Junior Joins The Club

Ater being stuck on 599 for several weeks, Ken Griffey Jr launched the 600th home run of his career last night, allowing Mark Hendrickson to go down in history for something other than being tall. Junior joins Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Sammy Sosa as the only players in history to notch 600 career bombs.

Growing up in Seattle, I saw Junior come up as a 19-year-old and then grow into an MVP candidate. One of the most frequent conversations I had with friends was whether Junior was going to be the one to get to 756 and break the all time home run record. Most people who saw him play in his prime would agree that he certainly had the ability to do so, but unfortunately, he didn’t have the ability to stay healthy. Due to injuries, he played less than half of a season in 1995, 2002, 2003, and 2004 – those injuries cost him approximately 1,300 at-bats. How many more home runs would he have hit had he stayed healthy?

Well, we can never know for sure, but there are several estimates we can use. The simplest is to note that he has a career rate of one home run every 15.75 at-bats. Over 1,300 trips to the plate, that same rate would have given him an extra 83 bombs. Of course, his career rate includes both his early years before his power developed, and he likely would have posted a AB/HR rate closer to his peak seasons, when he fluctuated between one home run every 10 to 13 trips to the plate. Using those rates, here are the amount of homers we could theoretically add to Junior’s career total depending on which of those numbers you think would best emulate Griffey’s performance.

One HR every 10 at-bats: Add 130 homers
One HR every 11 at-bats: Add 118 homers
One HR every 12 at-bats: Add 108 homers
One HR every 13 at-bats: Add 100 homers

Depending on your beliefs about his abilities in those seasons, the basic assumption should be that the injuries in those four seasons cost him between 100 and 130 home runs, pushing him into the exclusive 700 home run club. At age 38 and reaching a level that suggests he doesn’t have that much left to contribute, it’s unlikely that Junior would have passed Hank Aaron even had he stayed healthy, but he would have had a shot at it.

Ken Griffey Jr has had a great career, but we’ll always wonder what could have been had the injuries not robbed him of a significant part of his career.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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I get the what if part, but at the same time injuries are part of Griff’s makeup, which makes him less of a player than someone of similar quality but not injury prone.

The “what if” is fun, but shouldn’t change our objectivity. (Not that it has changed yours).