On Sunday Ken Griffey Jr. will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. If you're anything like me you probably have mixed emotions when you think about Griffey as a Reds fan. There was the euphoria you felt when his trade to Cincinnati was announced. There was the hope you experienced when he had a successful first season and the team finished above .500. There was the mounting frustration over a never ending list of injuries that left fans wondering "what if." Finally, there was likely some indifference when Griffey stayed "healthier" during his final few seasons in Cincinnati, but it was clear he was a shell of the player he once was.
Griffey Jr.'s induction gives us a good opportunity to reminisce about Junior's time on the Reds. What follows is a list, ranked from worst to best, of Griffey's seasons in Cincinnati.
#9 - 2006 (109 games)
.252/.316/.486, 27 HR, 72 RBI, -0.6 fWAR
Griffey was able to play over 100 games in 2006, but there are a few reasons this checks in as his worst season. It's the worst OBP he had during his time in Cincinnati, and by wRC+ it's the only season he was a below average hitter (99). It was also Griffey's final season in center field (for the Reds). By UZR (players over 800 innings) he was easily the worst center fielder in baseball. He was next to last by DRS, ahead of only Kenny Lofton. His poor defensive ratings fueled the lowest fWAR mark of his time in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati finished the season 80-82, but only 3.5 games back of the first place Cardinals.
#8 - 2008 (102 games for Cincinnati)
.245/.355/.432, 15 HR, 53 RBI
On July 31 the Reds would finally move Griffey Jr. to the White Sox for Nick Masset and Danny Richar. Prior to being traded he was having a decent season at the plate (104 OPS+). Cincinnati moved Griffey to RF a season earlier, and this minimized his defensive inefficiencies (although the White Sox inexplicably moved him back to center upon acquiring him). This season joined a handful during Griffey's time with the Reds in which he was far from the player we saw in Seattle, but he played over 100 games and hovered around replacement level. Some of Griffey's seasons you simply have to say, "It could have been worse." This season did feature Griffey hitting the 600th home run of his career.
While we're at it, the 2008 season also gave us one more classic Griffey walk off.
Cincinnati finished the season 74-88 and 23.5 games out of first.
#7 - 2002 (70 games)
.264/.358/.426, 8 HR, 23 RBI, 0.2 fWAR
The first season on this list in which Griffey suffered a major injury. On April 7, 2002 Griffey "suffered a partial tear of the patella tendon" in a game against the Expos. He would return on May 24 against Atlanta, but he missed another month of the season from June 23 to July 22 (strained hamstring). When he was playing he was around average offensively again, but his value on defense as an average(ish) centerfielder puts this season above '06 and '08.
The Reds finished the season 78-84 and 19 games out of first.
#6 - 2007 (144 games)
.277/.372/.496, 30 HR, 93 RBI, -0.6 fWAR
Among other things, 2007 featured Griffey's final trip to the All-Star Game. It was a nice bounce back for Griffey following the worst offensive season of his career. Junior only missed 18 games, provided valuable contributions at the plate (116 wRC+), and hit 30 homers for the final time. Part of the reason that Griffey's fWAR takes such a hit is that this amounts to the worst defensive season of his career.
#5 - 2004 (83 games)
.253/.351/.513, 20 HR, 60 RBI, -0.2 fWAR
This is one of the biggest "what if" seasons for Griffey. He was shutdown for good on August 16 due to surgery to repair a torn hamstring. This season featured the second of three All-Star Game appearances for Junior as a member of the Reds. His power numbers project out nicely had he been able to finish the season. In 2004 Reds fans saw flashes of the player they thought they were getting from the Mariners, but it was also the third straight season in which he played fewer than 90 games. By the defensive metrics this was the first season that would have caused analysts to go "uh oh" about his defense in center field. Griffey did reach the 500 home run milestone in 2004.
On a personal note I drove from Lexington to Cincinnati for every game of the Reds/Rangers series when Griffey was sitting on 499. As you're well aware, and if you're not you didn't pay close attention to the video, he did not hit that home run against the Rangers. This string of events did lead to Griffey's walk up music becoming my ring tone for a while.
Cincinnati finished the season 76-86 and 29 games out of first.
#4 - 2003 (53 games)
.247/.370/.566, 13 HR, 26 RBI, 1.5 fWAR
How could a season in which Griffey only played in 53 games be his fourth best in Cincinnati? The easy answer is that this was the fourth highest fWAR total of his time with the Reds. A lot of this is based on projection. At the time his season he ended he was running the highest OPS+ of his time in Cincinnati (145). Junior's first injury of the season was a dislocated shoulder in April. His second, and season ending, injury came during the first game after the All-Star break. He ruptured a tendon while running the bases, and Reds fans were left wondering what might have been with Junior's 2003 season.
Cincinnati finished the season 69-93 and 19 games out of first.
#3 - 2001 (111 games)
.286/.365/.533, 22 HR, 65 RBI, 1.8fWAR
Griffey's sophomore season was a productive one, but he also missed a month and a half from April 29 to June 15. There was some question as to whether Griffey would play at all in 2001. He injured his hamstring in a spring training game, but he attempted to...pinch hit his way through it? He eventually did return from the injury (a partial tear of his hamstring), and performed well when he was on the field. At the time Reds fans had to be thinking, "Maybe this is Griffey's one big injury that's out of the way now?" That ended up not being true...at all. 2001 marked the beginning of me thinking about another man's hamstrings way more than is healthy.
The Reds finished the year 66-96 and 27 games out of first.
#2 - 2005 (128 games)
.301/.369/.576, 35 HR, 92 RBI, 2.9 fWAR
This was the only season in which Ken Griffey Jr. would receive an MVP vote as a member of the Reds. It was also the season in which he won NL Comeback Player of the Year. This was his best offensive season in Cincinnati by wRC+ (142), his highest wOBA (.399), and maybe the final time that Ken Griffey Jr. felt like Ken Griffey Jr. to Reds fans. Some of these numbers could have been even higher, but he sprained his ankle on September 4 and was shutdown for the rest of the year. Why was he shut down due to a sprained ankle? In part because...
The Reds finished the season 73-89 and 27 games out of first.
#1 - 2000 (145 games)
.271/.387/.556, 40 HR, 118 RBI, 5.4 fWAR
Griffey's first season in Cincinnati. The final time he'd hit 40 home runs. The last season in which he'd drive in over 100 runs. His final 5+ fWAR season following 8 such seasons in Seattle (out of 11). It was hard to imagine Griffey's age 30 season would include so many "final" and "lasts" in his career. It was also the only time that the Reds finished above .500 during Junior's time on the Reds. Wow...it really was all down hill from here.
The Reds finished 85-77 and 10 games out of first.
Sure, you could look back on Griffey's time in Cincinnati as a failure. You could look at Mike Carmon's three 5+ fWAR seasons during this same stretch and wish the trade never happened (FanGraphs has actually dubbed the trade a "heist"). However, I still don't think I would undo it if I could. On February 11, 2000 I remember hopping out of bed and running to our curb to grab the newspaper. KEN GRIFFEY JR. WAS COMING TO THE REDS, and I wanted to consume everything that I could about it. Of course we all wish things had turned out differently, but for a few seasons the coolest players in baseball history called Cincinnati home.
Thanks for the memories "Kid."
I mean...anyone who beats the Cardinals on an inside the park home run is a friend of mine.