I just can’t get enough of this Hall of Fame stuff. Last week I was reading old posts at Baseball Think Factory just to pass the time. One of the many interesting threads was about the 2016 Hall of Merit election in which a comment from Kiko Sakata (yeah, great name!) got me thinking. He wondered how close Ken Griffey in his 20’s plus Jim Edmonds in his 30’s would get to Willie Mays. That’s easy enough to figure out by using my equivalent WAR, I thought. So I put together this post so you could enjoy the experiment right along with me.
But first, according to my system Willie Mays is the second greatest center fielder ever. Sorry Mays fans, but he’s a shade behind Ty Cobb. I rank Griffey sixth, just behind Joe DiMaggio. And Edmonds is tenth.
So let’s get started on Mr. Garcia’s answer.
While Willie Mays did win the 1951 NL Rookie of the Year at age 20, he was drafted into the army after just 34 games of the 1952 season and missed the rest of that year and all of 1953. On the other hand, 1954 is one of about six 10-win seasons, so that makes up for a lot. Ken Griffey is at a bit of a disadvantage by our question. His 1989 rookie season was a strong one, but it doesn’t count since he was only 19 at the time. After that point, he began to build consistent excellence with no real injuries and no military commitment.
Mays = 5.3 + 1.5 + 0.0 + 11.4 = 18.2
Griffmonds = 4.8 + 6.8 + 5.8 + 7.8 = 25.2
Our Griffmonds monster has a pretty impressive 7 WAR lead through age 23 when we reach the second year in Mays’ 13-year run of absolute superstardom. Griffey was also in his prime during these years, but he lost about half of the 1995 season to a wrist injury he suffered while making a catch late in May. Things turned around very quickly in Mays’ favor during this period.
Griffmonds = 25.2 (previous total) + 8.3 + 2.6 + 8.2 = 44.3
We have total health from both of our players the next three years. Mays won a pair of stolen base titles, Griffey won all three AL home run crowns, and Mays was clearly the better player. Jim Edmonds is going to have some work to do.
Mays = 46.6 (previous total) + 11.0 + 8.9 + 9.7 = 76.2
Griffmonds = 44.3 (previous total) + 8.9 + 7.2 + 6.4 = 66.8
Let’s just get one thing straight from the start. Jim Edmonds is tremendously underrated. You ask casual fans to compare him to Kirby Puckett, and they’ll all vote for Puckett. I don’t think many fans would list him as one of the ten greatest center fielders ever. But he is. Or damn close. My numbers give him that spot, but he could be anywhere from nine through twelve or thirteen, I suppose. He’s underrated because he wasn’t a great prospect, wasn’t a regular until he was 25, had almost all of his best years in his 30’s, never led the league in a single thing, and was considered a glove first guy who drew his fair share of walks. In terms of perceived greatness, he had everything going against him.
Mays was still a stud during this four-year period, while Edmonds was entering his best run.
Mays = 76.2 (previous total) + 9.2 + 9.4 + 10.6 + 10.8 = 116.2
If we needed another way to explain the greatness of Willie Mays, I think we’re finding it. Is this experiment even worth continuing?
Both of our players began to hit their decline phases during this period. But not surprisingly, one player’s was steeper than the other’s. Mays was so great that when he declined, he still reached All-Star heights. When Edmonds declined, well, he began to look old.
Mays = 116.2 (previous total) + 11.4 + 9.1 + 5.2 = 141.9
Griffmonds = 91.8 (previous total) + 8.9 + 5.4 + 1.8 = 107.9
It’s all academic at this point. Edmonds didn’t play in the majors at age-39, so we’ll cheat and use Griffey’s season.
Mays = 141.9 (previous total) + 6.8 + 3.1 + 5.2 = 157.0
Griffmonds = 107.9 (previous total) + 0.5 + 0.5 + 0.5 = 109.4
So there you have it. If we were to take Ken Griffey in his 20’s and add him to Jim Edmonds in his 30’s, that player would be nearly 50 wins behind Willie Mays. That’s about what Larry Doby or Kirby Puckett contributed for their entire careers.