More On Ken Griffey Jr.’s Career

Of course Ken Griffey Jr. is going to be a Hall of Famer. He’s going to be a first ballot hall of famer at that, and deservedly so. “The Kid” was among the best in Major League Baseball throughout the 1990s, putting up one of the best decades that the game has ever seen.

Griffey broke into the bigs at age 19 and never looked back. He posted a ridiculous 7.1 WAR before he could legally drink. By then, he was a legitimate MVP candidate year in and year out. From 1990-2000, Griffey hit 382 home runs (including four league leads), compiled a line of .302/.384/.581 and was 69 runs above average in center field, according to TotalZone.

His 1996 and 1997 seasons are both among the great individual performances in major league history. In 1996, Griffey was the original Franklin Gutierrez, posting a ridiculous +32 TotalZone in Center Field. He would supplement that mark at the plate with a .303/.392/.628 line, good for a .427 wOBA. The overall result was one of the few 10 WAR seasons of the decade, coming in at 10.2 WAR. He nearly managed it twice in a row, as in 1997 he nearly duplicated his 1996 hitting line with a 56 HR, .304/.382/.646, .424 wOBA season. The fielding numbers weren’t quite there, but were still fantastic at +15, leading to a 9.4 WAR year.

He would end the decade with a staggering 68.7 WAR, already the level of a hall of fame lock. That also includes nearly a full season lost to the strike of 1994 and 1995. In the shortened ’94 season, Griffey had accrued 7.2 WAR in only 111 games, and his .442 wOBA would become his career high. 1995 wasn’t as kind, but Griffey still put up 3.6 WAR in 72 games despite a decade-low .260 BABIP.

In 2000, Griffey was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, where his first season would be his only good one. He put up 5.8 wins that year on the heels of a standard Griffey .271/.387/.556 line. He played in 145 games that season, a mark that he would never reach again. From 2002-2004, he would be held below 100 games, and his fielding started to go, as he combined for a terrible -27 UZR in these three seasons. 2005 would be his last productive season, as he hit like Griffey, with a .397 wOBA, but his -19 UZR set him back to only 3.3 WAR. With his legs shot, his BABIP fell dramatically, and as such his hitting soon dropped to the point where his completely absent defense resulted in a replacement level player. He would languish on the rosters of the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, and Seattle Mariners for the next few seasons, but the Griffey of old was gone.

I don’t think anything quite sums up both the greatness and the disappointment of Ken Griffey Jr’s career as this graph (click to enlarge):

Through age 31, he was right in line with Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, and Willie Mays – three of the best outfielders to play the game. Unfortunately, a rash of injuries just simply wouldn’t let Griffey quite reach the level that those three did.

Of course, we can wonder for ages about what would have happened. Despite all the misfortunes, Griffey still ended with a fantastic career and a guaranteed spot in the Hall of Fame. Ken Griffey Jr’s prime was one of the best that baseball has ever seen, and one which should be celebrated. His impact on the game of baseball was profound, and I can safely say that he was one of the best players that I have had the pleasure of watching.

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18 Responses to “More On Ken Griffey Jr.’s Career”

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  1. Brian Lloyd says:

    Thank you for this. Perfect summary and presentation of Griffey’s career. I remember reading an article about 10 years ago where Hank Aaron said that Griffey would break his record. At a time, it seemed like a certainty. It is amazing to think that he has had a 630 HR career, great numbers, and we still find ourselves saying “what could have been.”

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  2. Andy S. says:

    Lol you picked all the best black outfielders…Freudian slip?

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    • Damp Raptor says:

      Larry Walker was robbed. Why isn’t Mantle on the graph?

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      • Colm says:

        I’d suspect Mantle’s own graph is a bit more similar to Juniors, given how his career ended up being derailed by injury.

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      • philosofool says:

        It’s a funny fact about Mantle that he’s not mentioned as one of the greats more frequently. No one ever says “Ruth, Gehrig, Williams and Mantle…” even though Mantle is the fifth best hitter of all time, tied with Bonds at 177 wRC+, and Ty Cobb (4th all time) was too much of a fucker for people to mention him beside the other three.

        I suspect that this is because of nine guys whose wRC+ is over 170, he’s the only one who wasn’t a .330 hitter besides Bonds. His life time .298 BA makes him look worse than hitters who were just as good.

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    • Toffer Peak says:

      Nope, just the three best OFs of the last 75 years.

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  3. Shaun says:

    I enjoy the title of that png

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  4. Colm says:

    I’d suspect Mantle’s own graph is a bit more similar to Juniors, given how his career ended up being derailed by injury.

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    • philkid3 says:

      I still have the “All-Century Team” book from 1999. In the Griffey article, it talks about how he’s always compared to Mays, but then goes on to argue he’s more comparable to Mantle. Then, in what’s now pretty haunting, it talks about how we don’t yet know if Griffey will go to even greater heights or suffer the sudden collapse and rash of injuries Mantle did.

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  5. mowill says:

    I like how you chose to ignore that Bonds performance from 1999 on was not legitimate. Griffey put up his numbers playing against pitchers and position players who were for the most part cheaters. Bonds doesn’t even belong in a discussion with guys like Junior. And if you had seen Willie Mays play you would no the only players who he belongs in a discussion with are names like Ruth, Williams, Cobb, Aaron and Gherig.

    Fangraphs I plead with you to show the kind of courage Griffey showed when he didn’t cheat and start calling out the players who did.

    Alex Rodriguez
    Roger Clemens
    Barry Bonds
    Mark McGwire
    Sammy Sosa
    Gary Sheffield
    Manny Ramirez
    David Ortiz
    Rafael Palmiero

    Just some of the so called elite players we know for a fact are cheaters.

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  6. Myk says:

    If Griffey does end up not being linked to Steroids how do you put that into perspective. By most accounts he was basically competing against pitchers who had an illegal advantage. That should probably be taken into account when comparing him to other players.

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    • mowill says:

      That, I believe, should be the main point of discussion today. His numbers were deflated by facing pitchers whose performance was comprimised. His offensive performance gets tarnished because of the inflated numbers of all the hitters who cheated. He is downgraded from both directions because he has character, why doesn’t that surprise me in today’s America.

      And Arod was Ernie Banks not Hank Aaron.
      And Bonds was Mel Ott not Babe Ruth.

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  7. kamikaze80 says:

    the majority of the posts on lookout landing are despicable. those guys didn’t deserve to have someone like griffey play for them. seattle’s not going to do anything this year, but those wannabe GM’s are gloating that griffey’s roster spot is finally free. amazing.

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  8. Vote24Junior says:

    Ken Griffey Jr. may have retired but is STILL in 3rd place in ASG voting standings among American League DH. In 1989 fans voted in Mike Schmidt after he retired in late May, he was also having a poor year at the plate. Please continue to help the campaign, take 5 minutes and vote 25 times per email address at

    Let’s give Griffey what Ripken got, one last all-star memory!

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  9. adohaj says:

    That graph is awesome

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  10. AR says:

    Leave the steroids issue out of it. Since there’s no way to know who was on it and who wasn’t (more specifically, who wasn’t), it’s not completely fair to categorize.

    FURTHERMORE, let’s be honest: we ALL knew what was going on. We ALL ignored it, because we ALL wanted to see home runs. That makes us ALL responsible: fans, media coaches and players. We’re no better suited to judge Barry than Barry himself. So I say let’s let the numbers and the careers speak for themselves, and give great players their due.

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