What Ken Griffey Means for Mike Trout’s Hall of Fame Timeline

Yesterday, Ken Griffey Jr. was elected to the Hall of Fame, receiving the largest proportion of votes of any player in baseball history; 437 of the 440 voters to cast ballots checked the box for Junior’s inclusion. And as I noted yesterday, the overwhelming support for Griffey’s candidacy highlights the fact that we generally value peak performance over longevity; Griffey played for 20 years, but was mostly a shell of himself for the second half of his career, creating the entirety of his Hall of Fame resume during the first dozen years he played. The consensus that Griffey is one of the greatest players of all time is driven by what he did in his 20s, not what he did in his 30s.

So this brings up an interesting question; given that almost everyone agrees that Griffey’s peak was so good that the second half of his career essentially was irrelevant, how much more does Mike Trout need to do before he reaches a similar point in his career? Does Griffey’s overwhelming induction based on a 12 year run of greatness suggest that there’s a 24 year old walking around who may have already done the bulk of the work necessary to ensure enshrinement in Cooperstown?

Let’s start with the same kind of graph I used yesterday to show how Griffey’s career timeline stacked up against Bonds, Mays, and Aaron. This time, we’ll just do Trout and Junior.


Source: FanGraphsKen Griffey Jr., Mike Trout

Even though Griffey played a full season at age-19, while Trout only got a cup of coffee that year, Trout has already created some serious separation between the two; his 10 WAR lead through age-23 means that he’s already at where Griffey was through age-25. Of course, Griffey had his two best seasons at ages 25 and 26, so Trout won’t keep growing the gap that already exists, and it may very well shrink a bit over the next couple of years. But besides looking at cumulative WAR by age, we can actually look at their careers a different way, which is perhaps a more telling story when it comes to looking at what Trout needs to do to at least match Griffey’s path going forward.


Source: FanGraphsKen Griffey Jr., Mike Trout

This graph plots each player’s best season in descending order, and you’ll note that Trout’s four seasons are already better than the four best seasons of Griffey’s career. While Griffey topped out at +9.7 WAR in a single season, Trout has already broken +10 WAR twice. And then he put up a +9 and an +8, so he’s already had more seasons of +8 WAR than Griffey did in his career. So, if we follow the path along Griffey’s nth best seasons, we can see that Trout’s next targets along the path are a couple of +6 to +7 WAR seasons, then four +5 WAR seasons. Griffey’s 5th-10th best seasons totaled +36 WAR, so to keep up the pace through his first decade, Trout needs a half dozen seasons where he averages +6 WAR per year.

If he does that, he’ll finish the 2021 season — his age-29 season, for the record — with roughly +75 WAR; Griffey just got the highest vote total in BBWAA history with +78 WAR. So we can say with a decent amount of confidence that with six more seasons like Griffey’s 5th-10th best years, Trout’s an easy Hall of Famer, as his peak would compare favorably to the guy who got closer than anyone ever has to going in unanimously. Realistically, he’s got enough of a lead where he could probably make a good case for enshrinement near Griffey’s level even if he only put up +30 WAR over his next six season, as he’d have the exact same +68.5 WAR that Junior finished his age-29 season with.

Now, we shouldn’t just assume that +30 WAR over a five year stretch is a slam dunk. Besides Trout himself, the only other two position players to reach that mark in the last five years are Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Cabrera. Trout’s established such a ridiculous level of dominance that it might be hard to imagine him not being able to clear +5 WAR per season during his prime, but all it takes is one injury to really do a number on his playing time for him to fall short of that. This is why Griffey was such an easy slam dunk Hall of Famer; following his peak isn’t so easy, even with the advantage Trout has already built.

But let’s get back to the original question; how far away is Trout from crossing the threshold to where 75% of the BBWAA would vote for him? Following Griffey’s path gets him to sure-fire first ballot election, but clearly Junior could have done less and still gotten in. So what’s the minimum Trout could do over the next six years — keep in mind that the rules do state that you have to play for 10 years to make it on the ballot — to garner enough support to get elected, regardless of what he does after that?

