Last year at 39 years old Ken Griffey Jr. put up an OPS+ of 95.
Question: Can we expect The Kid to contribute with more than just tickles and sure justice in the kangaroo court in 2010?
There are two issues here; How was Griffey last year and what does that say about this year?
So. Number 1. How was Griffey last year? Per baseball-reference:
RC/G Seattle Mariners 2009
1- Ichiro 7.4
2- Branyan 6.5
– Average – 5.0
Griffey’s position as the 4th best hitter is more indicative of the M’s punchless offense than Griffey’s contributions. He beat out world beaters like Yu-Bet, Endy Chavez, Kenji Johjima, Rob Johnson, Mike Sweeney, and Adrian Beltre’s contused…*shudder* nightmare season. So we know that at 39 Griffey contributed just below average offensively, a significant upgrade over the drek that was behind him.
How would his 2009 compare to the players now on the 2010 team?
– Average – 5.0
Johnson 2.8 (Yeeeee…)
So without projecting any change in performance from a year ago Griffey’s bat would be the 6th most valuable on the team. This is somewhat unsurprising, Branyan’s power is bumped by Figgins’ OBP, Bradley scoots Jr. down one stool, and judicious use of Garko to platoon with Griffey may make both better than the sum of their parts. What is surprising is how much Griffey’s contribution has been dismissed. Although he can no longer play the field he still provides some value considering this team’s anemic offense.
Let’s check his ratio stats:
HR 4.2% K 20.7% BB 13.9% HR/FB 11.9% BABIP .220 LD 17% GB 37.3%
HR 5.6% K 18.2% BB 11.6% HR/FB 15% BABIP .288 LD 21% GB 37%
The blue is Griffey’s ’09, the orange his career (I played with the BABIP to make it visible). As we can see his K% and B% were higher while his HR, HR/FB and LD% were all decreased. Significantly, so was his BABIP. And all this makes sense. He’s obviously becoming more selective at the plate. We can reasonably assume that this is because he’s having more difficulty getting balls out of the yard when he does make contact. Thus, he’s trying to loft it more resulting in less line drives. Thus, the lower BABIP (although it IS a fairly significant decrease, fly balls alone wouldn’t account for such a precipitous drop). It’s reasonable to assume all of this stems from the fact that his bat-speed has decreased. He’s not as able to turn on pitches as suddenly as he used to be. All of this is to say, he’s older and not as good as he used to be. Duh, right?
So Griffey’s offensive decline phase has kept him very slightly below average offensively. Based on the above info can we expect a better performance, the same, or worse in 2010?
There are a couple of different factors here.
One, the shift. Teams put the shift on Griffey. But with Jr. being used judiciously to pinch hit with men on and an increase in OBP in the lineup this effect should be somewhat mitigated. Griffey has also historically avoided the penalty to pinch hitters. Yay!
Two, the knee. Is it healed? Will it make a difference? This we won’t know until we watch him play.
Three, platooning. Griffey is much superior against right-handers so the ability to pull him or keep him out against lefties is fantastic.
Fourth, and most importantly, the crash and burn age factor. Griffey’s most comparable player, Frank Robinson, performed well under his norms but was still productive at age 39. At age 40? Crash and burn. Willie Mays? Crash and burn at 42. Reggie Jackson? Crash and burn at 41. Like sands through the hourglass, so goes the days of our lives.
Griffey still has value offensively if comparatively rather than objectively. Especially platooned. Can we expect a rebound? Maybe. Even if he doesn’t though he’ll still be valuable. The only thing that can wreck this is the crash and burn. C’mon, Griff, one more year. Just hold on for one more year.