Adam Jones is not your typical leadoff hitter, not with an on-base percentage that is under .300 for the season. Let’s face it, he’s not your typical hitter, period.
He’s better when he is super aggressive – which isn’t a calling card for a leadoff man. They are supposed to see pitches, initially stretch out a count as long as possible, walk a bunch. But that’s not Jones’ style, and, statistically, his style often works for him.
In his career heading into Friday night, he has a .368 average when he swings at the first pitch and puts it in play (725 plate appearances). And he’s phenomenal when the count is 1-0 and he puts the ball in play – heading into Friday night he had a .383 career average (356 plate appearances) and a .545 mark with four homers and 15 RBIs when he makes contact in a 1-0 count this season.
Jones was inserted into the top spot on May 27 simply because he was struggling, batting just .228 with five homers and 19 RBIs through 45 games in 2016. He got three hits that day – and hasn’t batted anywhere else in the order since. Heading into Friday night, he was hitting .282 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 120 plate appearances as a leadoff man.
How much has the switch helped?
Consider this year he was hitting .222 with five homers and 14 RBIs in 117 plate appearances in his customary No. 3 spot.
It was all about a change of scenery – or pressure anyway.
“Just trying to give him a little different look and a little different toy. Just something different when he comes to the park,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said this week. “I had (four) options: Leave him where he was, drop him down, give him a couple days off or throw him a whole new soup bone. He took that one.”
It was worth the experiment because the Orioles didn’t need Jones’ power bat in the middle of the lineup, not with Manny Machado and Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo (and Jonathan Schoop and Matt Wieters) on this team.
“I think because the lineup has been set up with as much power from top to bottom, it gives you an opportunity to take a guy like that and put him at the top of the order,” Orioles hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh said recently. “I don’t think if you have a different dynamic of a lineup that you could do that, because now you are taking away a threat, and it just gives the other team an opportunity to pitch around him at the top of the order.”
It was a way to relax Jones, to show him that he didn’t have to carry the club, that he didn’t have to drive in every runner on base.
“I think it was just a matter of taking him out of a situation where he was trying to do too much because he was in the middle of the order,” Coolbaugh said. “It gave him a chance … to have some pitchers coming after him a little more. I truly believe that that alone kind of freed his mind. But also I think he has made some adjustments that have helped him. I think he has shortened his stroke.”
Jones isn’t a fan of talking about the switch. He correctly points out that he only truly leads off once a game. And he has said continually that where he hits in the lineup doesn’t matter to him, but this way he gets more chances at getting to the plate each game.
But maybe that’s why this has worked out so well, so far. Because Jones isn’t one to fight things if it’s perceived it is the best thing for the team. He just wants to play and to win. And that attitude made it a whole lot easier for the club to switch things up.
Chances are Jones is now out of the early season malaise and should be fine no matter where he is in the order. But when that move will be made – if at all this season – is unclear. Showalter, as always, isn’t showing his hand. And Coolbaugh says, ultimately, he trusts his boss to make that call.
“You ride the hot hand until somebody else comes up with a situation where they’re capable of leading off and moving him back down and then you put him in the RBI situations as a three- or four-hole hitter,” Coolbaugh said. “I’m sure Buck will recognize that and do that, but for right now things are working and I think keeping guys in a position to be comfortable is what good managers do. They put guys in positions to succeed and I think Buck does a great job of that.”