Friday, March 12, 2004
Griffey bound for Cooperstown
By Rob Neyer
An e-mail, followed by a few items plucked from the headlines ...
Tim Kurkjian recently wrote that "Ken Griffey Jr. is a Hall of Famer if he never plays another inning." Do you agree? Personally, I can't believe that someone as smart when it comes to baseball as Tim would even suggest such a thing.
I'm no expert, but I doubt that there's a member of the Hall who didn't have a single good year after the age of 30. Plus, his career numbers aren't that staggering given today's "inflation" and he never won a thing. It's my opinion that even if he plays another 4-5 years or so averaging 15-20 homers (getting him around 550) for teams that don't win, he's not a Hall of Famer.
Well, it's true that few if any Hall of Famers didn't enjoy a big season after turning 30. But it's also true that few Hall of Famers did what Griffey did before turning 30. Before turning 30, he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting seven times. Before turning 30 he hit 398 home runs, more than anybody else ever hit before turning 30. Before turning 30 he won 10 Gold Gloves. Before turning 30 he finished in the top 10 in the American League in OPS eight times.
Remember, too, that Tim Kurkjian is a member in good standing of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and so he probably has a pretty good sense of how his fellow BBWAA members will vote.
All that said, I distinctly remember that when Dale Murphy and Ryne Sandberg were playing, both were widely regarded as sure-fire Hall of Famers. Neither, of course, wound up that way; Sandberg still has a good shot, but Murphy draws hardly any support at all. And why? Because their careers petered out early, and because their statistics don't look as impressive today as they did then ... and both of these factors might well describe Griffey's career, too.
This is academic, of course. Griffey's not going to retire anytime soon, and it's my guess that he will be elected to the Hall of Fame. If you give him four or five more decent seasons and one more big season -- I think he's going to have one -- then he'll be in the neighborhood of 600 home runs. And when you combine that career accomplishment with what Griffey did before he turned 30, I don't see how you can keep him out of Cooperstown.
Item: Dodgers pitching prospect Greg Miller faces arthroscopic surgery
As Eric Enders notes at Baseball Primer, Baseball America rated Miller as the No. 8 prospect in the game, while Baseball Prospectus rated him No. 33.
Is this merely because Miller is a young (19) man who was drafted out of high school? Not at all. As my friend Rany Jazayerli points out in Prospectus, of the top 11 pitchers on their list, "one was drafted as a college reliever, two were international signings ... and the other eight were all drafted out of high school."
And there's no question that Miller has great stuff and pitched brilliantly last season, first in Class A and then in Double-A. "So why does he rank so low?" Jazayerli asks. "Because he developed shoulder bursitis at the end of the season, and while it's considered minor, there's no such thing as a minor shoulder problem in a teenage pitcher."
Miller's a great talent, but it's crazy to say that a 19-year-old pitcher with a shoulder injury is the eighth-best prospect in the minor leagues.
Item: White Sox shortstop Jose Valentin gives up switch-hitting
Some players shouldn't switch-hit. When I was growing up in Kansas City, the Royals had a switch-hitting shortstop named U L Washington (and, those aren't initials; "U L" is really his name). Washington wasn't much of a hitter; like most Royals of that era, he'd swing at anything he could see, so his on-base percentage was poor. But he had some pop. In 1,044 at-bats against left-handed pitchers, Washington hit 23 home runs, not bad for an early-'80s shortstop. But in 1,753 at-bats against right-handed pitchers, Washington hit four homers.
Here are Valentin's batting and slugging averages over the last eight seasons (1996-2003) against lefties and righties:
vsLH .219 .309
vsRH .258 .496
Could Valentin possibly have done worse against left-handers, batting left-handed all the time? Anything's possible, but it certainly doesn't seem likely. Unfortunately, Valentin is now 34, not the best age at which to learn a new skill ... hitting left-handed pitchers while batting left-handed, for example. I applaud Valentin for trying something different, but this should have happened a long time ago.
Item: Dusty Baker encourages swinging, discourages walking
From ESPN.com's Cubs page: According to the Chicago Sun-Times, manager Dusty Baker has some advice for batters -- swing away. "It's like when I see kids in Little League, the small kid, and they make them go up there and try to get a walk," Baker told the newspaper. "It's not any fun. It's called hitting; it's not called walking. Have you ever seen like a Top 10 walking? The name of the game is to hit." The Cubs accepted the third-fewest walks in the NL last season. "Walks help, but you aren't going to walk across the plate," said Baker. "You've got to hit across the plate."
This seems crazy, of course. But I remember a year ago, Baker was saying all sorts of things that flew in the face of sabermetric wisdom, all the bright young Cubs fans predicted doom ... and the Cubs very nearly reached the World Series. I think Baker says a lot of things without knowing what he's talking about, but I also think his ignorance about most things statistical and biological are more than balanced by what he does know about managing a baseball team. Is Dusty Baker the perfect manager? Of course not. But until he blows out the right arms of Mark Prior and/or Kerry Wood, I'm going to assume he knows what he's doing.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes three columns per week during baseball's offseason. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.