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Young Phenom

630 home runs, 10 Gold Gloves, 13 All-Star games, 0 steroid allegations. That alone would probably get Griffey into the Hall, and nobody would protest. But how does Griffey really compare to others of his time, or to other great outfielders? Setting aside our initial assumptions, does Griffey really belong in the Hall?

There is a certain amount of “What if?” when it comes to Griffey. He put up some great numbers, but he also missed nearly 25% of his games, mostly due to injury. He averaged just 126 games per season for his first 20 seasons. We can’t help but wonder if he might have taken a shot at the all-time home run record if he had been healthy.

But “What if?” doesn’t count toward Hall of Fame eligibility. Perhaps more pertinent to our discussion than the home runs he didn’t hit is the dramatic drop in productivity from Griffey over his final 10 seasons (which we might call his “Cincinnati years”). Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a witch hunt to discredit Griffey. However, it is best to be as thorough and fair as possible, especially when it comes to talking about who should be in the HOF. And Griffey’s final years were pretty rough.

From 2001-2010, Griffey played in 991 games, batted 3985 times and slashed .260/.350/.483 with a 112 wRC+. For most players, that would be a pretty solid showing. But it’s not HOF caliber. If you then add in the fact that his defensive abilities took a nosedive, you end up with a minuscule 3.8 fWAR for that entire 10-year span. Kole Calhoun had 3.8 in 2015 alone.

That deterioration in defense is probably the most unfortunate feature of Griffey’s later career. From 1993-99, he had some truly amazing Total Zone ratings in centerfield, and won seven Gold Gloves. But after 2000, he never again had even a (+) TZ or UZR rating, let alone a high rating. Injury is of course the primary suspect for this decline, and it made an enormous difference in Griffey’s value. If he had been able to maintain even league-average fielding over those final ten seasons, his plus-hitting would have made him a viable player. Unfortunately, he became a “former star” whose famous name and lingering ability to still hit with some pop covered up his low BA and bad fielding.

Griffey’s Career Fielding Ratings

Fld (Fangraphs), dWAR (Baseball Reference), FRAA (Baseball Prospectus)
Fld dWAR FRAA
1989 3 0.6 -9.9
1990 2 0.4 -9.7
1991 7 1 -0.7
1992 -4 -0.1 -7.4
1993 8 0.9 -8.3
1994 11 1.2 -7.6
1995 14 1.5 6.9
1996 32 3.4 11.9
1997 15 1.8 7.9
1998 -3 0 4.8
1999 -13 -0.9 -4
2000 11 1.3 11.9
2001 -10 -0.9 -12.1
2002 -4.4 -0.9 -9.8
2003 -2.3 -0.6 -6.5
2004 -20.7 -1.2 -6.3
2005 -19 -0.9 -15.4
2006 -21.4 -1.2 -12.6
2007 -29.1 -2 0.4
2008 -11.9 -0.8 -5.7
2009 -1.3 -0.9 -0.7
2010 0 -0.2 0
Total -37 1.3 -72.8
GRIFFEY

90’s Superstar

Alright. So we have established that the second half of Griffey’s career wasn’t exactly a highlight reel. Now let’s take a look at the first, star-studded half as a young star with the Seattle Mariners.

From 1993-1999, Griffey’s fWAR total was second in all of MLB only to Barry Bonds. In those seven years, he averaged 44 HR, a 1.000 OPS, and won a Gold Glove every year. Total Zone ranked him as the 3rd best fielding centerfielder in baseball. He finished in the top 5 in MVP in five of those years, and won the award in 1997. I remember quite clearly that people were regularly comparing him to Willie Mays. It had been a very long time since baseball had seen a centerfielder who could climb walls to catch home runs and hit 50 homers himself.

He lead the AL in homers  in 1994, 1997,’98 and ’99, hitting 56 in back to back years, and had wRC+ of 140 or higher nine times.In 1996 his Total Zone defense rating of 32 was one of the top ten highest ever.

Perhaps the sweetest moment of Griffey’s Mariners years was the 1995 ALDS, when the Mariners came from behind two games to none to defeat the NY Yankees. Though Griffey had missed much of the regular season, he showed up big in the divisional series. In the five games, he hit five homers and had a whopping 1.488 OPS. In the decisive Game 5, he hit an 8th inning homer that brought the Mariners within one run of the Yankees, and then proceeded to single and then score the winning run in the bottom of the 11th.

griffey reds

Veteran

Putting Griffey’s career totals in perspective relative to other Hall of Fame centerfielders might solidify our belief that he should be in the Hall himself. Let’s look at three different ways of using fWAR: (1) Career Total, (2) Seven-Year Peak (in other words, the seven best consecutive years) and (3) Five-Year Best (the best five seasons, not necessarily consecutive). By doing this, we can take a long and short view of a player’s talents.

Career fWAR 7-Year Peak fWAR 5-Year Best fWAR
1 Mays 149.9 Mays, 1960-66: 66.6 Cobb: 52.3
2 Cobb 149.3 Mantle, 1955-61: 65.3 Mantle: 51.8
3 Speaker 130.6 Cobb, 1909-15: 62.5 Mays: 51.8
4 Mantle 112.3 Speaker, 1912-18: 56.3 Speaker: 45.9
5 DiMaggio 83.1 DiMaggio, 1936-42: 52.5 DiMaggio: 42.2
6 Griffey 77.7 Griffey, 1993-99: 48.8 Griffey: 40.8
7 D. Snider 63.5 D. Snider, 1951-57: 45.7 D. Snider: 37.6
8 Dawson 59.5 Dawson, 1977-83: 37.7 H. Wilson 32.4
9 Ashburn 57.4 Ashburn, 1952-58: 37.6 Dawson: 30.7
10 Puckett 44.9 H. Wilson, 1926-32: 37.3 Ashburn: 30.5
11 H. Wilson 42.1 Puckett, 1986-92: 33.0 Puckett 26.8

While Griffey may never have quite measured up to the legendary Willie Mays or Ty Cobb, he nonetheless ranks 6th all-time in every one of those cateogories, placing him above five other Hall of Fame centerfielders.

Looking at Griffey through a slightly different lens, I took a look at totWAR for all outfielders (not just CF) since 1950:

1 Barry Bonds 164.7
2 Willlie Mays 156.6
3 Hank Aaron 141.6
4 Rickey Henderson 114
5 Mickey Mantle 113.5
6 Frank Robinson 109.4
7 Carl Yastrzemski 93.7
8 Al Kaline 92.9
9 Roberto Clemente 86.9
10 Ken Griffey, Jr. 80.4

Given his incredible peak in the 1990’s, his 630 career HR, his GG and ASG totals, his #6 rank all-time for centerfielders and #10 rank for all outfielders since 1950, Griffey is clearly a Hall of Famer. Luckily for fans, his name never came up in any of the steroid allegations, not by teammates, the Mitchell Report or failed tests. Though we can’t ever be sure about anyone who played in that era, as it stands we have little reason to doubt Griffey on that subject. Therefore, there should be no roadblocks for his induction.

CAREER TOTALS

.284/.370/.538

131 wRC+

630 HR (6th all-time)

1836 RBI (15th all-time)

5271 Total Bases (13th all-time)

77.7 fWAR

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