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

Jun 3, 2010, 1:49 PM EDT

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.

  1. critic1 - Jun 4, 2010 at 6:59 PM

    You are probably right since the press has portrayed him like this his entire career as selfish and self-centered. Again fans can only believe what the press writes about however you witnessed it first hand

  2. Gary Armstrong - Jun 4, 2010 at 10:54 PM

    I’m 61 and like most fans who rooted for other teams I hated the Yankees, not because they were bad people. They were just too damn good! Someone asked Paul Hornung about 30 years ago if anyone from his era could play in the NFL today and he answered without hesitation, Jim Brown. He further elaborated that he meant Jim Brown at his then current age, 44. Hornung said the man was that good and he is in that good of condition right now. The New York Yankees from 1950-1965 were the most incredible winning machine I have ever since and Mickey Mantle was the greatest of the great. Until injuries slowed him in the 60′s he was lightning quick, probably damn near as fast as Mays and nearly as good as fielder. The Yankees didn’t stay in as good as shape as Brown, but in their prime they could beat any team playing today. There was no free agency then and the Yankees had all the money so they could sign anybody they wanted and keep them forever.
    Also on Mays he didn’t just make one great catch, he made plenty of them. During that era there was only one outfielder better than Mays and that was Clemente because of his arm.

  3. vincent ginex - Jun 4, 2010 at 11:06 PM

    dimaggio played 13 yrs,missed 3 of his prime due to military service,also played with bad legs & injuries.the yankees won ten pennants with dimaggio.

  4. ralph sherman - Jun 5, 2010 at 12:12 AM

    I had the chance to sit in the first row by the visitors on deck circle twice at Fenway when Griff played for the Mariners. A great player yes an arrogant a-hole yes. Never once did he come out of the dugout until he was announced. The young fan who attended one of those gammes with me who loved Griff was very disappointed along with alot of other fans.

  5. Reason - Jun 5, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    Depressing not to see Kirby on that list…damn you, Denny Martinez.
    Griffey couldn’t hold Bonds’ jock, roids or no roids. Griffey never got 30 steals a season, let alone 50 like Bonds. Griffey never hit above .320 for a season, let alone the averages Bonds put up. So sick of hearing the “IF GRIFFEY TOOK ROIDS!11″ argument…..how do you know he didn’t, by the by? Last I checked, rampant injuries are a sign of steroid use. Fuck Griffey, and the horse you all brought him in on.

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