JaCoby Jones is the Detroit Tigers' version of John Wayne; explaining his offensive surge

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

JaCoby Jones stared down Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire and formed pistols with his hands.

That's because Gardenhire calls him John Wayne, and John Wayne just hit a two-run inside-the-park homer to push the Tigers (9-5) to a 5-1 win Monday against the Chicago White Sox. He ran the base paths in 15.8 seconds, surprising for a player Gardenhire removed from Sunday's game with abdominal tightness.

"He's throwing it back at me," Gardenhire said Monday. "And I love that kind of stuff. But, you know, it's just nice to see him out there playing. We want him playing, we just don't want him to kill himself."

Center fielder Adam Engel could've fielded the ball on one bounce, but he tried to rob Jones with a diving catch. That didn't work for Engel, who whiffed on the catch. By the time left fielder Eloy Jimenez got to the warning track to pick up the loose ball, Jones was rounding third base.

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"As soon as he missed it, I knew I was getting an inside-the-parker," Jones said Tuesday. "I didn't even run full speed after I got to third base. I jogged home. This is a huge park. If you mess up in center field, it's pretty much inside the park for anyone."

It's that confidence from Jones which allows him to pull fake pistols on Gardenhire, demand to be in the lineup and allow his anger to translate into success. Because of those traits, Jones is playing the best baseball of his career, hitting .333 with five home runs and 12 RBIs through 13 games.

Detroit Tigers' JaCoby Jones celebrates his inside-the-park home run against the Chicago White Sox during the seventh action at Comerica Park, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. Manager Ron Gardenhire, right, cheers in the dugout.

A deeper look into his metrics explains why Jones has been so productive. Five of his 29 batted balls have been barreled, meaning comparable hit types (exit velocity and launch angle) generally lead to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage. At 17%, he's in the 93rd percentile among big leaguers. And 51.7% of his batted balls have been hit hard, good for the 90th percentile. His .597 expected slugging percentage ranks in the 92nd percentile. (Right now, he is slugging .786.)

"The way I changed my stance last year just helps my hands work better," Jones said. "Everything working together. That built a lot of confidence coming into this year."

But his John Wayne characteristics can't be measured.

Consider Sunday against Pittsburgh. Jones didn't want to depart in the third inning, even after clutching at his rib cage following his first swing. He argued with Gardenhire and athletic trainer Doug Teter, even frowning at them a couple of times.

"I know a lot about John Wayne," said Jones, who admits he plays through minor injuries. "My dad watches that stuff all the time. When I was a kid, my grandpa watched it and we went over there. When (Gardenhire) said it, it just made me laugh, so now I kind of throw the pistols at him and joke around every now and then."

When Jones showed up to Comerica Park on Monday, he told Gardenhire to put him in the lineup.

Detroit Tigers' JaCoby Jones celebrates his two-run inside-the-park home run against the Chicago White Sox during the seventh inning at Comerica Park, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020.

This isn't the first time, either. A similar situation occurred after he smashed against the wall in Cincinnati while making a catch. As the team returned to Detroit, Jones wasn't in the initial lineup for a July 27 contest against the Kansas City Royals. But he told Gardenhire to add him, so that's what happened.

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"I like guys that won't give up easy on wanting to play and the health things," Gardenhire said. "But you also have to have a limit. You can't just absolutely kill yourself and ruin your whole season. So those are the arguments that him and I have all the time.

"He says, 'This is who I am, this is what I do.' That's John Wayne."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold