When the Seattle Mariners signed Ken Griffey Jr., I was hoping for at least a 20 HR, 85 RBI season. I felt if the Mariners used him as their everyday DH, he could produce moderate power, something the Mariners have not had since Edgar Martinez left.
However, about one-third into the season, it doesn't look like Griffey will reach my moderate expectations. It seems like he has declined a lot from his 2007 campaign with the Reds, hen he hit 30 home runs and drove in 78 runs. According to updated ZIPS projections, he is only projected to hit 17 home runs and drive in 55 runs this season.
For being an injury-free season, this would be an all-time low for Griffey. Whether it be because of switching from the NL to the AL, or playing at a pitcher-friendly ballpark, or probably and most likely aging, Griffey's decline has been made apparent. Statistically, his On-Base percentage, slugging percentage, and wOBA have all declined.
The only significant statistic that he has gained improvement in, is his walk rate which is at a high 14.7 percent. Although he can still hit for power, he is not a threat to opposing teams and no longer strikes fear into opposing pitchers. Pitchers have not been afraid to challenge the aging veteran. Seventy percent of the pitches Griffey has been seeing have been fastballs. This is a significant jump from 2005-08, where he was only seeing fast balls 60 percent of the time.
This walk rate is also high because of a career low swing rate. Griffey simply cannot hit certain pitches anymore. Pitchers are throwing less junk at Griffey, yet he cannot convert on fast balls as he once did back when he was in his prime.
There is no reason to be angry over Griffey's current struggles though. Zduriencik and Wakamatsu have used him well. Griffey has not played in the outfield frequently (thank goodness).
Noting his lack of defensive ability, Wakamatsu has used him as the Mariner's DH. It's not to say he can't play the field when needed, but the Mariners outfield is one of the best in the major leagues defensively when Ichiro, F-Gut, and Chavez/Balantein are out there. It would also be a crime not to mention his off the field effect on this team.
As a veteran member of the clubhouse, he has led by example and has never complained about his role on the team. He hasn't complained about his current performance and continually shows up to play every day. It seems every time that people want to harshly criticize Griffey, the man ends up hitting a home run or being crucial to starting a rally.
It's happened on numerous occasions this season and it's starting to become a pattern. Overall, Griffey has not been what we wanted, but there is no reason to fuss over his performance. Wakamatsu has done a great job in using Griffey at times that he can only help the team and not hurt it. Imagine if Griffey was the Mariners starting left fielder and he played every day?
I do not think that would help the team out that way. We can complain and be sad over the fact that Griffey is not what he once was, but it is better to look at the situation as a whole and realize the reality of it all. Did people really expect the man to hit 30 home runs and lead us to the playoffs? I didn't. And I'm glad I didn't hold such high expectations for the aging legend.