It can be hard to find positives during the Rockies' first 100-loss season in team history, but one unmistakable bright spot in an otherwise dark year has been the performance of Nolan Jones. Not only has Jones had a promising rookie season, but he's had one of the best rookie seasons in Rockies history.
An all-time rookie season
Just how good a rookie season is Nolan Jones having? While he won't win the National League Rookie of the Year award since Corbin Carroll has that all but locked up, Jones still had a remarkable rookie campaign - a campaign that should be recognized as one of the best by a rookie in the 30 year history of the club.
All-time Rockies' rookie rank
Wins above average
This is an impressive set of stats for any player, particularly a rookie and particularly for one that only played 106 games this year. A few of these 2nd or 3rd place statistics would have been improved with more plate appearances, for example, with 250+ PAs less than Troy Tulowitzki, his offensive bWAR may have caught up to Tulo's 3.7 in 2007.
At the plate
Not only has Nolan Jones had one of the best seasons by a Rockies' rookie, but he was easily the best Rockies' hitter at the plate in 2023.
He leads the Rockies in batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS, and OPS+. He's not far behind the team leaders in home runs and RBI as well. If he had played more games this year (for example, HR leader Ryan McMahon has hit three more home runs in 46 more games), there's a good chance he would lead in those categories as well.
It's popular, though not very clever, to say "Coors" when a Rockie has a good offensive season. And while the Coors Field effect does actually exist and affects hitting in the Mile High City, it has not had any meaningful impact on Jones' rookie year. He can hit at home or away from Denver.
Jones' stats have been very similar on the road versus at home. "Coors" doesn't hold any weight here.
In the field
While throwing the fastest ever recorded outfield assist is certainly impressive, this wasn't simply a one time event as MLB Baseball Savant has him in the 100th percentile for both Arm Value and Arm Strength.
Jones has grown to be feared by base runners due to his incredible arm. His season of gunning down runners from right was capped by breaking the Rockies' single season record on September 26 with his 18th outfield assist. He tallied one more in the final game of the season for a league-leading 19 on the year.
Is this sustainable?
Yes, Jones is having a great 2023, but the ultimate question is can he sustain this production? Can he come back in 2024 and perform at this level for an entire season?
There's some indication that the answer is yes, he can. Some underlying advanced metrics like barrel %, average exit velocity, chase %, xwOBA, and xSLG have him performing well above the league average. In the field, while he might not reach 18 assists again, there's no thought that this arm strength will decrease at all.
Of course, there are areas to improve upon as there always are, the most obvious being his tendency to strike out too often. At a 29.7% K rate, he is top (or bottom?) 40 in the league.
All in all, there are a lot of good things to say about Nolan Jones' 2023 and with the Rockies' awful season, it's nice to have something to be happy about. Look for Jones to continue his performance in 2024 and to find his way to Texas for next year's All Star game. He'll continue to be one of the best Rockies suiting up for some time.