Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 7/7/12

In 2008 when Andruw Jones hit .158 through the first couple of months of the year, I was certain he was done.

After all, he had been steadily declining for seasons, and he was coming off a year where he hit .222 with the Braves.

It’s only now, 4 years later, that I feel comfortable admitting something that I don’t very often–that I was dead wrong.

Andruw Jones was once a phenom … now he’s a vastly underrated 4th outfielder for the Yankees. (Image credit: Elise Amendola / AP via CTPost.com)

From Phenom to Valuable Specialist

Andruw Jones has completely reinvented himself as a valuable specialist, or perhaps I should say, assassin, of left-handed pitching.

In an age where managers play matchups and splits in a way they never have before, Jones has proven incredibly valuable against southpaws. Just how valuable has he been? Consider the following:

1) From a power perspective, he has been downright lethal.

Since the second half of 2010, Jones has 29 HRs in his last 400 ABs. And that’s against righties and lefties. Against left-handed pitching however, he has been hitting at an All-Star caliber level.

2) Over the same 400 AB period, Andruw Jones has over a .900 OPS against left-handed pitching.

That’s not a typo. How valuable is a player who can consistently put up a .900 OPS? Last year, the league average OPS for right handed batters against left handed pitchers was .766. Jones’ OPS against LHP of .923 last year ranked him 23rd among hitters with at least 140 plate appearances.

You can fill an all-star caliber roster with right handed hitters who’s OPS v. lefties was lower than Jones’. Among the most notable: Evan Longoria, Justin Upton, Carlos Beltran, Billy Butler, Paul Konerko.

3) While Jones’ offensive value in the aggregate might be greater against left handed pitching over the past 2 years, his power has been equally impressive against righties.

Over the past 2 years (2011, 2012), Jones has his 8 home runs in 98 ABs against righties. That’s 1 HR every 12.25 ABs. How good is that you ask? Only 1 “regular” starter had a better ratio last year–Jose Bautista.

So Jones crushes lefties and he’s a poor man’s Jose Batista against righties. What exactly is keeping him from more playing time? Probably his fielding, right?

Fielding Better Than You Think The Andruw Jones of 2012 isn’t the svelt Andruw Jones of yesteryear. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s put on a few pounds since he was a teenage phenom. Remember Jones was (and I’m affirming he was–not suggesting it), in his prime, the best fielding CF of our generation outside of Ken Griffey Jr. That is not the Andruw Jones who stands before you today, but it begs an interesting question–how  does Andruw Jones’ fielding measure up today?

According to a nifty stat called “range factor,” which many expert junkies consider to be the most definitive measure of a defensive player’s value, Andruw Jones is a league average outfielder.

This year, Jones’ “range factor per 9 innings” (which is the most fair stat of his value, since he often pinch-hits and is a part time player) is 1.89. The league average is 1.98. The deviation of .09 is relatively negligible. This is all a fancy way of saying that Andruw Jones is an average outfielder. Or put another way, he is as good as the average starting outfielder in the majors. Thus, having Andruw Jones in the outfield certainly doesn’t hurt the Yankees. After all, the man he often spells, Nick Swisher, only has a league range factor per 9 innings that is .1 higher than that of Jones’. Essentially, Jones provides the same defensive presence as Nick Swisher. Yankees Were Right

So when you look at Andruw Jones, what do you see?

Most baseball fans would probably answer that he’s a washed up shell of his former self. The numbers however, tell a different story.

They show a player who has become the premier right handed platoon player–a guy who can put up a .900+ OPS against lefties and who’s showing no signs of slowing down. Oh, and he also happens to arguably be the best 4th outfielder in the league as well.

One of your guys gets hurt? No problem. Throw Andruw Jones in there and he’ll play defense as well as most major league regulars, hit a .900+ OPS against lefties, and hit a bomb every 12 ABs against righties.

Two years ago, the Yankees were mildly criticized for paying more than the league minimum for a guy widely believed to be on the downslide of his illustrious career.

Today, 31 GMs should be kicking themselves for not offering him more.

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