We all have questions about the 2010 season and Alex Remington luckily has some answers. The Stew's resident stats guru will address a few per week as Opening Day approaches.
The Situation: Ken Griffey Jr.(notes) may be a living legend, but he's certainly past his prime. Last year, he was one of the worst designated hitters in baseball — hitting .214 with a .735 OPS, the worst numbers of his career — while playing an injury-shortened 114 games. He wasn't quite the worst DH in baseball, thanks to the efforts of Pat Burrell(notes) and Mike Jacobs(notes) — who can't use being 40 years old as an excuse like Griffey can.
But if Griffey gets enough playing time to qualify, he seems an early candidate for worst DH of 2010. Father Time has come for The Kid. Since 2005, a comeback year in which he hit 35 homers and played his most games since 2000, he has a pedestrian .801 OPS and 105 OPS+ in 513 games — and he's been due $43.5 million dollars for his services.
He's not getting paid as much as he used to, but he just signed a for slight raise with the Mariners and will make $2.35 million plus incentives. Considering Griffey's stature in the city of Seattle, he's getting paid less for what he'll do on the field and more for his name recognition and clubhouse presence. Still, the M's should expect something from him.
The Question: Does Ken Griffey have anything left in his bat?
The Analysis: Bad as Griffey was in 2009, there were a few positive notes. He hit 19 homers despite playing in Safeco Field, one of the worst hitters' parks in baseball. Also, while his batting average was low, his power and walk numbers were reasonable. If he had hit a few more singles and gotten his batting average up, he would have had a perfectly respectable OPS — and he had a .220 Batting Average on Balls in Play, which means that he might have gotten somewhat unlucky.
On the other hand, that low BABIP might just be a symptom of his slowing bat speed. His strikeouts were up from his past few years, but that wasn't all. He saw more pitches, swung at fewer first pitches, made less contact, watched more strikes go by, and put fewer strikes in play. When he swung, he still had the ability to drive the ball — but not quite as often, as his 17 percent line drive rate was the lowest of his career, and he wasn't often able to pull the trigger in the first place. These are bad trends, and they won't reverse themselves.
Like most left-handed power hitters, Griffey enjoys a natural platoon split favoring right-handed pitchers. But he had a strange platoon split last season with an OPS that was 86 points better against lefties. However, he did so in just 75 at-bats, a sample size so small that it can be safely disregarded.
Still, that means that his .718 OPS against righties is likely close to the performance they'll get from him next year, even if they do attempt to hide his bat in a platoon. The major projection systems tend to disagree about how much he'll play, but most of them tend to agree about how well he'll play: Bill James predicts a .741 OPS in 286 PA, while CHONE projects a .676 OPS in 410 AB. Generally speaking, the more they think he'll play, the worse they think he'll do. As Dave Cameron writes: "It won't destroy the franchise, but it's an inefficient use of resources. The M's just became a little less likely to win in 2010."
The Forecast for 2010: After a number of good trades and signings, the Seattle Mariners were universally recognized as one of the big winners of the offseason. The Griffey signing is a small drop in the other direction but it really only hurts them if they actually try to play him regularly in the lineup. As a pinch hitter, rah-rah guy and 25th man, he's a decent bet for a few more fond memories and a heartfelt farewell at the end of the season.
But if they give him a few hundred at-bats (or are forced to do so through injury), he'll hurt their lineup even if they bat him ninth. Not as badly as Yuniesky Betancourt(notes) used to do ... but badly enough. In this case, it all depends on what manager Don Wakamatsu decides to do with him. M's fans have to hope that he'll write the lineup with his head, not his heart.
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Other 2010 questions answered by Alex Remington