Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ken Griffey, Jr.: What Might Have Been?

Ken Griffey, Jr. hit his 600th career home run the other night. As a kid in Seattle, he looked destined to flirt with Hank Aaron's home run record. But as we all know, The Kid* was hit often by the injury bug.

*Joe Posnanski-style tangent: As you may know, if a player signs a bat deal with Louisville Slugger, the company will put the player's signature on their bats. As part of this process, LS gives the player a piece of paper with spaces to try out 10 different variations of their signature, and pick which one they like best. Griffey's signature sheet is one of the "artifacts" on the LS factory tour. In addition to his name, a few of the spaces are just signed "The Kid."

The chase to 600 put Griffey back in the spotlight, and many baseball purists have pined for an alternate reality where a healthy and clean Junior was able to out-slug not only The Hammer, but Barry Bonds as well. But how realistic is this alternate universe?

Bonds has hit 762 home runs in 22 seasons. Griffey, as we established, has hit 600 and is currently in his 20th season. He (Griffey) is currently averaging 125 games per season, and has homered in approximately 1/4 of his career games. (He averages 0.246 home runs per game, to be exact.) How healthy would Griffey had to have been to hit 762 in 22 seasons? That is, at his current pace, how many games would he have had to have played per season to remain on track to top Bonds in 2010?

As I mentioned, Griffey has averaged 0.246 HR/game.

22 seasons * 0.246 HR/game * X games/season = 762 HR

X = 141 (approximately)

So if Griffey had only played (and continued to play) 16 more games per season, he would have been on pace for 762. But as Griffey has quite adequately demonstrated, center field is a demanding position. Here's how that compares to a completely random (aka off the top of my head) list of recent center fielders (plus Bonds):

Barry Bonds: 136 games/season
Johnny Damon: 142
Jim Edmonds: 121
Torii Hunter: 112
Andruw Jones: 147
Kenny Lofton: 124
Grady Sizemore: 131
Vernon Wells: 108
Bernie Williams: 130

Hunter, Sizemore, and Wells' numbers are partially skewed by early-career September callups. But still, I'd give the average starting center fielder a decent chance to average 141 games over the course of his career. All the more reason to think about what might have been.