The Ducksnorts 2008 Baseball Annual included a section called “Overlooked ex-Padres.” I’d wanted to call attention to four players–Ollie Brown, Mike Ivie, Ruppert Jones, and Bip Roberts–that maybe didn’t get their due in San Diego. The idea was noble, but the execution could have been better.
Since I’ve spent much of the offseason writing player comments for Baseball Prospectus 2015 (#ShamelessPlug), I’m in the mind-set of condensing a man’s contributions to his team into a short paragraph with snappy phrases. In that vein, I thought it might be fun to revisit those players from DS2008 and write capsules for each of their seasons with the Padres.
Bill James summed it up best when he said that Jones “led the league in doubles while having an otherwise undistinguished year.” Longer version: Jones, acquired at the end of spring training with three others from the Yankees for Jerry Mumphrey and John Pacella, started slowly in his National League debut. The former All-Star didn’t knock his first home run until May 8 and was hitting .182/.271/.282 through his first 30 games. Then he raised his OPS by 120 points over the next month before the bright minds that run the sport decided to stop working for a while. After everyone made nice and started playing baseball again, Jones hit .286/.345/.468 for the next month before fading over the season’s final three weeks. He showed no power against southpaws (.298 SLG) and lost 70 points of batting average away from Jack Murphy Stadium. Jones is in his prime, so with a year of facing NL pitching under his belt, expect improvement.
This was the Jones the Padres were hoping to see. Injuries limited him to 116 games, but when healthy, he produced. “Rupe” parlayed a blistering start (.347/.450/.551) into his second All-Star appearance. For the second straight year, he stumbled to the finish line. After missing three weeks in August due to a bruised right heel, Jones hit .218/.286/.287 upon his return. Lefties continued to give him fits, with his only two bombs against them coming against San Francisco’s Al Holland. Without all the injuries, Jones could have been a superstar by now. In that light, it’s easy to view him as a disappointment. The more reasonable narrative recognizes that this is still a fine ballplayer, albeit one with serious flaws.
Jones got off to a miserable start, hitting .201/.270/.315 before the All-Star break, and losing at-bats to youngsters Kevin McReynolds and Alan Wiggins. Never one to hit lefties, Jones’s futility reached comical levels last year, as he went 8-for-70 against them. How he managed to knock a game-winning two-run homer against Atlanta’s Ken Dayley in September is anyone’s guess. Given Jones’s lingering health issues and the fact that San Diego has kids on the way, his time with the Padres is limited. A return to the AL, where he can rest his body by batting while not actually playing, might extend his career. The Tigers are reportedly interested. Wouldn’t it be ironic if he went to Detroit and ended up facing his former team in the World Series?