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:
WAR 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:
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.