2014 wasn’t supposed to be the Baltimore Orioles year. The Boston Red Sox were coming off a year in which they won the World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays returned a very strong roster, and the New York Yankees went on a spending spree over the offseason. However, the Rays suffered an early season collapse and the Red Sox quickly fell apart and subsequently made a series of trades at the deadline. Meanwhile the Yankees infield has been predictably unproductive and they were dealt a major blow as ace Masahiro Tanaka was lost to an elbow injury.
130 games into the season, the Orioles are owners of a 75-55 record and enjoy a 7.0 game lead in the American League East. Only the Washington Nationals, with a 7.5 game lead, have better odds of winning their division. It’s been a team effort for the Orioles, who lost catcher Matt Wieters early in the year and recently saw third baseman Manny Machado suffer another knee injury, which will likely sideline him for the remainder of the season.
The biggest contributor for the Orioles has been centerfielder Adam Jones. He’s already surpassed his previous career high with 4.5 fWAR. The 29 year-old veteran has posted a .288/.316/.477 slash line for a 119 wRC+. Despite a 2.8 percent walk rate that is the second lowest in the major leagues, his wRC+ is the second-best mark of his career.
As usual, Jones has been very durable. After playing in 162 games in 2012 and 160 games last year, he’s played in every game in 2014. His power numbers are solid, with 24 home runs and 25 doubles, he owns a .190 isolated slugging percentage. Though his stolen base numbers are down from the past couple of seasons, his overall base running value has remained steady.
While Jones’ defense has often been the subject of controversy, advanced metrics have given him positive grades this year. Despite winning three Gold Gloves, both UZR and DRS have rated him as below average in each season from 2009-13. This season he’s coming out as above-average in both systems.
Jones has been a remarkably consistent player for the O’s. He’s been worth at least +4 fWAR in each of the last three seasons. Though he rarely draws walks, his power production makes him a solid offensive player. Thanks to improved defensive ratings, he likely end up with at least +5 fWAR this season.
The Orioles have overcome injuries to Wieters and Machado and very substandard performance from Chris Davis. Jones and J.J. Hardy along with surprise contributions from Steve Pearce and recently, Caleb Joseph have helped them out to a commanding division lead. Much of their success has come from great performances in the clutch, which is a shaky foundation.
This isn’t a team with the offensive depth of the Los Angeles Angels or the Oakland A’s, but they should coast to the AL East title and the Divisional Series. Jones doesn’t have the resume of Mike Trout or Felix Hernandez, but he will likely receive consideration for the AL MVP.