Detroit Tigers Roster Preview: JaCoby Jones

DETROIT, MI - JULY 03: JaCoby Jones #21 of the Detroit Tigers looks on during the Detroit Tigers Summer Workouts at Comerica Park on July 3, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - JULY 03: JaCoby Jones #21 of the Detroit Tigers looks on during the Detroit Tigers Summer Workouts at Comerica Park on July 3, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Detroit Tigers outfielder JaCoby Jones should have plenty of points racked up on Training Table Rewards Players Card. Two broken hands. A scary hit by pitch in the jaw. Various minor ailments including strains to a hamstring, shoulder, and oblique. In between there has been some stretches of an exciting baseball player, along with many stretches where he has struggled mightily.

Turning 29 years old and in the middle of his prime, can JaCoby Jones stay healthy so we can see and evaluate a full season performance while we watch all our Boys of Summer and hope to add a free agent to this list of success stories for an upward ascent in 2022? Will JaCoby Jones be a part of that future or just a footnote in the Detroit Tigers rebuild?

JaCoby Jones Contract Status with the Detroit Tigers

1 year at 2.65 million dollars. Arbitration eligible. Reaches free agency after the 2023 season.

JaCoby Jones’s Game:

When he is on the field, JaCoby Jones is the kind of player you just love to watch play the game. Defensively he looked like a Gold Glove CF candidate in 2018. Highlight reel catches seemed to be a weekly occurrence and the numbers bore it out (13 defensive runs saved above average). 2019 the numbers went in the total opposite direction (-13). The eye test shows me he doesn’t get the greatest jump on the ball, and this is backed up by MLB Statcast, but he has the speed to often overcome his late breaks, making some spectacular highlight reel catches while botching some rather routine plays.

He will start the 2021 campaign as the everyday Centerfielder with Victor Reyes backing him up as the 4th outfielder. The lack of a true CF in the organization even close to ready for a major league look should give JaCoby clear sailing to holding on to playing time.

Offensively, JaCoby Jones looked like he had no chance of hitting at the Major League level when he first arrived on the scene. After looking completely overmatched from 2016-2018, featuring a slash of .207/.266/.364 with an OPS+ of 69 in 2018 after getting his feet wet and taking his medicine in small 2016-2017 samples, it appeared JaCoby was heading nowhere fast.

Then in 2019 he showed some flashes of growth at the plate despite just a .235/.310/.430 92 OPS+ overall, he had a really nice stretch across May and June that excited Tigers fans. A cold July was giving way to an excellent start in August when the broken hand would end his season early. 2020 he gave us .268/.333/.515 127 OPS+, albeit in just 108 plate appearances before yet another broken hand would end his season prematurely.

Some of the underlying numbers that I value present a mixed bag when trying to project his future. He still strikes out above the major league average at 31.5 % in 2020 ,and walks below average despite slightly improving his walk rate from 2018 (5.8%) to 8.5% in 2019 before regressing to 6.5% in the small sample that was 2020.

However there are some positives, while his exit velocity was just a tick above MLB average in 2020 and down a couple of MPH from 2019, he barreled at a rate of 10.7% and 10.9% respectively the past two seasons, well above the MLB average of 6.4% and has increased his extra base hit percentage from around league average, 8.4% in 2018, to 9.9% in 2019 and then 13% in the abbreviated 2020 pandemic season.

His base running is aggressive and exciting, often grabbing the extra base and has only made 7 outs on base in his career. He is not really a threat to steal a bag despite his speed with just 27 swipes for his career against 10 caught stealings. Watching him round 2nd,  flying to 3rd on a triple is a favorite of mine.

ZiPS Projection:

Courtesy of FanGraphs: .235/.299/.416 with 14 HR’s in 432 projected PA’s

My Take on JaCoby Jones:

I think ZiPS is a little low and I am expecting something more along the lines of .260/.330/.440. JaCoby is not a kid anymore and this very well could be the high point season of his career. His infectious smile and hustle makes him a player I love to root for but ultimately I would love to see him as the 4th outfielder rather than battling with Robbie Grossman for most outfield production as a starter.

Huge season for Mr. Jones with his price going up in arbitration. He will need to put up some numbers to have Al Avila make a phone call to his agent with an offer and to avoid being bandied about as a possible non-tender candidate after the 2021 season. I just hope he stays healthy and gives himself a shot to keep playing in Detroit for the next couple of years. On a team that often lacks excitement he is a ray of sunshine. In the end, like most players donning a major league uniform, the bat will write the story.