Well, for that comparison, we need to turn away from Griffey and turn towards another center fielder who got elected to the Hall of Fame based on a short-peak with an early decline: Kirby Puckett. Due to debuting late and being forcibly retired by glaucoma at age-35, Puckett only played in 12 Major League seasons, but he still managed to collect 82% of the votes on his first time on the ballot in 2001. For reference, here’s Trout’s career to this point graphed next to Puckett’s.


Source: FanGraphsMike Trout, Kirby Puckett

Yes, you’re looking at that chart correctly; Trout is +6 WAR away from tying Puckett’s career mark, even though the entirety of his career consists of the window of time in which Puckett was still in the minor leagues. Trout has almost already matched Puckett’s entire career value, and he hasn’t yet played a game during the period of time in which Puckett actually was in the big leagues.

Or, you can look at it this way. Here are Trout’s numbers, Puckett’s numbers, and what Trout would have to do over the rest of his career to ensure that his final career line looked exactly like Puckett’s.

Trout and Puckett
Name PA BA OBP SLG wRC+ WAR WAR/600
Puckett 7831 0.318 0.360 0.477 122 44.9 3.4
Trout 2877 0.304 0.397 0.559 167 38.5 8.0
Difference 4954 0.325 0.337 0.435 96 6.4 0.8

5,000 PA is more like eight more seasons, not six, since Puckett stayed remarkably healthy during his career, but in terms of performance, Trout doesn’t have to do much of anything to end up with Puckett’s final numbers. He basically just has to hit somewhere around the league average while playing lousy defense and adding no baserunning value. In fact, if I had included the SB and CS totals, Trout would need to only steal 21 more bases, but get thrown out stealing 55 more times, in order to end up with Puckett’s baserunning totals. If you’re looking for a recent comparison, Trout is eight more years just like Cameron Maybin‘s 2015 season away from having had Puckett’s career.

Of course, voters might not actually reward that kind of remarkable peak with a very sharp decline. Dale Murphy, who put up the same career WAR as Puckett but did so with a higher peak and a quicker decline, never managed to crack the threshold needed to get inducted. And the current BBWAA electorate is probably more aware of how poor a choice Puckett was than the one that elected him 15 years ago, so Trout probably can’t count on voters making that mistake again. With guys like Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds failing to get enough support to even stay on the ballot after their first go-around, there are already examples of center fielders with much stronger careers than Pucketts who received basically no consideration, so perhaps Puckett is setting the bar too low.

But as Griffey’s overwhelming election shows, Trout’s not that far away from crossing any reasonable bar that one might want to construct. With five or six more seasons that would be a huge drop-off from what he’s done to this point — but still quite good by anyone else’s standards — Trout will have essentially recreated the first decade peak that got Griffey inducted. If we can say that he’s already something like halfway to Griffey’s level, then he’s probably something closer to 75% of the way to crossing the barrier to Hall of Fame worthiness.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Peter
Member
Peter
4 months 22 days ago

Could Mike Trout be the first unanimous choice for the Hall of Fame? By the time he’s due for election (2035? 2040?) a lot of the curmudgeonly voters will have either died or lost voting privileges due to being 10 years removed from covering the sport.

troybruno
Member
Member
troybruno
4 months 22 days ago

Chipper, Mo or Jeter will be.

The 3 remaining are probably just waiting for the “right” person to vote for — if that’s the case you skip 2017 (Pudge, Manny) and have 3 good candidates in Chipper, Mo and Jetes in 2018-2020. I’d bet the farm that one of these three gets it and would guess Mo if I had to choose…

(sorry for re-posting)

Peter
Member
Peter
4 months 22 days ago

I don’t see it. Why would you vote for Jeter but not vote for Griffey?

