What Ken Griffey Means for Mike Trout’s Hall of Fame Timeline

Yesterday, Ken Griffey Jr. was elected to the Hall of Fame, receiving the largest proportion of votes of any player in baseball history; 437 of the 440 voters to cast ballots checked the box for Junior’s inclusion. And as I noted yesterday, the overwhelming support for Griffey’s candidacy highlights the fact that we generally value peak performance over longevity; Griffey played for 20 years, but was mostly a shell of himself for the second half of his career, creating the entirety of his Hall of Fame resume during the first dozen years he played. The consensus that Griffey is one of the greatest players of all time is driven by what he did in his 20s, not what he did in his 30s.

So this brings up an interesting question; given that almost everyone agrees that Griffey’s peak was so good that the second half of his career essentially was irrelevant, how much more does Mike Trout need to do before he reaches a similar point in his career? Does Griffey’s overwhelming induction based on a 12 year run of greatness suggest that there’s a 24 year old walking around who may have already done the bulk of the work necessary to ensure enshrinement in Cooperstown?

Let’s start with the same kind of graph I used yesterday to show how Griffey’s career timeline stacked up against Bonds, Mays, and Aaron. This time, we’ll just do Trout and Junior.


Source: FanGraphsKen Griffey Jr., Mike Trout

Even though Griffey played a full season at age-19, while Trout only got a cup of coffee that year, Trout has already created some serious separation between the two; his 10 WAR lead through age-23 means that he’s already at where Griffey was through age-25. Of course, Griffey had his two best seasons at ages 25 and 26, so Trout won’t keep growing the gap that already exists, and it may very well shrink a bit over the next couple of years. But besides looking at cumulative WAR by age, we can actually look at their careers a different way, which is perhaps a more telling story when it comes to looking at what Trout needs to do to at least match Griffey’s path going forward.


Source: FanGraphsKen Griffey Jr., Mike Trout

This graph plots each player’s best season in descending order, and you’ll note that Trout’s four seasons are already better than the four best seasons of Griffey’s career. While Griffey topped out at +9.7 WAR in a single season, Trout has already broken +10 WAR twice. And then he put up a +9 and an +8, so he’s already had more seasons of +8 WAR than Griffey did in his career. So, if we follow the path along Griffey’s nth best seasons, we can see that Trout’s next targets along the path are a couple of +6 to +7 WAR seasons, then four +5 WAR seasons. Griffey’s 5th-10th best seasons totaled +36 WAR, so to keep up the pace through his first decade, Trout needs a half dozen seasons where he averages +6 WAR per year.

If he does that, he’ll finish the 2021 season — his age-29 season, for the record — with roughly +75 WAR; Griffey just got the highest vote total in BBWAA history with +78 WAR. So we can say with a decent amount of confidence that with six more seasons like Griffey’s 5th-10th best years, Trout’s an easy Hall of Famer, as his peak would compare favorably to the guy who got closer than anyone ever has to going in unanimously. Realistically, he’s got enough of a lead where he could probably make a good case for enshrinement near Griffey’s level even if he only put up +30 WAR over his next six season, as he’d have the exact same +68.5 WAR that Junior finished his age-29 season with.

Now, we shouldn’t just assume that +30 WAR over a five year stretch is a slam dunk. Besides Trout himself, the only other two position players to reach that mark in the last five years are Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Cabrera. Trout’s established such a ridiculous level of dominance that it might be hard to imagine him not being able to clear +5 WAR per season during his prime, but all it takes is one injury to really do a number on his playing time for him to fall short of that. This is why Griffey was such an easy slam dunk Hall of Famer; following his peak isn’t so easy, even with the advantage Trout has already built.

But let’s get back to the original question; how far away is Trout from crossing the threshold to where 75% of the BBWAA would vote for him? Following Griffey’s path gets him to sure-fire first ballot election, but clearly Junior could have done less and still gotten in. So what’s the minimum Trout could do over the next six years — keep in mind that the rules do state that you have to play for 10 years to make it on the ballot — to garner enough support to get elected, regardless of what he does after that?

Well, for that comparison, we need to turn away from Griffey and turn towards another center fielder who got elected to the Hall of Fame based on a short-peak with an early decline: Kirby Puckett. Due to debuting late and being forcibly retired by glaucoma at age-35, Puckett only played in 12 Major League seasons, but he still managed to collect 82% of the votes on his first time on the ballot in 2001. For reference, here’s Trout’s career to this point graphed next to Puckett’s.


Source: FanGraphsMike Trout, Kirby Puckett

Yes, you’re looking at that chart correctly; Trout is +6 WAR away from tying Puckett’s career mark, even though the entirety of his career consists of the window of time in which Puckett was still in the minor leagues. Trout has almost already matched Puckett’s entire career value, and he hasn’t yet played a game during the period of time in which Puckett actually was in the big leagues.

Or, you can look at it this way. Here are Trout’s numbers, Puckett’s numbers, and what Trout would have to do over the rest of his career to ensure that his final career line looked exactly like Puckett’s.

Trout and Puckett
Name PA BA OBP SLG wRC+ WAR WAR/600
Puckett 7831 0.318 0.360 0.477 122 44.9 3.4
Trout 2877 0.304 0.397 0.559 167 38.5 8.0
Difference 4954 0.325 0.337 0.435 96 6.4 0.8

5,000 PA is more like eight more seasons, not six, since Puckett stayed remarkably healthy during his career, but in terms of performance, Trout doesn’t have to do much of anything to end up with Puckett’s final numbers. He basically just has to hit somewhere around the league average while playing lousy defense and adding no baserunning value. In fact, if I had included the SB and CS totals, Trout would need to only steal 21 more bases, but get thrown out stealing 55 more times, in order to end up with Puckett’s baserunning totals. If you’re looking for a recent comparison, Trout is eight more years just like Cameron Maybin’s 2015 season away from having had Puckett’s career.

