Detroit Tigers fans are falling in love with JaCoby Jones, and it’s not hard to see why.
JaCoby Jones has been the best hitter on the Detroit Tigers through the first ten games of 2020, and indeed the best hitter for the Tigers since May 1st of last year, when Jones altered his batting stance.
There hasn’t been much for Tigers fans to smile about over the last few seasons, so it’s understandable if they feel a bit giddy about Jones. They saw how J.D. Martinez reinvented himself with a swing change in 2014, so perhaps lightning can strike twice?
It’s also okay if fans are a bit skeptical. We’re talking about slightly more than 300 plate appearances spread across two seasons, and they have seen plenty of mirages before.
Chris Shelton (2005, 2006), Marcus Thames (2006), Ryan Raburn (2010), Brennan Boesch (2010, 2011), and Jeimer Candelario (2018) all had similar stretches before crashing back to earth.
We’d love to tell you this is real, but we can’t. And honestly, that’s not the point of this article. The question we want to know is, if this IS real, then just what kind of player do the Tigers have in JaCoby Jones?
Let’s go to the numbers. (stats accurate as of 8/2/20)
There are 101 MLB outfielders with 300+ plate appearances since Jones made his adjustments. Below you’ll see where he ranks among that group in various offensive stats:
Now let’s take a look at his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Outs Above Average (OAA), and Arm Strength (ARM) numbers.
This will always be somewhat confusing. The Defensive Runs Saved system had Jones as the best defensive outfielder in baseball in 2018 and then the 6th worst outfielder in 2019, while Statcast’s Outs Above Average system had him basically average both seasons. Defensive stats are notoriously unstable, so it’s probably best to consider him an average defender for now.
Finally, let’s look at his average exit velocity (EV), average launch angle (LA), expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA), and average sprint speed (SPD).
If we took all these stats and throw them into the traditional 20-80 scouting scale, Jones would probably look something like this:
That looks like a pretty interesting left fielder, but it’s still a bit abstract. So let’s finish with five current MLB players who, since May 1st of last year, have produced at a similar level to Jones.
Yastrzemski is an interesting parallel to Jones, in that he seemingly didn’t figure things out until his late-20s. He’s an example of what Jones could look like if his defense stabilizes and his offense continues to get better.
Kepler gets to his offense in a different way, but he represents a bit of a dream scenario in which Jones stays this level of hitter while regaining his 2018 defensive form (or moves to a corner).
Calhoun is a safe, middle-ground candidate. He’s what Jones might look like if his offensive and defensive numbers both level out a bit.
Teoscar Hernandez is the version of Jones that ignores defense and decides to simply swing hard and hit tanks. This Jones would be fun, but probably not ideal.
And finally, we come to Joc Pederson, who may be as close as we can get to Jones. Pederson hits left-handed, but they’re roughly the same size, they were born 19 days apart, and oddly enough, they both struggle mightily against left-handed pitchers — Jones’ career wRC+ against southpaws is 59, while Pederson’s is 58. Fortunately for Jones, reverse platoon splits tend to be the result of statistical noise, and his numbers should even out eventually.
The five players we included in this list are all average or above-average major leaguers. That doesn’t sound particularly impressive, but JaCoby Jones reaching that level would be a huge win for the Tigers. He’s under team control through the 2023 season, and IF this is the real Jones, he may just be one of the first key pieces of Detroit’s next playoff contender.