Peter
Member
Peter
4 months 22 days ago

And I definitely don’t think it will be Mo. There are voters who won’t vote for a relief pitcher out there.

merlin401
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merlin401
4 months 22 days ago

I think it will be Jeter. He has the likeability, he has the raw numbers, he has the accumulation of stats, he has the rings, he has everything.

I really hope it isn’t Mo. Its cool and all that he was the best RP ever, but seriously, he should NOT be the first unanimous choice of ALL players.

Peter
Member
Peter
4 months 22 days ago

merlin401 you bring up a good point. I could see some idiot not voting for Griffey because he didn’t win championships but that doesn’t apply to Jeter.

okteds
Member
okteds
4 months 22 days ago

I always thought it was ridiculous that some writers would leave guys like Nolan Ryan off their first ballot, but now I’ve come to appreciate the high standard that’s been set. And it wasn’t until this whole Griffey vote happened that I came to appreciate it.

Griffey is a no-brainer HOFer to be sure, but are his career totals so good that he deserves to be the first and only player voted in with 100% of the vote? 1,662/630/1,836 counting stats and .284/.370/.538 slash line, 57th in career WAR…not from where I’m standing. If he’d had better luck and better health in his 30’s, he was definitely on track to be that guy. Pujols might’ve been too, and still just might depending on how the next 5 years go. and if not him, then we can dream on Trout…or whoever is next…

But when that first guy finally does get 100%, I hope it’s someone who was so good for so long, that there can be no doubt. And I hope there will always be writers out there who will protect that legacy and boldly vote down guys like Griffey.

stuck in a slump
Member
stuck in a slump
4 months 22 days ago

This whole thread seems to have forgotten the strategic nature of the BBWAA’s HoF voting. No one is going to get 100% because as the system currently stands, some writers will know that certain players will get in, they just do because they’re such no brainers like Griffey. So it’s safe for them to leave those players off of their ballots and vote for guys that they worry will drop off or might be on the cusp of getting in.

Until the voting changes, there’s no reason to expect a player to get unanimously voted in.

Jason B
Member
Jason B
4 months 21 days ago

^^This. I would not be averse to shifting a vote from a shoo-in candidate like Griffey to throw a little more support to an Edgar Martinez or a Larry Walker.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC
4 months 22 days ago

I say all three are very unlikely. You only need one curmudgeon to ruin it. I’d guess some holy roller would have issues with Chipper and Jeter’s “lifestyle” and Rivera is a relief pitcher. Also, none were as good as Willie Mays or whoever you want to say.

The only one I’d put at even 5% is Jeter.

Luy
Member
Luy
4 months 22 days ago

A unanimous vote for Jeter would be the perfect way to end his all-time-great, amazing, fantastic, yet still over-rated career.

All the fanboys would feel (wrongly) justified in calling Jeets the greatest baseball player of all time.

domxbomb
Member
domxbomb
4 months 22 days ago

nobody calls Jeter the greatest baseball player of all time

Luy
Member
Luy
4 months 22 days ago

I know 4 people who will (and have) argued that case, because they believe it. I live in Colorado. I imagine there are probably some folks closer to the Bronx who might feel the same way.

wildcard09
Member
Member
4 months 22 days ago

I’d pretty much guarantee that those 3 writers didn’t keep Griffey off the ballot because he wasn’t deserving, but because the dumb limit of 10 votes. I know if I had a ballot, I would have used my Griffey vote for somebody who actually needed it.

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer
4 months 22 days ago

I’d say Jeter.

My theory is that there are 2 people who didn’t vote for Griffey so that Jeter would be the first, and that those 2 are going to “have a little talk” with the third guy.

It’s a little strange that the first guy to get a unanimous selection was never once voted MVP.

Jason B
Member
Jason B
4 months 21 days ago

I like that you say “It’s a little strange that the first guy to get a unanimous selection was never once voted MVP” as though it’s a foregone conclusion.

