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With an exciting comeback in the bottom of the ninth the Blue Jays came back to beat the Minnesota Twins yesterday 6-5. Tied at four after four the Jays scored in the bottom of the seventh to take a 5-4 lead. The game looked lost when Jesse Carlson surrendered two in the top of the ninth.

However, the Jays strung together a rally in the bottom of the ninth and pushed two runs across the plate for an exciting, although relatively meaningless, victory. The winning hit was provided by pinch-hitter John-Ford Griffin, which brings forth the question, what does the future hold for Griffin? And what have we said about Griffin in the past?

The Jays received Jason Arnold and Griffin in a four-way deal that saw Felipe Lopez end up in Cincinnati, Elmer Dessens in Arizona in a Billy Beane engineered trade where he received Erubiel Durazo. This deal, consummated at the 2002 Winter Meetings, was well-received in these parts. Fans had grown somewhat tired of waiting for Lopez to develop and with rumours circulating that his work ethic was lacking, it seemed reasonable to think that he may never develop into the player he was supposed to. I supported the trade at the time, and many who populated this relatively new website did, too.

Expectations for Griffin were high. In January 2003 Coach wrote, “I’m sure he’ll get a chance in Syracuse before the end of the year, and maybe a September callup to Toronto, just to get acquainted with big-league life….Griffin gets the Paul O'Neill comparison a lot, but I prefer to think of him as a fast John Olerud.” Jonny German warned in February, “I'm suspicious that we're being over-optimistic about one or both of them.”

However, Griffin was not just receiving praise from the founder of Batter’s Box. John Sickels had him ranked as his 40th best prospect in baseball, the second-highest Jay behind Jason Arnold at 23, in his pre-2003 season ratings. Griffin received a B+ grade, which is a very good rating from Sickels.

By mid-2003 Griffin’s rankings in the Jays system had changed. This wasn’t because of any disappointing performance on his behalf, but rather it was because of impressive seasons by Alex Rios and Guillermo Quiroz, both prospects with larger upside than Griffin possessed. Jordan ranked him as the 8th best prospect in the system, but did include him as the DH and number 7 hitter in his possible low-budget 2005 lineup. Gerry was more cautious towards the Jays pitching prospects and ranked Griffin 5th in his July rankings.

However, by the end of the 2003 season people were less optimistic of Griffin then they had been previously. Sickels dropped his grade from a B+ to a B- going into the 2004 season. Baseball Prospectus was more forgiving, attributing his disappointing season to a broken foot and writing, “He hits for more power than Gross and doesn’t have Gross’ platoon issues, but he can really only play left. A healthy season in Syracuse will sort out if he’s the left fielder of the future or a chit to bargain with, but I like his chances of having a monster year at the plate.”

Jordan, clamouring for Griffin to learn first base given his poor throwing arm, joined Prospectus in predicting a big year. “I'm actually expecting Griffin to have a breakout year offensively; but even if he does, will his total package be superior to Gross in the outfield?” Coach wrote, “It's true that Griffin the prospect hasn't done anything to boost his stock, and his window of opportunity in Toronto could be closing. I've never really thought of him as anything but a 1B/DH, hoping that some day he'd be Olerud without the glove. Now he's hurt again. He should go back to AA for a while and get in a good groove before moving up to Syracuse.”

Griffin started out 2004 dismally, but began to turn things around in June with a hot streak. Jordan’s July Farm Report including the following comment, “Griffin couldn’t get anything going up until the last month or so. In July alone, his SLG jumped more than 50 points, he cranked 7 home runs, and he posted a much more respectable 12/21 BB/K rate in 105 AB….If he can keep pushing the batting average up, then Griffin will open 2005 as the starting first baseman in Syracuse and will have a legitimate shot at eventually working his way to what will probably be a wide-open first base in Toronto.”

By the time 2004 was over Griffin had actually finished with worse statistics then he had in his disappointing 2003 campaign. In the outstanding Batter’s Box 2004 Farm Report: Top 30 Prospects Griffin was rated 24th in the Jays system and Jordan’s comment sums up his career and struggles well.

“John-Ford Griffin hit .403 as a junior at Florida State University, in a tough, competitive college conference. Then he went out the next year and left that mark in the dust, batting an amazing .450 for the Seminoles; his 50/23 BB/K rate gave him a tidy little .542 on-base percentage, to go with his .797 slugging percentage. Today, however, that remarkable college career seems like a distant memory.

On the positive side, Griffin continued to add power in his second stint in Double-A, and he’s walking more than every ten at-bats; his OPS by month (603, 737, 791, 903, 791) showed improvement. After spending most of the year striking out in a third of his at-bats, he managed to get that percentage down to a slightly less appalling 27%. But his .248 average is not just low, it’s actually close to his season high: he spent much of the year mired within shouting distance of the Mendoza Line. Griffin has now spent parts of three seasons in Double-A: his batting average in those three years has gone .328-.279-.248 (in an increasing number of at-bats each year). Griffin appears to be running out of prospect power.

I’ve been a booster of his through his struggles, and the possibility still exists that Griffin could launch himself back to glory next season and make a legitimate run at the first-base job in Toronto. This ranking does not properly reflect his chances of making an impact at Syracuse or even Toronto; it does reflect the fact that his star has dimmed. At 25 this November, it seems increasingly likely that he’s not going to figure largely in the team’s future plans.”

