Thursday, December 4, 2014

Card #139: Jeff Jones

Who Can It Be Now?
Jeffrey Allen Jones was born on July 29, 1956, in Detroit, Michigan. Jones grew up in the Detroit suburb of Southgate and led his Southgate High School team to the Tri-River League championship. He went undrafted out of high school, so he went first to St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron, Michigan and then on to Bowling Green State University. While it appears that he attended BGSU for just one year, during that year one of his freshman teammates was none other than Orel Hershiser.

If the stats on The Baseball Cube are correct, Jones walked 40 in 56-2/3 innings while striking out 37. That's pretty bad. But, apparently the A's of the 1970s did not put any weight on college performance, or perhaps they felt that they could fix Jones's apparent wildness. Or, maybe when you make a pick with the 329th selection overall (13th round in 1977), you're just looking for a live arm.

In any case, Jones signed with Oakland immediately after the draft in 1977 and was assigned to Class-A Modesto in the California League. There, he wasn't exactly good, but in comparison to the rest of his team he looked decent. Jones threw 46 innings and notched a 4-3 record with a 5.09 ERA. That ERA was good enough, however, to put him 6th overall on the team -- and that includes a pitcher who threw just 11 innings. Modesto had a team ERA of 6.60. In that context, Jones looked like a prospect.

So, Oakland did what most teams did with their prospects -- they promoted him before the end of the year to Double-A Chattanooga in the Southern League. Nine scoreless innings later, and Jones cemented his status in the organization. That led to being assigned to Double-A Jersey City in the Eastern League in 1978. There, Jones was basically a team-average pitcher: Team ERA: 3.70 v. Jones ERA 3.72; Team WHIP: 1.403 v. Jones WHIP 1.419. For a team that finished 54-83 and whose best player was a 19-year-old named Rickey, Jones's 10-13 record did not look bad.

In fact, it was good enough for another promotion, this time to Triple-A Ogden in the Pacific Coast League. In Ogden, Jones was far better than average -- 3.50 ERA v. team ERA of 5.20. He led the team in inning pitched at 175 and in strikeouts with 126. He also walked more batters than any other Ogden pitcher. Considering he was three years younger than his average opponent, that was the season that made Jones into a legitimate A's prospect.

When 1980 rolled around, the A's were in the throes of "BillyBall" under Billy Martin. That meant that the young starting rotation finished what they started. Jones, however, was a reliever on that team. For him, it meant appearing in just 35 games all year. On the positive side, Jones was just one save away from tying for the team lead in saves. On the negative side, Jones had 5 saves all season. 

One problem with Martin's pitching philosophy from the reliever's perspective was infrequent use. Jones's usage pattern looks schizophrenic -- five of his appearances came the day after a previous appearance (including one run in July of three consecutive games) and six came with one day of rest. But, he also had 3 stints where he had 6 days between appearances, two times where he had 9 days between appearances, and two days when he went 10 days between appearances. He even had one run of 17 days -- from June 23 through July 11-- without an appearance. I'm not sure if that was an injury or otherwise, but I did look to see whether there were any games in which relievers were used. The answer:  in that time, Billy Martin used Bob Lacey four times in relief and, otherwise, every other game was a complete game. Seriously.

The same thing happened in 1981 as well. The Associated Press mentioned in a game story in April of that year about how bored the Oakland bullpen was. In that story, Jones was quoted as saying that, "[w]e sit out there cheering and yelling, trying to keep sharp so we're ready when they need us." In the game in question, Jones came in along with Craig Minetto to nail down a 2-1 win for the A's. Indeed, Jones was probably the "closer" for the A's in 1981, as he tied for the team lead in saves with Dave Beard at three. Yes. Three. Jones also led the team in relief innings pitched with 61.

Still, it wasn't like his peripheral stats showed him to be a star of any kind. Though he posted a 3.39 ERA, his FIP was 4.80 -- fueled by 40 BB in 61 innings and a K/BB ratio of just 1.08 (43 Ks). His 1981 season was the second of two seasons in which it appeared that he got pretty lucky as it related to opposition batting average on balls in play -- .242 in 1980, .256 in 1981. 

That changed in 1982. Opponent's BABip jumped to .317, likely added to by a couple of disastrous outings early in the season. The first came on April 8, 1982, when he came in to the game in the 16th inning and promptly allowed four runs in 1/3 of an inning. The second drubbing came on May 9, 1982, against Cleveland. Jones was stretched out to make up for a terrible Matt Keough start (4-1/3 innings, 7 hits, 6 ER, 4 BB, 0 K). All was fine for Jones until the 9th inning when the roof caved in. Jones walked 3, allowed three homers, and was touched up for 8 runs (5 earned). That earned Jones a demotion to Triple-A.

The next time he pitched in the major leagues, it was August. Indeed, after that 8-run outing, Jones never again stayed regularly in the major leagues for an entire season. He spent the majority of both 1983 and 1984 in Triple-A Tacoma and did not impress Oakland's front office enough to remain with the big-league team. 

The A's released Jones on October 19, 1984. It appears that he did not pitch anywhere in 1985. In 1986 and 1987, he appeared in the Detroit Tigers minor league system in Double-A, and he spent time in 1987 in Triple-A as well. However, that was the end for Jones's pitching career. As a result, his major league career ended in 1984.

Mustache Check: Despite having a bushy mustache these days, Jones was clean-shaven on his 1982 Topps card -- the massive unibrow notwithstanding.

Trivial Pursuit
As best I can tell, Jones is the only major league player to hail from Southgate High School. Yeah, that's all I've got.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Jeff Jones is not a player about which I have any memory. That should not come as a surprise, since I am a Brewers fan. Jones pitched just four times (5-1/3 innings) against Milwaukee, posting a 1.69 ERA despite 6 hits and 3 walks in those 5.1 innings. He faced just 25 Milwaukee Hitters in his career, for that matter.

Perhaps Billy Martin was on to something, though, with Jones's usage (since Martin was the A's manager for the majority of Jones's time in the major leagues). Jones pitched 124 innings against teams with a record of under .500 and posted a 2.83 ERA. In his other 81 career innings against teams with a record of .500 or better, Jones was touched up for a 5.67 ERA! Just crazy how wild those splits are. That's the fun of small sample sizes.

Jones has led a fairly straight-forward baseball life. Since his retirement as an active player in 1987, Jones has been a coach in the Tigers organization for literally the rest of his adult life. He spent time in Toledo, London (Ontario), and Fayetteville, North Carolina, as a minor league coach before coming up to the majors as a coach in 1995.

He was the Bullpen Coach in the major leagues for Detroit under Sparky Anderson in 1995, under Buddy Bell and Larry Parrish in 1998, under Parrish only in 1999, under Phil Garner in 2000, under Garner and Luis Pujols in 2002, and under Jim Leyland from 2007 through 2011. In the years in between those appearances in the majors, he was the pitching coach for the Tigers' Triple-A farm club in Toledo. Since 2012, he has served as the Tigers pitching coach under both Jim Leyland and, in 2014, under Brad Ausmus. 

He stayed in the Detroit area for his entire post-playing career outside of one season in Single-A Fayetteville in the late 1980s. Otherwise, he has lived in the same area and commuted -- whether to Toledo, London, or Detroit.

It's not that Jeff Jones has lived a boring life from an outsider's perspective -- it's that he has avoided trouble, avoided notoriety, and kept working hard in the same organization. It's just tough to make that story more interesting or salacious!


  1. He is boring. Doesn't even look like we can pay him to go golfing with us.

    1. And from all I can tell, I don't think we'd want to.