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Ken Griffey Sr.: Here's when I realized my son would be a Hall of Famer
2:50 | MLB
Ken Griffey Sr.: Here's when I realized my son would be a Hall of Famer
Tuesday July 19th, 2016

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With the Baseball Hall of Fame inductions set for this coming Sunday, I took a look at the progress that a handful of stars 35 and older—David Ortiz, Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki and others—are making toward joining 2016 honorees Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. in Cooperstown sometime in the next several years. Now it's time to take a closer look at some players who aren't as far along but who are building cases for enshrinement as well.

For this, I'm breaking out my JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) system, just as I do every winter for the annual Hall of Fame voting. You can find a lengthy introduction here, but the short version is that JAWS is a tool for measuring a candidate’s Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him to the players at his position who are already enshrined, using the baseball-reference.com version of Wins Above Replacement to estimate a player's career hitting, pitching and defensive value and his peak value (defined as his best seven seasons at large). A player's JAWS is the average of those career and peak figures; the average of all enshrined players at the position is referred to as the standard.

For this piece, I'm looking only at active players under 35 who have already laid tracks toward a bronze plaque. It's worth a reminder that to qualify for Hall consideration, a player must spend parts of 10 seasons in the majors, and some of those who follow below aren’t even there yet. The players are listed in descending order of career WAR. All statistics are through Sunday unless otherwise indicated.

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (67.0 career WAR/44.6 seven-year peak WAR/55.8 JAWS)
Average HOF 1B: 65.9/42.5/54.2 JAWS

Cabrera just turned 33 in April, and he's already surpassed the career, peak and JAWS standards at first base, ranking 11th in the last of those categories. With 11 All-Star appearances, four batting titles, two MVP awards and a Triple Crown, he's got more than enough hardware to make a strong case for election, and with 2,431 hits and 426 homers to his name, he's got a good shot at joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez on the short list of players to collect both 3,000 hits and 500 homers.

Cabrera is signed through 2023 (his age-40 season) with a pair of vesting options tacked on, so he could go even higher in those categories if he remains healthy and productive. But even if he slogs to the finish line, he'll get his bronze plaque.

JAFFE: Who will make the Hall of Fame in the next five years?

Robinson Cano, Mariners (59.7/47.7/53.7)
Average HOF 2B: 69.3/44.5/56.9

After two up-and-down seasons in Seattle, the 33-year-old Cano has been so strong this season that he has a chance to surpass his career highs in homers (33), OPS+ (148) and WAR (8.4); currently, he's got 21 dingers, a 145 OPS+ and 4.6 WAR. Indeed, that last figure is his seventh-best season, which means that he's still adding to a peak score that already ranks ninth among second basemen; he could surpass Chase Utley (49.1), Rod Carew (49.7) and Charlie Gehringer (50.5) this year, pushing him within a hair of the JAWS standard at the position.

Signed through 2023, Cano has a good chance at both reaching 3,000 hits (he's at 2,131) and surpassing Jeff Kent's record 351 homers as a second baseman (he's at 248, with another 12 home runs at other positions). We'll see if he winds up making a case to wear a Mariners cap instead of a Yankees one come induction time.

Clayton Kershaw. Dodgers (53.5/47.9/50.7)
Average HOF SP: 73.9/50.3/62.1

The number of things that can go wrong for a pitcher who appears to be Cooperstown bound is exponentially higher than those that can befall a position player, but the 28-year-old Kershaw certainly appears to be on track—at least so long as he pitches in 2017, giving him 10 major league seasons. Though he hasn't yet surpassed the peak standard at the position, his current campaign's 4.8 WAR represents his seventh-best season, so he should push himself higher on that front. In terms of JAWS, Kershaw already outranks another legendary Dodgers lefty, Sandy Koufax (49.0/46.1/47.5) because he's pitching during a much higher-scoring era.

That said, from a traditional standpoint, Kershaw doesn't have a postseason resumé that can touch Koufax's, and he has "only" 125 wins, though the 2015 election of Pedro Martinez (215 wins) and John Smoltz (213) suggests that the BBWAA's longstanding "300-or-bust" yardstick—which prevented every sub-300 win starter from gaining entry from 1992 to 2010—has fallen by the wayside. For what it's worth, while there are two-time Cy Young winners who will remain outside the Hall gate (Tim Lincecum, Denny McLain, Bret Saberhagen and Johan Santana), every pitcher with three or more awards is in save for Roger Clemens, whose enshrinement has been denied because of PED allegations.

The 30: Nationals take over top spot in latest Power Rankings

Carlos Osorio/AP

Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks (54.8/43.5/49.1)
Felix Hernandez, Mariners (51.2/38.4/44.8)
Justin Verlander, Tigers (45.9/38.6/42.3)
Average HOF SP: 73.9/50.3/62.1

It's possible that any of these former Cy Young winners will show the exceptional staying power necessary to reach the Hall of Fame, but the odds aren't in their favor given that they've all fallen off from their dominant form. As of today, both Greinke and Hernandez are on the disabled list amid seasons that don't measure up to their recent bodies of work. From a JAWS standpoint, all three are currently significantly below the average enshrined starter's peak score, meaning that they'll either need to return to award-wining form or demonstrate that much more staying power. The 33-year-old Verlander has 166 wins and 2,073 strikeouts, the 32-year-old Greinke has 152 wins and 1,978 strikeouts, and the 30-year-old Hernandez has 147 wins and 2,195 strikeouts; getting to at least 200 wins with close to 3,000 strikeouts will be necessary to put them in the discussion.

