So Geoff takes issue with my post on the Braves, illustrating that it’s possible, and good, to work youth into the lineups of contending teams. A couple points to pick on before I move to a whole other point, though:
As was mentioned, the young Braves were all Rookie of the Year contenders, which implies they got most of a full season to work their way in. With Jones, we’re talking about a 3 1/2 week “sink or swim” indoctrination, which is hardly the same discussion. Not even in the same ballpark.
The post wasn’t intended to prove that Jones should play. That’s just a given. It was intended to offer a larger example of how a successful franchise, while competing, can still develop their young players and get them playing time so they can blossom into beautiful flowers.
And I’ll point out that refuting that list of RoY candidates misses the larger point of the post. I used RoY voting because it was handy, but you can go through those teams and see how they continually found time for players mid-season and in smaller roles as they prepared them to start, as well as sometimes handing them starting jobs. Giles is a great example of this.
Anyway, to youth and Jones.
There’s a couple discussions here: one, did the M’s clear a spot for Jones at the start of the season? No, and I don’t think it’s at all fair to expect that the team would go into the year with an outfield spot open for him in case he was. You don’t know, right?
Then: once it became clear in, say, May/June, that Jones was dominating Tacoma, did they make a role for him? No, and here you can throw some garbage at the screen and boo them or whatever. It’s clear that they could have, especially with Ibanez’s slump and horrible defense all year, and could have found a way to put Jones out there a couple times a week.
Now, there’s the final argument, which is: having failed to clear a spot for him to start the year, and having failed to get him regular playing time, should the M’s have played Jones down the stretch in important games?
Dave and I have both argued at some length and frequently at some volume that you do. You put the best team on the field. And I’d argue the Franceour isn’t a particularly good comp for Jones, but anyway —
Baker’s argument against playing Jones down the stretch, and I’ll quote two paragraphs for the point:
So, which of those monthly OPS totals would Jones bring to the table these final few weeks if the M’s throw him in the lineup every day? Don’t know? Neither do I. Neither does the team. If Jones were to put up a .688 these next few weeks, in-place of the .800 by someone else on the team, it would potentially be a disaster.
But as I said, maybe he puts up a .900. It’s a risk. And it doesn’t matter what his minor league predictor stats say. This is too small a sample period for anyone to predict how he’d do every day with any accuracy. At the beginning of the season, or even in July, it’s a different story because there is margin for error, or an off-month for a rookie trying to adapt. In Francoeur’s case, he took the league by storm, then cooled off. But who’s to say what order Jones would perform in. I know this is becoming a tired debate in some respects. But I’m just pointing out the issues I’ve yet to see covered and to explain my feelings on the Braves. I agree that any team loaded with young talent should try to use it or trade it. Just not right now, not this late.
We’ve made this point too before: you don’t know what any player is going to put up in any situation anyway. Rookie having “an off month trying to adapt”? Vets have off months. If you’re looking at two players, one a veteran hitter and the other a far superior talent (not that that’s the comparison we’re making w/Jones v Ibanez, but bear with me) you want the better hitter. All players are different, all situations different, and so on and so forth. You can find months where horrible hitters tore it up, and great hitter stank up the joint.
You want the better hitter. You do. In the same way, you want the best team you can field. That team has Jones in the field.
But let’s say you take this whole argument, and you say “well, we could play Jones and improve the outfield defense a ton and he might hit some, he might not, I totally discard minor league track records and scouts and think that he has to prove himself at the major league level even though he can’t prove himself at the major league level because I’m going to play veterans because I totally discard minor league track records and scouts so I guess he’s screwed and we should trade him for pitching or something but veteran pitching because as I mentioned– BUT instead, I’m going to play Raul for this critical stretch against the Angels and whenever, because he’s hot for August and the team needs him and we can’t afford to try a rookie.”
Ibanez went 9-34 with no power at all from August 27th to today’s game. .265/.324/.265 over that stretch of nine games.
How can that be? Adam Jones is hitting better than that on the season, and he’s pretty regularly mocked as not being major league ready on the basis of his 35 at-bats. Is Ibanez not major league ready?
Shouldn’t veteran consistency have come through? Isn’t that what you count on? How could Raul fail so? If you’re supposed to count on veterans in these kinds of circumstances because you can’t afford a cold streak and veterans go cold like that, what then? What’s left?
Veterans are no different than any other hitter. They hit, and they don’t, and just like you want a good veteran hitter over a bad one, you want a good young hitter over a bad veteran one.
And, just to re-iterate, the case I’m making is not that Ibanez should be out of the lineup entirely. I’ve been arguing, and I think Dave largely agrees with me, that a player as talented and as ready as Jones can help the team, and if someone can help the team, you find a way to make the most of that, and it doesn’t matter if it’s June or September if you want to win.
I’m going to throw out one more analogy I think is particularly apt: Matt Kemp. Matt Kemp got spotty playing time last year for the Dodgers (52 games, 153 AB) and this year, at 22, they gave him some time in April, but he banged his shoulder into a scoreboard trying to make a catch in April, and went down to Las Vegas to hang out for a while. A long while. Matt Kemp’s not the defensive player Adam Jones is, but they’re not that dissimilar hitting prospects: a lot of Ks, nobody knows if they’re ever going to walk a lot, but they’re aggressive in the strike zone and put a charge into the ball when they make contact.
Anyway, when Kemp’s ready (and they really take their time), there’s a problem: the Dodgers are in contention and they’ve got an outfield: in left, veteran leader Luis Gonzalez, hitting .282/.362/.431. In center, Juan Pierre (.291/.325/.349) and in right, Andre Ethier, not quite as young, but played well last year and doing well again (.289/.354/.448).
The Dodgers, in many ways, faced an even worse situation than the Mariners did, with no DH to help shift defensive alignments, and without a June pretext for shifting things.
So what’d they do? We know what the M’s did, faced in June with a similar situation. The Dodgers kept trying to find ways to play Kemp, and even though it meant their outfield rotation’s had some fits and starts, and Kemp’s still sitting on the bench 2-3 times a week, since he came back up and played again June 8th, they’ve managed to get Kemp 215 plate appearances.
Kemp’s hitting .338/.372/.537 with Dodger Stadium as his home park. By VORP, he’s the third-most valuable hitter on that team. He’s a huge reason the Dodgers are in the NL wild card race.
There’s no way to know if Jones would produce like he’s capable of if he’d gotten the same opportunity. They’re different players, in different leagues, facing different situations, and so on. But other teams, faced with the same kind of dilemma, found ways to work similar players who can help into their lineup.
Finding Jones playing time wasn’t going to transform Horacio Ramirez into a good pitcher. Or Jeff Weaver. It wasn’t going to solve Sexson’s hitting issues. On the grand scale of things that deserve some blame for the slip from contention, or if you prefer the failure to seize the opportunity they had, it’s not that big a deal. It’s a game or two.
But I don’t at all agree that game’s not worth trying for, just as I don’t agree that there’s any reason not to field the best team possible, or that veteran hitters are any more reliable over short, arbitrary stretches of the season.