The Top 50 Mets of All Time: #41 Bobby Jones

Robert Joseph Jones (Bobby J.) was originally drafted out of Fresno High School (Tom Seaver's alma mater) by the Oakland Athletics in the 35th round (905th overall). He chose college over the A's, and was selected by the Mets as a first-rounder three years later in 1991. He was assigned to Columbia of the South Atlantic League and was dominant in limited action against mostly younger competition.
Year  Team         Lg   Age  Lvl   IP    ERA   H/9   BB/9  SO/9
---------------------------------------------------------------
1991  Columbia     SAL   21  A     24.1  1.85  7.40  1.11 12.95
1992  Binghamton   East  22  AA   158.0  1.88  6.72  2.45  8.15
1993  Norfolk      IL    23  AAA  166.0  3.63  8.08  1.73  6.83
Jones advanced to Double-A Binghamton in 1992 and was fairly overpowering there as well. He struck out more than eight batters per game and walked fewer than two-and-a-half. Jones progressed naturally to Triple-A Norfolk in 1993 as a 23-year-old, where his walk rate improved but his strikeout rate began to dip. His earned run average almost doubled against tougher competition, but the Mets felt he had learned all he was going to in the minor leagues and called him up in the middle of August to replace the recently-disabled Bret Saberhagen.

Jones made his big league debut on August 14, 1993, and picked up a victory against the Phillies. He allowed seven hits and five runs (one earned) over six innings, but was supported by two homeruns and four runs batted in by second-baseman Tim Bogar. Jones started nine games in August and September, going 2-4 with a 3.65 ERA, including ten innings of shutout ball in his final start (Jones earned a no-decision but the Mets won 1-0 on an RBI double by Jeff Kent to drive in Eddie Murray).

Year  Age    IP   ERA    H   HR  BB   SO  ERA+  WARP3  SNLVAR
-------------------------------------------------------------
1993   23   61.2  3.65   61   6  22   35  108    0.5     1.1
1994   24  160.0  3.15  157  10  56   80  133    4.4     3.7
1995   25  195.2  4.19  209  20  53  127  100    2.5     3.5
1996   26  195.2  4.42  219  26  46  116   89    3.1     4.0
1997   27  193.1  3.63  177  24  63  125  111    4.2     5.4
1998   28  195.1  4.05  192  23  53  115  103    3.6     4.1
1999   29   59.1  5.61   69   3  11   31   78    0.6     0.7
2000   30  154.2  5.06  171  25  49   85   86    1.9     3.3
Jones was very effective in 24 starts with the Mets in 1994, going 12-7 and sporting an ERA 33% better than the league. He averaged just one strikeout every two innings, but he kept his walk and homerun rates down and featured a 12-6 sloooow curve that kept opposing hitters off-balance. His season -- and everyone else's -- was cut short on August 12 as a result of the players' association strike that would eventually lead to the cancellation of the World Series. Jones's 3.15 ERA was good for seventh in the National League, and it might have been even better were it not for extremely pronounced home/road splits (4.25 ERA at Shea Stadium, 1.77 ERA on the road).
After making his first opening day start in 1995, Jones began a stretch of four seasons of remarkable consistency which saw him function effectively as a LAIM (League Average Innings Muncher). From 1995 until 1998, Jones started no fewer than 30 games in a season and no more than 31; he threw no fewer than 193.1 innings but no more than 195.2; he allowed no more than 26 homeruns but no fewer than 20; he recorded no more than 127 strikeouts but no fewer than 115; he walked no fewer than 46 batters but no more than 63. His earned run average ranged from a high of 4.42 (11% worse than the league) to a low of 3.3 (11% better than the league).

Jones began the 1999 season with three straight wins, allowing zero, one, and two runs respectively. He followed that up with three no-decisions, allowing three, five, and three runs respectively. Then things fell apart as he lost the subsequent three starts after allowing eight, seven, and five runs respectively, lasting just 2.2 innings in the latter. Jones complained after the game of having "dead arm" and said that his pitching shoulder had been bothering him for a few days. The injury was labeled "shoulder tendonitis", and Jones was expected to miss at least one start. Reality failed to converge with expectation, and Jones was placed on the disabled list a few days later with a right shoulder strain.

A week after hitting the disabled list, Jones underwent an MRI that revealed a strained rotator cuff, not shoulder tendonitis as was originally diagnosed. Expected to miss a couple of weeks, Jones eventually missed more than two-and-a-half months before returning for a rehab assignment in the second week of August. He made three starts at Double-A Binghamton and another two at Triple-A Norfolk before heading back to the big club in September. He made three relief appearances down the stretch but was ultimately left off of the Mets' postseason roster that year.

The bullpen work was just a blip, as Jones was assured by General Manager Steve Phillips that he would return to the rotation in 2000. After playing two games in the Tokyodome in Japan to begin the season the Mets returned home to play the Padres. Jones made the team's "real" opening day start and was battered around, allowing four runs and six hits in just 2.2 innings. He allowed seven more runs (six earned) over four innings in his next start and the head-scratching began in earnest. In his third start, Jones strained his calf muscle in the first inning and left without retiring a batter. He would land on the 15-day disabled list and make two rehab starts at Norfolk before rejoining the team a month later.

After eight starts Jones had an ERA of 10.19 and, seeing no other option, the Mets asked Jones to accept an assignment to Norfolk to work on some things. As a player with five years of big league experience, Jones had the right to refuse such an assignment. The Mets assured him that the demotion was just a tune-up and that after a couple of starts he would be back with the big club. Jones accepted the assignment, made two minor league starts, and returned a little more than a week later. Jones went 10-4 the rest of the way with a 4.05 ERA and the Mets cruised into the playoffs as the National League Wild Card winner, slated to square off against the Giants in the Divisional Series.

The Mets and Giants split the first two games in San Francisco and the Mets took a 2-1 series lead in Game 3 on the strength of Benny Agbayani's 13th inning walk-off homerun. That set the stage for Jones in Game 4, and what followed was arguably the best postseason pitching performance in the history of the franchise. An unlikely hero, Jones dominated the Giants from start to finish, hurling a one-hit complete game shutout to give the Mets the series victory. Jones allowed just the one hit -- a 5th inning double to Jeff Kent -- and a lone walk to J.T. Snow in the same frame; he retired the Giants in order in every other inning. The win carried the Mets into the League Championship Series to face the Cardinals.

Jones made two more starts that postseason, neither impressive. He allowed six runs in four innings in Game 4 of the LCS, a game the Mets would eventually win 10-6. He started -- and lost -- Game 4 of the World Series against the Yankees, allowing three earned runs in five innings.

Jones would leave as a free agent following the 2000 season, signing with the Padres and pitching poorly for two years before calling it quits. Jones was an effective workhorse for a half-dozen of his eight seasons in New York, and he started more games in the nineties than any other Mets' pitcher. While his overall value with the club rests with his ability to eat innings, his legacy will always be Game 4 of the 2000 LDS

Sources

Bobby Jones at Baseball-Reference.com
Bobby Jones at Baseball Prospectus
Bobby Jones at The Baseball Cube

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