(It’s not. It’s waaaaaaay not.)

jroe31
Member
4 months 22 days ago

I just checked his Hall of Stats rating; it’s at 83. So 5/6 of the way there already according to that objective measurement. Amazing.

jdickerman
Member
jdickerman
4 months 22 days ago

Or like Bagwell (who’s WAR in his first 12 years is very similar to Jr.) if someone suggests that Trout likes to lift weights he could wait 6 years to knock on the HOF door.

tz
Member
tz
4 months 22 days ago

Maybe longer if someone digs up incriminating pictures of Trout with bacne.

Fredchuckdave
Member
4 months 22 days ago

I was sorely distressed at the lack of Mike Trout articles on the front page, thank you Dave.

xeifrank
Member
4 months 22 days ago

Good visualization with those charts.
vr, Xei

troybruno
Member
Member
troybruno
4 months 22 days ago

Chipper, Mo or Jeter will be.

The 3 remaining are probably just waiting for the “right” person to vote for — if that’s the case you skip 2017 (Pudge, Manny) and have 3 good candidates in Chipper, Mo and Jetes in 2018-2020. I’d bet the farm that one of these three gets it and would guess Mo if I had to choose…

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer
4 months 22 days ago

All good players, but none of them were ever considered the best player in the game at any point in their careers.

Sure Mo is the best reliever, and Chipper and Jeter were probably tops at their position for awhile, but at no time were these 3 guys considered the best player in baseball.

I thought Maddux deserved a unanimous vote, but at this point, I’d have to wait for Pujols to retire or get busted for PEDs.

London Yank
Member
London Yank
4 months 21 days ago

I’d be surprised if Jeter gets anywhere close to unanimous selection because of general anti-Yankees bias in HOF voting. Players primarily associated with the Yankees have traditionally had a much tougher road to the Hall of Fame (e.g. Randolph, Munson, Nettles, Mattingly, Mussina, Williams).

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer
4 months 21 days ago

I’m guessing he’ll be unanimous.

The Hall of Fame is big on “playing the game the right way”, whatever that means.

Putting in Jeter unanimously and leaving out Bonds, Rose, and Clemens is exactly the kind of message the Hall loves to send.

Of the guys you mentioned that haven’t gotten in, only Mussina is statistically HOF level, and he’s more of an O than a Yankee.

London Yank
Member
London Yank
4 months 21 days ago

Mussina is a clear HOFer. Randolph, Munson, and Nettles are all deserving, though each fell off the ballot without any consideration. In order to get voted in as a Yankee, you can’t be a borderline case. You have to be an all time great.

The most common article written about Jeter over the years is that he is overrated. He never got much support from the voting community for MVP even when he should have won it (e.g. 2006 he should have won the MVP, but lost out to a player from the Twins). I doubt those same voters who refused to vote for him for MVP and who wrote negatives articles about him will be making him the first unanimous HOFer.

Jason B
Member
Jason B
4 months 21 days ago

Players primarily associated with the Yankees have had a much tougher road? Hmmm.

Many/most of those guys you listed are generally not considered HOF-worthy. I mean, Bernie Williams? Willie Randolph? Mussina likely will get in at some point, and was an Oriole for the better part of his career. I know some fan bases like to self-flagellate, but c’mon…

London Yank
Member
London Yank
4 months 21 days ago

I don’t think Bernie Williams or Mattingly are HOF worthy either. Both were better players than Kirby Puckett though, and Williams was a great post season performer. You scoff at Willie Randolph. Compare him to Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and Craig Biggio.

Randolph, Nettles and Munson should be in the HOF but none ever got any consideration at all. The only border line Yankee HOF inductee I can think of that was not a Veterans committee inductee is Goose Gossage.

tz
Member
tz
4 months 22 days ago

Using Steamer’s projection of 9.2 WAR for 2016, Trout would tie Puckett’s career WAR total in game 113 on August 9, two days after his 24th birthday.

