Adam Jones is starting to look a lot more like the Adam Jones of old lately. He has hit eight home runs in his last twenty games while slashing .286/.315/.619. All of this has come while batting in the leadoff spot in the lineup. While Jones does not fit the typical leadoff hitter mold by any stretch of the imagination, he is finding success there after struggling mightily to begin the season. Through his first 41 games this year he amassed a 71 wRC+ meaning he was nearly 30% below the average hitter. Yes, we can attribute this turn around to health but there have been plenty of other changes, some strange, to Jones’ game since getting moved to leadoff.
First off look at this heat map of Jones’ slg% before May 27th.
Not a lot of red which correlates with only having 11 extra base hits during this time. But since May 27th:
Now that looks a lot better. Jones is crushing inside pitches again like we are used to seeing leading to 12 extra base hits in just over half the plate appearances. The logical conclusion is Jones is hitting the ball harder. Well not exactly.
Jones has below average exit velocity during his time leading off according to baseball savant. So despite Jones hitting the ball softer his slugging percentage has gone up. How?
The answer lies in not how hard he is hitting the ball but where it is going after it leaves his bat. Through May he was hitting 52.7% ground balls. In June that number is down to 38.2%. While his line drive percent has stayed roughly the same his fly percent has rocketed up to 47.3% from 34%. Couple that with pulling the ball more this month and a staggering 30.8% HR/FB ration you get more base hits and extra base hits despite a lower BABIP due to the lower exit velocity.
While the HR/FB ratio probably isn’t sustainable you won’t see Jones’ BABIP stay at .213 for the rest of the month either. You can see from the graph he is trending positive with the exit velocity. So while the homerun rate will come down, his line drive rate should improve and the slugging percentage should stay where it is.
There is also one other key to Jones’ game this month that has helped the turn around. He is striking out less. His K% has come down steadily each month settling to 16.9% here in June. The walks still aren’t there but cutting down on the Ks has raised his on base percentage to .300 for the month.
We all know Jones is a streaky hitter and could go could any game. But all signs are pointing to him continuing his hot hitting atop the Orioles’ lineup. And if he does, the Orioles offense just got a lot scarier.