 ballot. The 20th-place finisher that year was Jamie Moyer, who was dropped for 2019. Had Andruw received only 21 votes that year, he’d have been gone, too. He got 31 – 7.3% of the 422 cast. Whew.

The next year was a crowded one. There were two sure first-ballot guys – Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay – and it was Edgar Martinez’s 10th year. He finally crossed the 75% threshold. Andruw’s numbers barely budged. He drew 32 votes, or 7.5%. He again finished 19th.

Last year the mountain began to move. A. Jones’ vote total in 2020 more than doubled to 77, or 19.4%. If we check Ryan Thibodaux’s invaluable Hall of Fame Tracker, we note that, of the 148 ballots revealed so far this year, Andruw has drawn 64, bumping him up to 40.8%. With 39.6% of this year’s vote being known, he’s ninth among this year’s list. He has traction, or so it would seem to this uneducated numbers-cruncher.

I turned to an educated numbers-cruncher. I asked Thibodaux to assess the Andruw arc. His response:

“Jones now looks like he might be on a path to eventual induction. From what we can tell, he’s likely to drop from his current 41% in the tracking to somewhere in the low 30s in the final results. (Most candidates suffer this sort of drop from the pre-announcement tracking to the final result.) That’s significant improvement and will be 10-15% better than last year’s 19.4%. While a finish in the low-30 range might not seem all that exciting, the jump this year is – and usually indicates further improvement in future voting cycles is possible and maybe even likely. Larry Walker didn’t get into the 30s until his eighth year on the ballot. Then he got in the 50s in his ninth year, and then he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his 10th.”

Then: “Jones’ path is likely to be longer, as there’s no last-year-on-the-ballot imperative (for him) anytime soon, but the path is there. A scenario that strikes me as possible is for Jones to cross the 40% mark next year and then 50% the following year. If he’s above 50% with four years of eligibility left, you have to like his chances.”

Again going by Thibodaux’s data, the 2021 Hall of Fame class – results will be revealed Tuesday – could number zero. Only Curt Schilling, in his ninth go-around, is truly close at 74.5%. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, also in their ninth appearances, are around 72%, and most of those apt to vote for those two are those of us who make their votes public before the announcement. (My ballot: Bonds, Clemens, Todd Helton, A. Jones, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Schilling, Gary Sheffield and Billy Wagner.) One way or another, Bonds and Clemens and Schilling will be off the ballot after next year, at which point Jones, as Thibodaux noted, will have four years left.

Sentimentality plays a role in HOF voting. Walker went from 54.6% in his penultimate appearance to 76.6 in his last. Same player, same career stats, but clearly a slew of voters said, “What the heck; it’s now or never.” Also: Walker wasn’t lumped among the steroids set, which remains a matter of raging debate. My policy regarding alleged PED users: If MLB has allowed their numbers to stay on the books – and it absolutely has – that’s what I go by.

I have no idea how many of Bonds’ homers would have been loud outs if not for steroids. I have no idea how many of Clemens’ strikeouts would have otherwise been doubles in the gap. I cannot know the unknowable. I can only know what was.

Back to A. Jones: If we check Baseball-Reference WAR, he’s the sixth-best player on the 2021 ballot. (Ahead of him: Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, Rolen and Ramirez.) He’s among the greatest center fielders ever. He won 10 Gold Gloves. He leads all outfielders – all who ever played, mind you – in career Defensive WAR. He led the National League in Defensive WAR – this encompasses all positions – four times in five seasons. He had seven years of 30-plus homers. Had the final third of his career been a bit better, he’d have his place in Cooperstown by now.

It’s not my mission in life to make Andruw Jones a Hall of Famer, but I’m glad to know more and more people are seeing him the way I saw him, and I saw him a lot. He won’t make it this year, or next. There is, however, an increasing chance he’ll make it before long. Fingers crossed.

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