Two days after HIS 24th birthday, Kirby Puckett was in spring training with the Twins as a rookie who had never played above A ball.

soddingjunkmail
Member
soddingjunkmail
4 months 22 days ago
Owen S
Member
Owen S
4 months 22 days ago

Erg, sorry Tz, but Trout is one year older than you, and apparently 8 other people (so far), think.

Owen S
Member
Owen S
4 months 22 days ago

Wow. 18 now. Guys–TROUT IS ALREADY 24! AHHHHHH!!!

tz
Member
tz
4 months 22 days ago

MATH! what it isn’t good for, absolutely nothing, say it again!!

My bad, most definitely. Edit my comment to say “When Kirby Puckett was 25 years and 2 days old, he was in spring training for his second year as a Twin, still looking for his first major league HR”

Owen S
Member
Owen S
4 months 22 days ago

Loll–just blame it on auto-correct.

Luy
Member
Luy
4 months 22 days ago

@Owen S.
How does your point substantively change the comment soooo much that people shouldn’t be impressed by it?

This is like saying, people shouldn’t be impressed by Joey Chesnut’s ability to eat hot dogs because someone misstated his total as 52 instead of only 49.
Technically, the number is wrong. But that’s still a lot of hot dogs. And it’s still a lot of WAR accumulated by Trout before Puckett (essentially) began playing.

Shirtless Bartolo Colon
Member
4 months 22 days ago

Pfft…52 hot dogs is a nice snack.

Let’s see somebody eat 52 hot dogs, 49 chestnuts, and Joey Chestnut. Now THAT’s a lot!

Owen S
Member
Owen S
4 months 22 days ago

It doesn’t.

But in all fairness I don’t think I said, either explicitly or implicitly, that it wasn’t still mega-impressive. Really all I said was he’s one year older than tz thought.

Should I have not corrected his and others’ inaccurate assumption (or calculation) despite knowing it was inaccurate? If so, why? And how could I have been any less insulting to Trout’s accomplishments?

tz
Member
tz
4 months 22 days ago

I’m not offended at all, and I’d rather have my facts straight. If Owen called me names or stuff like that, it would be a different matter, but I appreciate the honest correction of an honest mistake.

Scoreboard
Member
Member
Scoreboard
4 months 22 days ago

Both Owen’s and TZ’s reactions are exactly why I will keep reading the comments of this site and only this site. Seriously… I’m not even sure I get this much logic and civility in my non-internet life.

Shirtless George Brett
Member
Shirtless George Brett
4 months 22 days ago

That Kirby Puckett vote just looks more and more crazy as the years go on.

tz
Member
tz
4 months 22 days ago

Quick quiz: in the linked graphs, who is the 1st ballot HOFer and who is the one-and-done HOF candidate?

http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?players=1153,1010557

tz
Member
tz
4 months 22 days ago

Or, put another way, if give ol’ Kirby a break for his short career by only counting age 24-35 seasons, he’s #161 in career WAR among hitters, behind luminaries like Jim Rice and Tony Perez.

In fact, HOF outsiders Bobby Grich, Scott Rolen, Bill Dahlen, and Larry Walker are more than 1 WAR/year better than Puckett over ages 24-35.

And this bum Bagwell who’s still trying to get in, he’s more than 2 WAR/year better than Puckett at those ages:

http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=8&season=2015&month=0&season1=1871&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=24,35&filter=&players=0&page=6_30

AdamJ
Member
AdamJ
4 months 22 days ago

As a Minnesota native, avid FanGraphs reader, and life long Twins fan who was in third grade the last time the Twins won the World Series, I can totally agree that it’s egregious that Puckett is in the Hall of Fame and Lofton and Edmonds fell off on the first ballot. Puckett, as much as I loved him as a kid, is in the Hall based on three things: his career batting average, his two rings, and his personality (which sadly was revealed to be less-than-stellar after his induction). Puckett was perceived to be the best player on both championship teams, and that went a long way with the BBWAA in 2000. Even if the Indians had won in 1997 or the Cardinals in 2004, I don’t know if that would have made a difference for Lofton or Edmonds.

