Where does Ken Griffey Jr. rank among the great center fielders of all time?


Ken Griffey Jr. called it quits yesterday following a 22-season career in which he batted .284 with a .370 on-base percentage, .538 slugging percentage, 630 homers, 524 doubles, 2,781 hits, 184 steals, 1,312 walks, 1,662 runs, 1,836 RBIs, 13 trips to the All-Star game, 10 Gold Gloves, and one MVP.
Those numbers and accomplishments speak for themselves and make it clear that Griffey is an obvious Hall of Famer, but determining exactly where he ranks among the greatest center fielders in baseball history is a little more difficult.
Thankfully there are some good career-assessment methods to put his greatness in context, one of which is “Wins Above Replacement” or “WAR.” Available at Baseball-Reference.com, WAR represents “the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement-level player would add.” In other words, if instead of having Griffey for 22 seasons his teams were forced to use run-of-the-mill Triple-A players in his place, how many wins would it have cost?
Here’s how Griffey ranks in WAR among everyone who played center field at least two-thirds of the time:

Ty Cobb            159.4
Willie Mays        154.7
Tris Speaker       133.0
Mickey Mantle      120.2
Joe DiMaggio        83.6
KEN GRIFFEY JR.     78.4
Duke Snider         67.5
Jim Edmonds         67.1
Kenny Lofton        65.3
Andruw Jones        59.2

If you look only at what all the center fielders did through the age of 30, Griffey moves up from sixth to fourth, with Mickey Mantle in the top spot followed by Tris Speaker and Willie Mays. However, just 3.9 of his 78.4 WAR came after age 30, as Griffey ceased being a capable center fielder, struggled with injuries, and saw his OPS drop more than 100 points.
Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus has developed a metric called “JAWS” that takes into account not only a player’s career-long performance like WAR, but also factors in how strong his peak seasons were. In other words, how good was someone in total and how good was someone at their best. Here’s how Griffey stacks up against other center fielders in JAWS:

Willie Mays        118.2
Ty Cobb            104.7
Tris Speaker        91.8
Mickey Mantle       89.4
Joe DiMaggio        73.6
KEN GRIFFEY JR.     65.8
Jim Edmonds         61.7
Billy Hamilton      56.4
Andruw Jones        54.4
Richie Ashburn      54.3

WAR and JAWS both produce the same top six, in the same order. Also, it’s worth noting that the average Hall of Fame center fielder accumulated a JAWS of 56.1, so not surprisingly Griffey clears that hurdle with ease. Jaffe’s column on Griffey also gets into plenty of other interesting aspects of his standing among center fielders, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
At the end of the day it’s pretty clear that Griffey is among the top six center fielders in baseball history, along with Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Tris Speaker. Exactly how those six should be ordered makes for a pretty good debate, but that’s some amazing company however you slice it. Hopefully once the Jim Joyce-related stuff dies down a bit, it’ll be easier for people to focus on how great Griffey was.

Chris Sale will start on Opening Day for Red Sox

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No surprise here: Chris Sale will start on Opening Day for the Red Sox, Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe reports. The Red Sox open the season on March 29 in Tampa Bay against the Rays. Sale will oppose Chris Archer.

Sale, 28, is the fifth different Opening Day starter the Red Sox have had in as many years, preceded by Rick Porcello, David Price, Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester. Sale started on Opening Day for the White Sox in 2013, ’14, and ’16.

Sale finished second in AL Cy Young Award balloting last year and finished ninth for AL MVP. He went 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA and a 308/43 K/BB ratio in 214 1/3 innings. Sale and Clayton Kershaw (2015) are the only pitchers to strike out 300 or more batters in a season dating back to 2003.