Thursday, August 09, 2007

Don't count Griffey out yet

Barry Bonds just broke the all-time home run record and he already has someone in his rearview mirror and it’s not A-Rod—at least not yet. A-Rod will likely become the Home Run King in eight or nine years depending on how much longer Bonds plays. However, Ken Griffey Jr. could break the record in six or seven years. In the same way A-Rod is viewed today, Griffey was widely considered a “lock” to break Hank Aaron’s home run record as recently as six years ago. Griffey had hit more home runs through the age of 30 than any other player in MLB history. Then, an almost unbelievable string of injury riddled-seasons took place. All told, Griffey missed the equivalent of three full-seasons over his career due to injury. Just to put that in perspective, Griffey would have been staring at the all-time home run record as early as next season. Instead, he finds himself knocking on 600 home runs at 37 years old. Still, Griffey is only 15 home runs behind Bonds’ total through the age of 37. Keep in mind that Bonds’ total through the age of 37 does include his 73 home run-effort in 2001.

Home Runs through age 37

Bonds 613
Griffey 598

Bonds’ Home Run Totals after 37

2003 (38) 45
2004 (39) 45
2005 (40) 5
2006 (41) 26
2007 (42) 29 *

* projection

By the end of 2007, Bonds will have hit 150 home runs in the five seasons he has played since the age of 37. Despite the two 45-HR efforts in 2003 and 2004, that only comes out to an average of 30 home runs per year.

Griffey made what should be a permanent move to right-field in 2007 and he has responded with his healthiest season in eight years. Without having to face the grueling task of patrolling centerfield, Griffey could very well see an end to his string of partial-seasons. Griffey has stayed in great shape and still looks young for his age. Bonds has managed to play through the age of 43 despite carrying around a bulky frame on a bad knee. Griffey isn’t bulky and doesn’t have permanent debilitating injuries (at least that I am aware of). If Bonds can play through the age of 43 with his frame and health, I don’t see why Griffey couldn’t do the same. Unless Griffey has some Barry Sanders in his makeup, I am guessing that getting close to the record would encourage him to play longer to go for the record ala Barry Bonds.

So, the question becomes, can Ken Griffey Jr. average 30 home runs over the next six seasons? Doing so would put him very close to the record. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that it might happen. He is on pace for around 35 home runs this season. I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that Griffey might play well beyond the age of 42. For all I know, Griffey plans to retire at 40 but he seems to enjoy playing baseball. His skills are still there and I’m guessing as long as he can compete at a high level, he will continue to play. If I was forced to put money on whether Griffey will break the record or not, I would have to put my money against it. However, I think it’s a whole lot more likely than most people realize. In fact, I would give him a one-in-three chance at a minimum. Bonds could make things difficult by playing a few more seasons and playing well in those seasons. But, if Bonds only plays one more season, I see no reason to think that Griffey won’t make a run at becoming the Home Run King. Unfortunately for Griffey, if he does break the record, he will likely lose it after one or two seasons when A-Rod comes calling.

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