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June 2, 2010

One-Hoppers

Ken Griffey Jr. Bows Out

by Jay Jaffe

Ken Griffey Jr. announced his retirement today, news that was almost instantly overshadowed by umpire Jim Joyce's blown call on what should have been the final out of Armando Galarraga's perfect game. Which isn't to say that Junior's retirement was poorly timed. The 40-year-old Griffey was hitting just .184/.250/.204, with two doubles and zero homers in 108 plate appearances, one season after a .214/.324/.411 showing supplied more than a subtle hint that his time had passed. The Mariners, with whom Griffey began his major league career back in 1989, re-signed him this past winter as much for his purported effect on the clubhouse atmosphere as for whatever was left in his bat, but with a 20-31 record and an offense that was averaging just 3.7 runs per game, there was little defense for carrying him on the roster, particularly after the recent Slumbergate controversy turned the Seattle locker room into a chest-thump-a-thon.

None of which should devalue what Griffey accomplished in the game. His 13 All-Star appearances, 10 consecutive Gold Gloves (1990-1999), four home run crowns, and 1997 AL MVP award are a pretty fair haul as far as honors are concerned, and his performance in the five-game 1995 American League Division Series against the Yankees — five homers, followed by his scoring the series-winning run on Edgar Martinez's double off Jack McDowell in the bottom of the 11th inning — is credited with helping to save baseball in Seattle by spurring the construction of Safeco Field at a time when it appeared as though the franchise may be forced to move.

Between that amazing run with the '95 Mariners, his spectacular leaping catches at the wall, his sweet lefthanded swing and his infectious smile — not to mention his brief tenure as the teammate of his father, a supporting cast member of the Big Red Machine and a pretty fair player in his own right — Griffey would have left his mark on the game without being one of the preeminent sluggers of his era, but it's his homers for which he'll most likely be remembered. Griffey reached the 40-homer plateau seven times in an eight-year span between 1993 and 2000, a streak interrupted only by a broken wrist which cost him half of the 1995 season. His 630 homers rank fifth all-time behind only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. After hitting 56 home runs in 1997, it was he, not Bonds or Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa who seemed like the obvious candidate to break Roger Maris' single-season home run record of 61. Griffey hit 56 again the next year, but the spotlight shone upon McGwire and Sosa, and soon afterwards shifted to Bonds as they blew past 61 and into the stratosphere.

That latter trio of players, as we now know, has since been connected to the use of various performance-enhancing drugs, while Griffey has not. While we're still far from knowing the full truth about what happened during an era where illicit substance usage was all too common — we never will — the fact that Griffey was never connected to that endless scandal managed to paper over the last 10 years of his career, a span during which he averaged just 19 homers and 99 games a year while dealing with an endless litany of leg problems, instead of chasing Hank Aaron's home run record. Thus, the image of young Junior Griffey has been preserved as the innocent, smiling face of an era on which many observers have soured.

But enough on that tangent. The real question that's on your mind is how Griffey stacks up as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned. Not surprisingly for a guy with 2,781 hits, 630 homers and a stellar .284/.370/.538 line, it's pretty damn well (again, stats do not include 2010):