Of course, voters might not actually reward that kind of remarkable peak with a very sharp decline. Dale Murphy, who put up the same career WAR as Puckett but did so with a higher peak and a quicker decline, never managed to crack the threshold needed to get inducted. And the current BBWAA electorate is probably more aware of how poor a choice Puckett was than the one that elected him 15 years ago, so Trout probably can’t count on voters making that mistake again. With guys like Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds failing to get enough support to even stay on the ballot after their first go-around, there are already examples of center fielders with much stronger careers than Pucketts who received basically no consideration, so perhaps Puckett is setting the bar too low.

But as Griffey’s overwhelming election shows, Trout’s not that far away from crossing any reasonable bar that one might want to construct. With five or six more seasons that would be a huge drop-off from what he’s done to this point — but still quite good by anyone else’s standards — Trout will have essentially recreated the first decade peak that got Griffey inducted. If we can say that he’s already something like halfway to Griffey’s level, then he’s probably something closer to 75% of the way to crossing the barrier to Hall of Fame worthiness.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Peter
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Peter

Could Mike Trout be the first unanimous choice for the Hall of Fame? By the time he’s due for election (2035? 2040?) a lot of the curmudgeonly voters will have either died or lost voting privileges due to being 10 years removed from covering the sport.

troybruno
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Member
troybruno

Chipper, Mo or Jeter will be.

The 3 remaining are probably just waiting for the “right” person to vote for — if that’s the case you skip 2017 (Pudge, Manny) and have 3 good candidates in Chipper, Mo and Jetes in 2018-2020. I’d bet the farm that one of these three gets it and would guess Mo if I had to choose…

(sorry for re-posting)

Peter
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Peter

I don’t see it. Why would you vote for Jeter but not vote for Griffey?

Peter
Member
Peter

And I definitely don’t think it will be Mo. There are voters who won’t vote for a relief pitcher out there.

merlin401
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merlin401

I think it will be Jeter. He has the likeability, he has the raw numbers, he has the accumulation of stats, he has the rings, he has everything.

I really hope it isn’t Mo. Its cool and all that he was the best RP ever, but seriously, he should NOT be the first unanimous choice of ALL players.

Peter
Member
Peter

merlin401 you bring up a good point. I could see some idiot not voting for Griffey because he didn’t win championships but that doesn’t apply to Jeter.

okteds
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okteds

I always thought it was ridiculous that some writers would leave guys like Nolan Ryan off their first ballot, but now I’ve come to appreciate the high standard that’s been set. And it wasn’t until this whole Griffey vote happened that I came to appreciate it.

Griffey is a no-brainer HOFer to be sure, but are his career totals so good that he deserves to be the first and only player voted in with 100% of the vote? 1,662/630/1,836 counting stats and .284/.370/.538 slash line, 57th in career WAR…not from where I’m standing. If he’d had better luck and better health in his 30’s, he was definitely on track to be that guy. Pujols might’ve been too, and still just might depending on how the next 5 years go. and if not him, then we can dream on Trout…or whoever is next…

But when that first guy finally does get 100%, I hope it’s someone who was so good for so long, that there can be no doubt. And I hope there will always be writers out there who will protect that legacy and boldly vote down guys like Griffey.

stuck in a slump
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stuck in a slump

This whole thread seems to have forgotten the strategic nature of the BBWAA’s HoF voting. No one is going to get 100% because as the system currently stands, some writers will know that certain players will get in, they just do because they’re such no brainers like Griffey. So it’s safe for them to leave those players off of their ballots and vote for guys that they worry will drop off or might be on the cusp of getting in.

Until the voting changes, there’s no reason to expect a player to get unanimously voted in.

Jason B
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Member
Jason B

^^This. I would not be averse to shifting a vote from a shoo-in candidate like Griffey to throw a little more support to an Edgar Martinez or a Larry Walker.

TKDC
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TKDC

I say all three are very unlikely. You only need one curmudgeon to ruin it. I’d guess some holy roller would have issues with Chipper and Jeter’s “lifestyle” and Rivera is a relief pitcher. Also, none were as good as Willie Mays or whoever you want to say.

The only one I’d put at even 5% is Jeter.

Luy
Member
Luy

A unanimous vote for Jeter would be the perfect way to end his all-time-great, amazing, fantastic, yet still over-rated career.

All the fanboys would feel (wrongly) justified in calling Jeets the greatest baseball player of all time.

domxbomb
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domxbomb

nobody calls Jeter the greatest baseball player of all time

Luy
Member
Luy

I know 4 people who will (and have) argued that case, because they believe it. I live in Colorado. I imagine there are probably some folks closer to the Bronx who might feel the same way.

wildcard09
Member

I’d pretty much guarantee that those 3 writers didn’t keep Griffey off the ballot because he wasn’t deserving, but because the dumb limit of 10 votes. I know if I had a ballot, I would have used my Griffey vote for somebody who actually needed it.

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer

I’d say Jeter.

My theory is that there are 2 people who didn’t vote for Griffey so that Jeter would be the first, and that those 2 are going to “have a little talk” with the third guy.

It’s a little strange that the first guy to get a unanimous selection was never once voted MVP.

Jason B
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Member
Jason B

I like that you say “It’s a little strange that the first guy to get a unanimous selection was never once voted MVP” as though it’s a foregone conclusion.

(It’s not. It’s waaaaaaay not.)