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Experts say Junior a lock for the Hall of Fame

Posted at 7:00 AM, Nov 24, 2015
and last updated 2016-01-05 15:41:02-05

Editor's note: This article originally published on Nov. 24, 2015.

CINCINNATI -- Although Reds fans didn't get to see the best of Ken Griffey Jr. -- making November's Baseball Hall of Fame vote a bit melancholy, if not bittersweet -- the former Moeller High School superstar will waltz (or to put it into the current vernacular, Uptown Funk) his way into Cooperstown.

The announcement of the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2016 will be made by Hall president Jeff Idelson on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

The issue for Griffey -- as it was 45 years ago for Johnny Bench, and as it is today for Mike Trout -- is not "when" (everybody has known forever that it will be on the first ballot) but by "how much" (can he top Tom Seaver's all-time 98.8 percent?).

"I've got Junior at 96 percent," predicts Bill Deane, a veteran Hall of Fame forecaster and former senior researcher for the Hall. "I think there is a bloc of voters who refuse to vote for anyone from the 'Steroids Era' -- how else to explain Greg Maddux being left off 16 ballots?

"So, even if Griffey had remained healthy productive in the 21st century and broken the records everyone thought he would," Deane says, "I don't think he would have quite beaten Seaver."

Other Predictions

Deane predicts the only other candidate who will make it this year is returnee Mike Piazza (79 percent, projects Deane; 75 percent is needed for election).

The other top newcomer to this year's ballot is former superstar reliever Trevor Hoffman, who originally was a Reds farmhand but was left unprotected in the 1992 expansion draft. Deane predicts Hoffman will get 37 percent of the vote.

The other top vote-getters with Deane projections are returnees Jeff Bagwell (65 percent), Tim Raines (62 percent), Curt Schilling (44 percent) and Mike Mussina (38 percent).

For those who either admitted or are strongly suspected of steroid use, Deane predicts these totals: Roger Clemens, 41 percent; Barry Bonds, 40 percent, Mark McGwire, 17 percent, Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield, 10 percent each.

For some other first-timers on ballot, here are Deane's predictions: Billy Wagner, 8 percent, and Nomar Garciaparra, 6 percent.

For Cincinnati fans, there isn't a lot to be said about Griffey Jr., the son of the terrific Big Red Machine right fielder Ken Griffey Sr. -- unless one wants to hear a lot about Junior's years in Seattle.

The interesting thing for Reds fans is what the Griffey discussion leads to:

Joey Votto's chances for one day making it to Cooperstown.

More on that in a bit.

In Griffey's defense, he had one standout season after becoming a Red (2000: 40 home runs, 118 RBI) and two other good ones by conventional measure (35 HR, 92 RBI in 2005, and 30/92 in 2007).

Analysis Through WAR

Unfortunately, few major league superstars with super-long careers like Griffey so drastically dropped off in the second half of their careers.

The best analytic to measure a player's contribution to his team is WAR (wins above replacement – the number of extra wins a team achieved with the player in the lineup against the number of expected wins if the player had been replaced), which has come into wide acceptance both inside and outside of Major League Baseball operations. Here's how Junior rates in WAR:

Ken Griffey Jr.

1st 11 years: 70.4 WAR, avg. of 6.4

2nd 11 years: 13.2 WAR, avg. of 1.2

The 5.5 WAR of Griffey's first season in Cincinnati topped only four of his 11 seasons in Seattle -- his first two, his wrist-snapped '95, and his last one, when he was already showing signs of being an "old 29," to put in the Frank Robinson vernacular.

Compared To Other Greats

It doesn't take a sabermetrician to know in his or her bones that Junior was a shadow of himself in Cincinnati. Nothing shows it as dramatically as WAR. Not even Mickey Mantle matches Griffey in the drop-off category:

Mickey Mantle

1st 12 seasons: 92.2 WAR, avg. of 7.7

Last 6 seasons: 19.5 WAR, avg. of 3.3

In HIS "old 29" season (his 11th), the Mick was 10.5 WAR.

