LONG BEACH— Baseball is a curious game. Watching season to season results can be mind boggling. Especially now in the transition from the roid era to the post roid era.
Last season all the talk was about the terrible production from the most expensive center fielder in the game. When Andruw Jones was signed Dodger fans were in heaven. Finally some power in the outfield. All that changed when he showed up for Spring Training.
Dodger Blues sited sources of complaint from Dodger management for the increased weight Andruw sported when he reported to spring training in 2008. This wasn’t a sign of power as it was in the past when players like Adrian Beltre would show up to camp with “50 pounds of muscle” added in a mere three months. Andruw had added over 40 pounds of protruding gut.
Jones had a history of packing on the pounds throughout his years in Atlanta. It was the favorite torment of the outfield bleachers. He had even admitted his unfettered love for all fast-foods after a trip to Japan.
“When I was in Japan, I was like 240 [pounds] because all we ate was fast food,” said Jones, who was part of the Major League All-Star team that toured the Asian nation in November.
“We had McDonald’s before the game and KFC [Kentucky Fried Chicken] after the game. It was a routine. We didn’t miss one day.”
Andruw also had a record of performing poorly when his contract was up. Being a client of sports agent Scott Boras, this was seriously frowned upon. The two years prior to Andruw’s first contract season were great. He hit what were then career highs in home runs, batting average, slugging, and on-base percentage. Andruw headed into 2001 with the edict passed down, put up big numbers and cash in. Jones generally flopped. He maintained his customary home run totals, but lost his consistancy hitting what was then his career worst average, on base percentage and slugging percentage (.251/.312/.461). Eventually he pushed Scott Boras away from the talks and worked out a contract on his own with the Braves. From there he went on to return to his comfortable form and to have a productive career.
Then Andruw hit a perfect storm. As he entered his peak years (25-29) his production increased and crashed again in his contract year. But that story is also a little deeper than the surface would imply. Just as Andruw had performed for his first contract, he performed for his second. He had a great two year span prior to his contract year, then fell apart. But during that two year period of production Andruw Jones was put on waivers and he didn’t respond well. He had known only the Braves since he was 16 years old. He always viewed Manager Bobby Cox as a father figure. And he had repeatedly said he wanted to play only for the Braves, even when Scott Boras would correct him and say he will seek maximum salary. After learning of the Braves move, Andruw proceeded to hit .226/.329/.447 through the end of 2007.
From there the Braves announced they would not enter contract talks with Andruw Jones, terminating the relationship after a decade and a half. And from here the Dodgers signed him for a Scott Boras price which Andruw took to KFC.
Why do I bring all that up? Big Papi.
When Andruw struggled in his first year away from his family, friends, home and father figure, there was talk of how he was on pace to set the single worst season of a major leaguer in history. Andruw didn’t receive enough at bats to set that dubious mark, officially, but his season wasn’t pretty. He went on and off the disabled list in between constant heckling and booing of the Los Angeles fans.
Big Papi on the other hand has nothing to fall back on. He went from being a 20 home run, .260 hitter in Minnisotta to a late peaking .297 hitter averaging 39 home runs a season and then what he is today. Big Papi is on pace to be the single worst designated hitter in the history of the game.
In his first 35 games played David Ortiz has managed to set the bar lower than any designated hitter since the position was created. Using the park adjusted measurement tool, OPS+, David Ortiz has filed in at the bottom of the 36 year old list of designated hitters with an OPS+ of 57 (100 is average). He has yet to hit a home run, which is pretty much the entire reason for a designated hitter. Even thirty five games into Andruw’s nightmare of a season he had managed to hit a home run.
It will be interesting to see how long the Red Sox put up with this lack of production. There is more of a personal vested interest in Big Papi in Boston than LA had in Andruw.