Detroit Tigers: The Enigma of JaCoby Jones

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OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 04: JaCoby Jones #21 of the Detroit Tigers is charged with an error after he is unable to field a ball hit for a single by Marcus Semien (not pictured) of the Oakland Athletics during the fourth inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 4, 2018 in Oakland, California. Semien advanced to third base on the error. The Oakland Athletics defeated the Detroit Tigers 2-1. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 04: JaCoby Jones #21 of the Detroit Tigers is charged with an error after he is unable to field a ball hit for a single by Marcus Semien (not pictured) of the Oakland Athletics during the fourth inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 4, 2018 in Oakland, California. Semien advanced to third base on the error. The Oakland Athletics defeated the Detroit Tigers 2-1. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images) /
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Detroit Tigers outfielder JaCoby Jones has the tools to develop into an everyday outfielder, but can he put it all together?

Detroit Tigers outfielder JaCoby Jones was just placed on the 10-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain. It is unclear exactly how long he will be out, although he is eligible to return as soon as August 23.

When Jones returns, he will likely take back over an everyday role in the outfield. His outstanding defense and raw tools have long been evident, and have shown up quite a bit this season. However, his complete lack of plate discipline has not improved enough for him to even reach average levels of competency at the plate. Is his defense and ‘tools’ enough for him to keep getting opportunities in a soon-to-be crowded Detroit Tigers outfield? Or is he just a fill-in while our other, more well-rounded prospects develop on the farm? Here are arguments on either side.

The Case For JaCoby Jones

The primary case here is that Jones has improved in virtually every area from 2017 to 2018. Of course, his 2017 numbers were abysmal, so that’s hardly a shock.

However, it is nice to see his strikeout rate down nearly 13%, from 42.2% last season to 29.8% in 2018. That has been party thanks to a lower swinging strike rate, which went from 17.7% last season to just 14.0% in 2018. He’s also posted a higher ISO (.155 to .099) and has improved each of his slash line numbers as well.

These changes are sustainable, as Jones has done it despite seeing his BABIP drop from .288 to .274. He is hitting the ball harder (34.5% hard-hit rate, compared to 30.3% last year) and is hitting more line drives (22.2% to 18.7%). Jones is also spreading the ball around the field more, with a decrease in his pull rate and an increase in balls hit to the opposite field.

Some of Jones’ struggles this season have been unlucky. His BABIP already got a mention, but it’s worth pointing out that his HR/FB rate is down 3% from last season, despite a higher hard hit rate.

His defense has been the most massive improvement, and that alone is worth him keeping a job on a big league roster. He carries a spectacular 14.4 UZR/150 on the year, with a 17.7 mark in left field and a 10.4 mark in center. His 14.4 mark is fifth in the entire league, behind Lorenzo Cain, Mookie Betts, Leonys Martin and Aaron Judge.

The Case Against JaCoby Jones

Well, his numbers have still been pretty darn bad. A 29.8% strikeout rate may be a huge improvement, but it’s still among the worst in the league. Furthermore, Jones did most of his damage early in the season, and he has performed pretty bad for the majority of the year.

Almost all of the numbers cited in the case for Jones are inflated because of a strong start to the season. Through the first 23 games of the year, Jones hit .273/.338/.455. From then on, he hit .188/.242/.336 with six home runs and five stolen bases.

Are we ready to proclaim Jones is a changed man at the plate after one hot month and an ugly 3.5 months after that? Sure some of his low numbers have been a product of bad luck, but at the end of the day Jones strikes out too much, walks too little, and doesn’t display enough game power or speed to be a difference-maker on a contending team.

While the improvements are encouraging, Jones is still miles away from being more than just a defensive-minded center fielder with limited upside at the plate. He reminds me a lot of Jake Marisnick of the Astros, a player they have been hoping will grow into more than just a great outfielder. Alas, it’s hard to see more than that for Jones at this point.

Next. Midseason Top 30 Prospects. dark

The Detroit Tigers will have some tough decisions to make when their farm system is ready for the big leagues. JaCoby Jones will no doubt be one of the players that Al Avila will have to make a decision on before the rebuilding comes to an end.

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