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer
4 months 21 days ago

I used this tool to compare Mike Mussina and Bob Gibson.

Whoa.

Kris
Member
Kris
4 months 22 days ago

How does Trout compare to Bonds’ 1986-2000 period? And how does Griffey’s productive period compare to that Bonds period? Seems the argument for only looking at Griffey’s best years and ignoring his negative years could be compared to the pre and post-2000 Bonds.

devo1d
Member
Member
devo1d
4 months 21 days ago

I don’t know if the question was rhetorical or not, but through the first 12 years (Griffey’s best) of their careers, Bonds leads by nearly 13 WAR. It wouldn’t be fair to tack on another three (mostly) really good years for Barry.

No matter how you measure it, pre or post-2000, Bonds was better in nearly every respect.

As for Trout, Griffey would be the better comp, given he peaked at similar ages to Trout.

Brian Reinhart
Member
Member
4 months 22 days ago

I think the nature of the decline factors into it, right? If Mike Trout really spent the next six seasons putting up 0.8 WAR, then you have a career where 40% of it was wall-time greatness, but the other 60% was mediocre. Even if the counting numbers are there, it would be hard to vote for since peak Trout might not be able to overcome mean Trout.

The Hall may reward sustained peak-performance greatness, but I think they mostly do so for careers where the non-peak performance was unembarrassing.

The best test case may not be Kirby Puckett – but Andruw Jones. When Andruw gets on the ballot, we’ll see how voters weigh the Hall of Fame-worthy 1998-2006 vs. the borderline unpleasant 2008-2012.

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
4 months 22 days ago

If we still had screen name memes, I’d be tempted to start using “Wall-time Greatness”

Brian Reinhart
Member
Member
4 months 22 days ago

Oops. Okay, I vow to say “wall-time greatness” every time from now on.

free-range turducken
Member
free-range turducken
4 months 22 days ago

If anyone uses “wall-time greatness”, they should use a picture of a Manny Ramirez LF pee break as their avatar.

Careless
Member
Careless
4 months 22 days ago

As I said on the last post, Griffey put up zero WAR over his last seven years.

Kang Ho
Member
Kang Ho
4 months 21 days ago

His 2007 season in particular is a funny one. He hit 30 homers and slashed .277/.372/.496 over 623 PA– yet was worth -0.6 fWAR because UZR says he cost the Reds over 35 runs in the field

wildcard09
Member
Member
4 months 22 days ago

No more WBE since the login requirement?

Brian Reinhart
Member
Member
4 months 22 days ago

Correct – when I wrote for Hardball Times, they changed my account to my real name.

maybeofftopic365
Member
maybeofftopic365
4 months 22 days ago

What about Andruw Jones, who was one of the best players in baseball (owing to his historically great defense and good offense) until he fell of a cliff in his age 31 season? Do you think that Griffey’s induction bodes well for Andruw?

dl80
Member
dl80
4 months 21 days ago

I think Andruw definitely gets in. Maybe not immediately, but he was probably the greatest defensive center fielder in history and a very good/great hitter.

He was Ozzie Smith but with better offense.

JackS
Member
JackS
4 months 21 days ago

Guys, click on the Incredible Hall of Fame Scouting Database link and then go look at the database.

Seriously.

Within a minute I was reading a scouting report on Rickey Henderson from 1991 (a year after his 10 WAR season, lol) in which Scout Eddie Bockman (who I believe is covered in Dollar Sign on the Muscle) wrote, “He can do it all, even renegotiate with the best of them. Has to be worth more than the big donkey in RF.”

Snarfle
Member
Member
4 months 20 days ago

Fun, silly question. Let’s say Mike Trout quits baseball to become a dancer. Whose career would you rather have for your team, his or Puckett’s? Actually, I’d be surprised if many people take Puckett here. Give me 4 years of insane over ~8 years of good, even if the latter cumulatively adds up to a little more.

wpDiscuz