Inside Baseball: Rating Griffey

Saturday’s By the Numbers column looks at where Ken Griffey Jr. ranks in the baseball pantheon.

I have him as the seventh-best center fielder of all-time: Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Tris Speaker, Joe DiMaggio, Duke Snider, then Griffey. That’s the same order in which Bill James ranked them 10 years ago in “The Historical Baseball Abstract.”

After that, James and I have some disagreements. He has Kirby Puckett at No. 8; I have Puckett at No. 18.

For what it’s worth, here’s my top 20: Mays, Cobb, Mantle, Speaker, DiMaggio, Snider, Griffey, Billy Hamilton, Larry Doby, Jimmy Wynn, Edd Roush, Richie Ashburn, Bernie Williams, Wally Berger, Dale Murphy, Earl Averill, Jim Edmonds, Puckett, Fred Lynn, and Hack Wilson.

One thing that makes the center fielders difficult to rate is the fact that Mantle clearly was the best of the bunch at his peak, but he wasn’t as durable as Mays or Cobb. The Runs Created formula tells us Mantle generated 188 runs of offense in 1956, 178 in 1957, and 174 in 1961; those are three highest totals among the top group of center fielders.

Anyway, I think Griffey sometimes is overrated. His on-base percentage of .370 is tied for 270th all-time, and is 9 percent better than the league average during his career. Snider’s OBP of .380 was 11 percent better than the league; Mantle’s OBP of .421 was 28 percent better than average.

But I still have Griffey rated as the best center fielder since Mays, and that’s pretty high praise.

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