Guest post by Travis Leonardi
(All GIFs courtesy of @domhunt18 on twitter)
Since his debut in 2016, JaCoby Jones’s stellar defense and bright personality have led him to become a fan favorite in Detroit. He’s shown flashes of the power-speed prospect that was advertised when the Tigers traded Joakim Soria for him in 2015. However, Jones’ offensive production has been lackluster in his first few years as a professional. After leading the League in defensive runs saved in 2018, Tigers GM Al Avila stated Jones could be a future All-Star if he improved his hitting.
More after the jump
Posting a 70 wRC+ in 129 games in 2018, Jones retooled his swing this offseason in an effort to become more level. By doing this, he’s looking to make more contact and cut down on his 30.4% strikeout rate from last year. Let’s dive into the adjustments he’s made with a swing from July 25, 2018 against the Royals and compare it to one of April 17th, 2019 against the Pirates.
There are a few key points here. In 2018, Jones’ shows a very open stance. In 2019, we notice it’s still slightly open, but he’s brought his front leg in considerably. This simplifies his loading step which will increase consistency. Jones has also toned down his movement pre-pitch. In the first GIF, we see Jones tap his foot and wiggle his bat simultaneously before starting to load. For someone struggling at the plate, added movement can be unnecessary and cause all kinds of issues with timing. In the second GIF, the foot tap has been eliminated and only slight movement of the bat is noticeable. The hand path and follow through seem to be roughly the same. For a player struggling with production paired with a high K rate, the simpler the better. This is certainly a step in the right direction for Jones.
A step in the right direction unfortunately doesn’t always yield results, as Jones posted a .137 AVG, 33.9% K rate and -0.5 WAR over 15 games in April to start 2019. On the verge of being demoted to the minors, Jones made another adjustment. This time not so subtle. On May 1st, he again debuted a new swing.
Here we have his 2-run HR off Noah Syndergaard from May 24th. In the previous 2 examples, Jones starts holding the bat high near eye level. Here we see the bat resting on his shoulders, with his hands close to his body in a ready position. Jones has been praised for his lightning-quick hands and this allows him to take full advantage of this skill. Transferring to the loading position by only pulling the bat back allows for more time for pitch recognition, as well as less moving parts to get in the way of making contact.
This change finally gave him the results he was looking for. In the month of May, he turned around his fortunes posting a .271/.344/.494 slash line in 28 games. His walk rate boosted from 3.6% in April to 9.4% in May and he cut down his K rate to 30.9% for the month. This new stance greatly improved his pitch recognition, and he started mashing the baseball as a result. A strikeout rate above 30% is still a concern, but if improvements continue to be made, Jones is turning himself into an All-Star caliber player.
Jones soared to even greater heights by dominating the month of June. In 25 games, he slashed .291/.351/.547 and cut his K rate for the month to 25.5%. The simplified swing has led him to premier offensive production over the past 2 months. JaCoby Jones ranks 30th in baseball with a 48.3% hard hit rate.
Most hitters enter their peak seasons around age 28. Having recently turned 27, Jones seems to have finally found himself at the plate. These are smaller sample sizes, so a broad range of data is necessary to conclude if he has become a solid offensive player. However, if he continues to lower his strikeouts while hitting the ball this hard, the sky is the limit.