Player

Career

Peak

JAWS

Tav

RARP

RAP

FRAA

Willie Mays*

161.3

75.0

118.2

.330

1227

872

217

Ty Cobb*

139.1

70.3

104.7

.330

1207

847

-10

Tris Speaker*

122.6

61.0

91.8

.320

932

604

114

Mickey Mantle*

112.5

66.3

89.4

.342

1067

804

-58

Joe DiMaggio*

87.0

60.1

73.6

.326

705

494

54

Ken Griffey

79.7

51.9

65.8

.301

791

467

-83

Jim Edmonds

72.2

51.1

61.7

.300

548

327

102

Billy Hamilton**

66.2

46.5

56.4

.305

453

250

56

AVG HOF CF

68.3

44.0

56.1

.305

563

308

19

Andruw Jones

61.3

47.4

54.4

.278

366

127

182

Richie Ashburn**

61.6

46.9

54.3

.288

399

124

121

George Gore

62.5

44.6

53.6

.294

337

164

88

Carlos Beltran

57.1

48.1

52.6

.290

422

219

95

Jimmy Wynn

57.1

47.6

52.4

.304

521

285

-2

Andre Dawson*

59.6

40.2

49.9

.285

527

190

-11

Bernie Williams

57.3

40.9

49.1

.291

533

274

-32

Brett Butler

54.6

40.7

47.7

.285

488

204

-13

Duke Snider*

53.6

40.4

47.0

.307

540

303

-83

Chet Lemon

53.4

37.1

45.3

.280

338

103

124

Len Dykstra

50.5

39.8

45.2

.299

359

205

89

Andy Van Slyke

50.4

39.4

44.9

.295

405

210

46

Cesar Cedeno

49.1

38.8

44.0

.295

501

251

-62

Mike Cameron

50.7

36.9

43.8

.277

354

126

101

Paul Hines

43.5

43.6

43.6

.286

361

134

-3

Dale Murphy

45.3

41.6

43.5

.287

459

186

-54

Eric Davis

46.1

38.5

42.3

.300

400

217

20

Kenny Lofton

51.7

32.8

42.3

.279

437

165

8

* BBWAA-elected Hall of Famer, ** VC-elected Hall of Famer

While the FRAA system views his defense —particularly his work in Cincinnati — rather unfavorably, Griffey nonetheless winds up sixth in career WARP, peak WARP (best seven seasons at large) and JAWS, well above the standard among Hall of Fame center fielders. Furthermore, his JAWS score ranks 58th all-time, and second among players chosen as the overall number one pick of the June amateur draft, a topic that will be on everyone's mind next week. Amazingly enough, none of those number ones has yet made the Hall:

Player

Year

Career

Peak

JAWS

Alex Rodriguez

1993

101.0

61.7

81.4

Ken Griffey

1987

79.7

51.9

65.8

Chipper Jones

1990

72.4

46.8

59.6

Darryl Strawberry

1980

46.9

38.5

42.7

Harold Baines

1977

48.4

28.3

38.4

Joe Mauer

2001

34.5

34.5

34.5

Mike Moore

1981

29.5

28.9

29.2

B.J. Surhoff

1985

29.1

23.5

26.3

Pat Burrell

1998

23.9

24.2

24.1

Andy Benes

1988

24.5

23.5

24.0

Tim Belcher

1983

24.7

23.2

24.0

Adrian Gonzalez

2000

23.8

23.8

23.8

Rick Monday

1965

26.7

19.4

23.1

Floyd Bannister

1976

24.2

20.6

22.4

Phil Nevin

1992

20.5

23.4

22.0

Bob Horner

1978

23.2

20.5

21.9

Darin Erstad

1995

22.0

21.5

21.8

Ben McDonald

1989

20.0

19.9

20.0

Shawon Dunston

1982

16.1

15.1

15.6

Jeff Burroughs

1969

12.4

18.2

15.3

Jeff King

1988

14.0

14.1

14.1

Tim Foli

1968

10.9

12.9

11.9

Kris Benson

1996

9.7

10.7

10.2

Josh Hamilton

1999

9.5

9.5

9.5

Ron Blomberg

1967

8.6

8.9

8.8

Bill Almon

1974

5.3

9.7

7.5

Mike Ivie

1970

3.5

7.3

5.4

Justin Upton

2005

5.2

5.2

5.2

Paul Wilson

1994

2.6

2.6

2.6

David Price

2007

1.3

1.3

1.3

Delmon Young

2003

1.1

1.1

1.1

Matt Anderson

1997

0.8

0.7

0.8

David Clyde

1973

0.5

0.5

0.5

Bryan Bullington

2002

0.0

-0.1

-0.1

Luke Hochevar

2006

-0.2

-0.1

-0.2

Al Chambers

1979

-0.8

-0.7

-0.8

Dave Roberts

1972

-4.2

2.0

-1.1

Shawn Abner

1984

-1.2

-1.3

-1.3

Danny Goodwin

1971/75

-1.8

-1.9

-1.9

In short, Ken Griffey Jr. ranks among the greats, and he'll almost surely gain election to the Hall of Fame in 2016, the first year he's eligible. See you in Cooperstown, Junior — we'll miss your smile and your sweet swing until then.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

Related Content:  Ken Griffey Jr,  Ken Griffey Jr.,  Ken Griffey

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