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Andruw Jones: The Next Dale Murphy?
February 2, 2009
Andruw Jones is only 31 years old and seemed destined for the Hall of Fame, perhaps not the result of a dominant career but one filled with decades of consistency and Gold Glove caliber fielding. Jones celebrated his 30th birthday with 10 years of solid-to-spectacular hitting and fantastic glove work. Thanks to an increased power stroke in his late 20s, it seemed that a low .260 batting average and 35+ HRs would be a given every year, probably for another 10 years. A little hard work from Jones and some luck to stay healthy, and you'd have Jones on your HOF ballot in 2023, reflecting on how a center fielder known for his defense managed to hit well over 600 HRs and almost 2,000 RBIs.
Then Andruw Jones became the next Dale Murphy. Starting in the major leagues one year earlier in age than Murphy (Jones at 19, Murphy at 20), Jones' career has begun to mirror Murphy. Just as Dale Murphy seemed invincible in his 20s, with back-to-back MVP Awards, Gold Gloves, and power numbers matched only by Mike Schmidt, Andruw could also do no wrong in his youth.
Murphy, like Jones, loved to flail at the tempting breaking stuff, resulting in strikeout totals easily in the triple digits every year. Then, coming off his best offensive year (.295, 44, 105), Dale Murphy completely lost his batting eye at the age of 32, hitting a paltry .226 in 1988. His strikeouts were actually down, so it was as if he had figured out a way to make contact with bad pitches, sending his batting average and his career south. After another year and a half of nearly identical performances, the Atlanta Braves parted ways with Murphy. He hit 27 more home runs the rest of his career before retiring.
Andruw Jones began his career a year ahead of Murphy's pace, but he seems to be declining TWO years ahead of Murphy's schedule. At the age of 30, Jones' power numbers were respectable in 2007 (26 HRs, 94 RBIs) but way short of his totals in recent years. Then there's the batting average - .222. Unlike Murphy, Jones was striking out more, so Andruw was completely lost at the plate whether he was swinging and missing or making contact. Just like Atlanta's other outfielder they loved to pencil into the lineup every day two decades earlier, the Braves said goodbye to Andruw Jones, and not a moment too soon.
Jones signed a huge 2-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers but won't even get to see the deal to its fruition, thanks to an injury-riddled 2008 that included a .158 average and a ghastly 76 strikeouts in 209 at-bats. Thanks to some contract restructuring, the Dodgers will continue paying Jones smaller sums of money for a longer period of time. In the meantime, the 31-year-old outfielder just a couple summers removed from superstardom finds himself without a team. I can't imagine that Jones has nothing left in the tank, but general managers should look at players like Dale Murphy. For some players, that window of peak performance closes sooner than expected.