Sure, Adam Jones is a star. But how starry, exactly?

J. Meric

Hey, Mariners fans! In case you missed it, Adam Jones has become a star. Remember him? Used to play for the M's before the trade for Erik Bedard?

Oh, you do remember. Sorry about that. But the rest of Baseball Land, outside of Baltimore, might not have noticed Jones' rise to stardom. He is a star, though, thanks to a steady progression. How steady? Here's MASN's Steve Melewski with some details:

If you look at Adam Jones' offensive stats, they have been trending upward for three years now. It makes you wonder just how good the Orioles center fielder can be and how much better he can get.

When MLB Network recently picked its list of the current 10 best center fielders, guest host Bill James rated Jones fifth and analyst and former Oriole Bill Ripken placed Jones third among all center fielders behind only Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen.

--snip--

The good news for Orioles fans is that Jones has established himself already as an All-Star caliber player. His numbers keep getting better and, at 27, he is coming into the prime years of his career.

Actually, Jones's offensive stats have been trending upward for six years now, interpreting the situation very loosely. In each of his last six big-league seasons, his OPS+ has been higher than the season before.

Caveats? Sure. Always. Here are the "increases" in each of the last five years:

1
18
3
3
14

So we've got two good-sized jumps, and three statistically insignificant bumps. But insignificant bumps are better than insignificant (or significant) drops. It's impressive, it its way, that Jones has just gotten better and better and better as a hitter. And at 27, while he's not exactly coming into his prime years -- he's already in the middle of them, actually -- he's still young enough to improve, at least a little.

Really, this is just an excuse to check Bill James's and Billy Ripken's work. Is Jones really the fifth-best center fielder in the majors? The third-best?

I think most of us will agree that young Mike Trout is No. 1, and youngish Andrew McCutchen is No. 2. There is, though, a fairly spirited battle for No. 3, with the competition joined by Adam Jones, Michael Bourn, Bryce Harper, Austin Jackson, Angel Pagan, Josh Hamilton, and Denard Span. The problem is that you can order those seven just about however you like, with the differences essentially depending on which defensive metrics you believe.

Oh, and there's also Matt Kemp and Jacoby Ellsbury, both of whom played brilliantly in 2011.

So now we've got nine candidates for the No. 3 slot.

Oh, except Mike Trout probably isn't a center fielder any more! Neither is Josh Hamilton! So now we're handing McCutchen the top slot -- well, Angels management is handing it to him, really -- and so we're talking about who's going to be No. 2 this year. Here are our 10 remaining center fielders, with Wins Above Replacement (Wins+) over the last two seasons ...

12 McCutchen (26)
10 Kemp (28)
10 Jackson (25)
9 Bourn (30)
9 Ellsbury (29)
9 Cabrera (28)
8 Granderson (31)
8 Victorino (32)
7 Span (28)
7 Maybin (25)
7 Young (29)
6 Jones (27)
6 Bourjos (25)

Boy, that really got out of hand fast. A bunch of guys who didn't play so well in 2012 did play quite well in '11, which really bollixes up the list. Hey, there's Melky Cabrera! Hey, there's Shane Victorino and Curtis Granderson and Cameron Maybin and Chris Young and Peter Bourjos! No room for Austin Jackson, though. Or Angel Pagan.

We do have a tendency to fixate on what's just happened while ignoring/forgetting everything that came before. But the truth is that what happened in 2011 (and before) does tell us something about what will happen in 2013.

As it happens, when I consider all the lists, here's how the top five center fielders look to me:

1. Andrew McCutchen
2. Bryce Harper
3. Austin Jackson
4. Matt Kemp
5. Jacoby Ellsbury

... with Bourn and Jones battling for the No. 6 slot, and me closer to Bill James than Bill Ripken (yes, stop the presses for that one). I should mention that I'm considering defense. If I didn't, Kemp and Jones would rate slightly better, and Jackson somewhat worse. But the last time I checked, a run saved on defense counted exactly the same as a run produced on offense. It's funny, how often the experts forget about this.

Postscript: Speaking of forgetting things, I forgot that Harper's ticketed for left field, with the arrival of Span. Funny how this is going around, isn't it? Anyway, feel free to drop Harper from the above rankings, and push Bourn or Jones to the fifth slot. Your choice!

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