Can Jr. handle center?
Chicago thinks he'll be upgrade over Swisher

Analysis by John Erardi August 1, 2008

Ken Griffey Jr. will bat fifth and play mostly center field for the Chicago White Sox.

Based upon what he has shown as a Red this season, his shortcomings offensively can be hidden better batting fifth than they were batting third here.

But because every statistical fielding service says Griffey no longer has any range in the outfield, all indications are that he will be exposed even more playing center than he was playing right for the Reds. He presently ranks among the bottom third defensively among all National League right fielders.

One well-known and much-used statistical service goes so far as to rank Griffey 30th defensively among major-league right fielders this year. He ranked 25th in 2007 and didn't even finish in the top 30 in 2006.

Griffey himself was concerned that White Sox general manager Ken Williams wants him to play mostly center and fill in some in right and occasionally spell Jim Thome as the designated hitter.

"When I talked to Junior, he was very honest," the Sox general manager told the Chicago Sun-Times. "He said, 'Well, I've got to tell you, I don't know if you're going to see the guy from Seattle.' I said, 'We're not looking for that guy from Seattle.'"

Griffey hasn't played center field since 2006, when he was deemed no longer fast enough to cover the necessary ground.

There were some comments in the media Thursday stating that Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field is more spacious than Great American Ball Park, but that isn't true. The fielding services rate them about equal.

The White Sox left fielder, Carlos Quentin, is rated a below-average fielder, and right fielder Jermaine Dye is rated slightly above average. So Griffey won't be getting help from the corners.

The only advantage he brings the ChiSox is a modest boost offensively. Griffey isn't having a good year (.245 batting average, .355 on-base percentage, 15 home runs and 53 RBI), but it's better than the hitters he is replacing.

The White Sox GM considers Griffey a defensive upgrade over Chicago center fielder Nick Swisher, but the statistical services don't agree with that assessment. They rate Swisher as league average.

Swisher apparently will be moved to first base to replace the slumping Paul Konerko. Swisher isn't hitting well, either, but he's hitting better of late.

One respected sabermetric service ranks the Reds' No. 3 hole hitters and right fielders (in both cases, almost exclusively Griffey) 23rd out of the major leagues' 30 teams this season.

That doesn't say much for Griffey. And yet, despite how much his power has eroded, he's still a decent upgrade over Konerko. If there's a net-plus in this for Chicago, that's where it lies.

Chicago entered Thursday 60-46 and leading the American League Central Division by 11/2 games over Minnesota. The White Sox are viewed as inferior to the AL West-leading Angels and whoever wins the AL East. But anything can happen if a team can make it to the postseason.

The White Sox are also fighting an intra-city war with the crosstown Cubs for fans and media attention. Some of that media already are proclaiming that while Griffey isn't the Cubs' Jim Edmonds in center field, he gives the franchise some buzz.

Overall, the Reds got good marks Thursday from sabermetricians who write blogs. These fellows pay close attention to all the numbers, including financial ones. Justin Inaz, who makes regular contributions to a sabermetric column that runs on Sundays in The Enquirer, said that "strictly from the vantage point of removing his salary and lack of performance from the roster, it looks like the Reds did well by this deal."

More Inaz: "I don't expect that the players they're receiving in return for Griffey (relief pitcher Nick Masset and Triple-A second baseman Danny Richar) will amount to much of anything, but given that they are making the league minimum, it doesn't matter all that much."