WAR, what it is good for? Practically everything, it turns out, if you want instant clarity.

I put the question of "Who else had Griffey's drop-off" to my friend and associate, Joel Luckhaupt, the statistician for Reds telecasts. Here's what he came up with:

Ernie Banks

First 9 full seasons: 57.5 WAR

Last 9 seasons: 9.9 WAR

George Sisler

First 7 full seasons: 47.9 WAR

Missed all of 1923, then 7 seasons after: 6.6 WAR

Andruw Jones

First 9 full seasons: 57.9 WAR

Next 6 years: 4.9 WAR.

Most players who have the big drop off simply stop playing. Luckhaupt notes that lots of players have 10-12 good seasons but only last another three or four after that. (See: Bobby Bonds and Dick Allen as examples)

What About Votto?

All this talk about Griffey leads directly to the next longtime Red with a chance at Valhalla: Joey Votto. If he can channel Frank Robinson's "second half" of a career, Votto still has an excellent chance at Cooperstown.

Frank Robinson

1st 10 seasons: 63.1 WAR, avg. of 6.3

2nd 11 seasons: 43.5 WAR, avg. of 4.9

In his famous "old 30" season that got him traded out of Cincinnati after the 1965 season, FRobby's WAR was 5.1.

Yes, if Votto could somehow duplicate the second half of Robinson's career, Votto would be a near-lock for Cooperstown, because it would give him 86.9 WAR. To do that, of course, he would have to stay a lot healthier than he's been.

Says Hall forecaster Deane: "I think Votto will need to get close to 2,500 hits before he's perceived as a serious Hall of Fame candidate."

But 2,500 hits is a tough standard for someone that walks as much as Votto. He presently has 1,226 hits. Heck, Ted Williams, another of the great sluggers/walkers, had "only" 2,654 hits.

Needs A Second Half

Jeff Bagwell is a good "comp" for Votto -- each won an MVP, were underrated because of their undervalued on-base percentages and have no World Championship rings -- but who knows?

To the extent that Deane is suggesting Votto has to remain a star into his late 30s to make the Hall, I agree. But a ring or second MVP would really help his case.

The other thing that will make it tough for Votto is that defense doesn't earn one any points in the Hall debate, unless one is stellar (Ozzie Smith).

The more likely scenario for Votto's Hall viability, based upon his first nine seasons, is this:

Joey Votto

1st nine seasons: 43.4 WAR, avg. of 4.8 (0.1 in 24 games as first-year Red; 1.9 in his injury-crushed age 30 season in 2014).

2nd nine seasons: If he could log the same 27.3 of Frank Robinson's age 32-40 seasons (Votto will be 32 going into next season), that'd be 70.7 career WAR for Votto, which would put him in the HoF conversation.

Savvy Voters

As the Hall of Fame electorate continues to gain an influx of new members who are analytics-savvy, Votto figures to get a boost. If he can stay healthy, he could retire in the top 10 all-time in on-base percentage (OBP) and top 25 in on-base plus slugging (OPS). In baseball history, Votto is presently 14th in career OBP. The next closest active player (min 3,000 plate appearances) is Miguel Cabrera at 60th.

What would make Votto an immortal lock for Cooperstown?

If he could be as Frank Robinson was -- a young 32- to 34-year-old (3.7, 7.5 and 4.8 WARs, respectively, for Robinson) -- and then continue to steal pages from Ted Williams' own "Science of Hitting" philosophy (Votto is a card-carrying disciple).

Williams, a great OBP and OPS man, was a remarkable top-performer into his late 30s (Williams' ages 37-39 seasons 6.0, 9.7, and 4.0, respectively).

Yes, if Votto could channel Teddy Ballgame, it would put the Reds superstar at 80+ career WAR and earn him a plaque in Cooperstown next to Griffey's.