With the announcement that the New York Yankees had jettisoned popular reserve outfielder, Marcus Thames, in favor of Andruw Jones, 10-time Gold Glove-winner in the midst of an early decline, there was a mixed reaction among Yankee fans.
Many fans' memories of Jones were tarnished by a horrid stint with the Dodgers, in which the former 50 home run slugger and one-time future Hall of Fame talent appeared out of shape, disinterested, and excelled only at killing rallies. His putrid performance was mystifying since he was only 31, and just a few years removed from massive production in Atlanta.
Once he escaped LA, the mercurial slugger settled into a reserve role with the Rangers then White Sox, before agreeing to join the Yankees in the Bronx prior to 2011. As a part-time outfielder and occasional DH, Jones had produced admirably in Texas and the windy city, indicating a suitability for a platoon role at this stage in his career.
Still, fans were dissatisfied with the signing, looking only at his poor batting averages over the last few years, ranging from .230 in 2010 all the way to .158 in his abysmal season with the Dodgers.
However, Jones wasn't brought aboard to star in center field and bat clean-up. He was signed to provide roster flexibility for Joe Girardi, manager of a team heavy of left-handed hitting, some of whom struggle mightily against southpaws. With Curtis Granderson, a lefty notorious for struggling with left-handed pitching, and Brett Gardner, a fellow lefty of the same ilk, manning two of the three outfield spots alongside Nick Swisher, the complementary skills of Andruw Jones offered significant value to the Yankees.
Though Jones' overall numbers weren't eye-catching, his ability to hit left-handed pitchers still stood out to those willing to peek beneath the surface.
In 2010, though he hit just .230, he hit .256 against lefties, with an immense .931 OPS. Throughout his career, he owns an .867 OPS against lefties, giving him the perfect skill set to complement the two left-handed Yankee regulars.
This season, he started slowly, as he hit only .195 with a paltry .635 OPS prior to the All-Star break. As the season has worn on however, his playing time has increased, along with his production. After the All-Star break, Jones has hit .289 with a stellar OPS of 1.035, giving Girardi options as he seeks to rest regulars down the stretch and play match-ups whenever he is able.
While Granderson has worked hard to overcome his difficulties with lefties and has to a large degree, Gardner has still experienced his issues with southpaws.
Jones has offered the perfect remedy in those situations, hitting .280 with a .926 OPS against lefties. In just 138 plate appearances against them, he has slugged eight home runs and driven in 25 runs.
Overall, his .240 average, solid .358 OBP, 11 home runs and .835 OPS have made him a valuable member of the Yankee outfield picture.
Not only has he provided outstanding splits when needed against lefties, Jones is capable of playing all three outfield positions with grace and confidence. In his prime, he was one of the greatest defensive outfielders in the history of the game, and he still calls upon those skills in his current reserve role. Unlike Thames, Jones looks incredibly comfortable on every ball hit to him, gracefully gliding to balls in order to haul them in.
Though he may be a far cry from the youthful star that roamed center field in Atlanta for a decade, Andruw Jones is still highly capable with his glove and his potent bat offers the Yankees flexibility in their outfield and lineup.
The glory days may be long past, but in his critical reserve role, Andruw Jones may still offer the Yankees considerable value and production in their quest to return to the World Series.