Ian Kinsler, Tigers (50.5/38.5/44.5)
Average HOF 2B: 69.3/44.5/56.9

The 34-year-old Kinsler ranks 20th among second basemen in JAWS, well below the standard on all three fronts, but it's worth noting that with 3.7 WAR under his belt this season, he's on pace to surpass 6.0 WAR for the second year in a row and to push his peak score higher (his current seventh-best season is 4.1 WAR from 2007). Like Utley, he's an underrated player who draws considerable value from his glove work (+93 runs) and base running (+40 runs). The four-time All-Star is a long shot to wind up in Cooperstown—particularly as long as fellow second sackers Utley, Bobby Grich (seventh in JAWS) and Lou Whitaker (tied for 11th) remain on the outside—but the door hasn't slammed shut.

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Joe Mauer, Twins (49.5/38.5/44.0)
Average HOF C: 52.7/34.2/43.4

Post-concussion woes and other injuries led the Twins to move Mauer out from behind the plate after the 2013 season, which hasn't worked out so well given the decline of his bat; at this point, he's a 33-year-old first baseman en route to his third straight season with a slugging percentage below .400 (he's hitting .268/.373/.375). Even so, his peak score is fifth among backstops behind only Gary Carter, Johnny Bench, Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez (the first three are Hall of Famers; the fourth should be one day), and he's ninth in JAWS, above the standard there as well. He's hardly the first heavily-used catcher to scuffle after moving off the position in his 30s; Bench, Yogi Berra and non-Hall of Famer Ted Simmons come to mind.

The only three-time batting champion among catchers, Mauer is under contract through 2018, giving him time to reach 2,000 hits (he's at 1,782). That’s very important, because as I noted earlier this week, no player with fewer than 2,000 hits whose career took place in the post-1960 expansion era has been elected to the Hall.

Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (48.1/40.7/44.4)
Average HOF 2B: 69.3/44.5/56.9

Though he's a whisker behind Kinsler in JAWS, Pedroia is 14 months younger, has the higher peak score and has checked off some key boxes on the traditional front, namely an MVP award (2008), two World Series rings ('07, '13) and four Gold Gloves. His current offensive performances (.300/.368/.439 for a 112 OPS+) is a dead ringer for his career marks, and his 3.0 WAR this year is on track to boost his peak (his seventh-best season is 3.9 WAR). He'll need to stay healthy if he's to have a real shot at enshrinement, a significant concern given that he played just 228 games combined in 2014 and '15.

Mike Trout, Angels (43.6/43.6/43.6)
Average HOF CF: 71.1/44.5/57.8

Despite playing just 744 career games over four full seasons plus parts of two others, Trout already ranks 11th among centerfielders in peak score and has nearly equaled the standard; he'll surpass it by the end of this season, and that's counting his 0.7-WAR cup of coffee 2011 season among his seven best. Among centerfielders, he already has more seasons worth at least 9.0 WAR than all but Willie Mays (eight), Ty Cobb (five) and Mickey Mantle (four), and with 5.7 WAR this year, he's on pace to match the last of them. Long story short, by the time Trout reaches 10 years and 2,000 hits (he's at 849), he may have sealed the deal—not that any of that (or the chance to watch his continued dominance) should be taken for granted.

Buster Posey, Giants (31.6/31.7/31.6)
Yadier Molina, Cardinals (30.8/26.0/28.4)
Average HOF C: 52.7/34.2/43.4

The 29-year-old Posey and the 34-year-old Molina both own multiple World Series rings, and they rank 27th and 30th in JAWS, respectively, but the spread between the two of them is only likely to get wider in the coming years. Posey, a four-time All-Star and former NL MVP, is still an exceptionally productive hitter (126 OPS+ this year) to go with his above-average defense and league-leading pitch framing, and he's on pace to play in 147 or more games for the fifth straight season thanks to his ability to moonlight at first base. With his current 2.8 WAR season counting toward his peak score, he’s got a chance to surpass that standard by the end of the season, and with years of 3.9 and 1.4 also among his best seven, has plenty of room to push that score even higher over the next few years. Getting to 2,000 hits would appear to be the key to solidifying a Cooperstown berth, no small matter given that he's less than halfway there (938 hits).

As for Molina, the eight-time Gold Glove winner and four-time Platinum Glove winner has long been regarded as a stellar defender, and his total of +113 fielding runs bears that out, but even so, his WAR numbers don't look very favorable. He's got just two seasons worth more than 3.1 WAR under his belt, and he's been worth a total of 4.0 WAR over the past 2 1/2 seasons. Though he enjoyed a three-year run as a Posey-level contributor on offense (.313/.361/.481 for a 130 OPS+ from 2011 to '13), Molina posted an 80 OPS+ last year before needing a pair of surgeries to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb; this year, he's been roughly the same (79 OPS+). If he's going to be elected to the Hall of Fame, it will be in spite of the advanced metrics, not because of them.

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