There you can see how the opinions of Griffin have progressed over the last two years. Some of these authors weren’t the only ones with high hopes for Griffin. I thought very highly of him too, as far back as when Oakland acquired him in the Jeff Weaver deal. I wouldn’t take back what I said on Griffin either, because based on what I knew of him at the time I had every right to expect him to turn into a reasonably good player, and I suspect others would say the same thing. We weren’t overly optimistic in our outlooks, but rather Griffin has failed to meet our lofty expectations. I would argue this was not a case of Blue Jays fans wearing rose-coloured glasses and deceiving themselves as to the ability of a prospect.

Here is a look at Griffin’s 2004 stats at New Hampshire, compared to his positional average in the Eastern League, as well as the position average for first base, where he may likely end up if he reaches the majors.

Griffin				.248	.330	.454	.268	
EL Outfield Average		.267	.339	.420	.264
EL 1B Average			.270	.347	.465	.276

When all was said and done last year, Griffin had slightly outperformed the average outfielder in the league given his slugging ability, but he was behind the average first baseman. He’s going to get an opportunity in 2005 to play for Syracuse, but if his average keeps falling his power alone won’t be able to turn him into a serviceable major league hitter.

Another thing to examine is how Griffin’s eye and ability to make contact have progressed over the last three years. Here’s a look at the percentage of plate appearances, minus hit-by-pitches, in which Griffin has walked or struck out.

		Walks	Strikeouts	
2002		.111	.183	
2003		.115	.200
2004		.106	.242

While Griffin’s walk rate has remained relatively consistent, the rise in his strikeout rate is worrisome, especially given that he was spending his third year in Double-A. An inability to make contact in almost one-quarter of his plate appearances, and 27% of his actual at-bats, does not bode well for jumps to Triple-A or the major leagues. I don’t have handy stats here about how much a player tends to strike out in the majors if he struck out a certain percentage of the time in the minors, but even if Griffin’s rate stays the same it is still not a good sign. For example, Hinske last year, with all of his struggles, only struck out in 17.3% of his plate appearances. I’m not entirely sure why Griffin’s rate would consistently be getting worse, but his chances of success greatly diminish unless he can cut down the rate to his 2003 levels, at least.

The Blue Jays 1B/DH situation seems open, as Hillenbrand isn’t a permanent solution and Eric Crozier doesn’t figure to be an everyday player. Griffin needs to demonstrate this year that he’s going to turn into a major league player, because another poor season would basically kill his prospect status.

I’m not sure I see John Olerud in his future, but Sid Bream might be a better comparison if Griffin has a solid season this year. Bream didn’t strike out as much as Griffin will and Griffin may have a bit more power. However, Bream was a slightly above-average hitter in his late twenties and was out of baseball by the time he was 35 and that seems like a reasonable career path for Griffin if he rights himself at Triple-A this year.

As Jordan said in the Farm Report, he’s more likely than Raul Tablado or Carlo Cota to play in the big leagues one day, but this year is basically his last year to prove that he could become a regular. Barring an injury, trade or complete collapse I think we’ll see Griffin in Toronto in September, regardless of how he performances in Syracuse this year. However, it’s up to him to determine this year whether it will be for a cup of coffee or for a prolonged career.

Spring Training Game Report 3 – Blue Jays 6, Twins 5 | 15 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Kieran - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 08:18 AM EST (#104864) #
Timely article, Thomas. I was actually thinking this weekend that we had not heard much about JFG or Arnold this spring. It sounds like JFG is almost completely out of the picture, but does anybody have an update on Arnold? I presume he will start the year at AAA, right?

I suppose Felipe Lopez's lack of success at the major league level makes this trade easier to swallow.
kpataky - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 09:11 AM EST (#104868) #
Is David Bush pitching in the next game? I haven't seen him appear in a box score yet this year.
Gerry - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 09:21 AM EST (#104870) #
I assume Bush will start tomorrow. Batista is starting today as the Jays set their pitching order for the season.

As for Griffin Jim Callis mentioned last week that Griffin was loved by the stats gurus but not as loved by the scouts. He added that it looks like the scouts won this one.

I have seen JFG bat in three games and I believe I have only seen him hit the ball fair once or twice. I have seen him take a lot of pitches and walk, or strikeout. It does look like his upside is limited now and 2005 will be make or break for him. As Thomas noted JFG got off to a very slow start in 2004 and his stats for the last three months were better. His OPS for June, July and August were .791, .903, and .791. Those numbers are better than his season numbers but still not fantastic for a 1B type.
kpataky - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 09:37 AM EST (#104872) #
While repeating Double-A last year, Griffin struck out 128 times in 129 games (467 ABs). He spent most of the early part of last year's Eastern League's season at or below .200 before turning it up some to get his avg. slightly over .250 before settling at .248.
Mike Green - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 09:46 AM EST (#104873) #
For me, the moment of yesterday's game was Gross' homer off Crain to break a 3-3 tie late. I took that as a very good sign. Tomorrow's game can be heard gratis on, according to the radio guys yesterday.

I was a JFG skeptic from the get-go, for simple "stathead" reasons. His performance relative to age and league did not merit his notices. I can see him developing into a useful major leaguer, in a platoon role. Thomas did not mention this, but Griffin had wide platoon splits last year. In particular, his K rate against lefties was horrendous (he struck out 11 of his first 16 PAs against portsiders IIRC).
Named For Hank - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 09:51 AM EST (#104874) #
Timely article, Thomas. I was actually thinking this weekend that we had not heard much about JFG or Arnold this spring.

Seconded. I heard him pinched in at the end of yesterday's game and went, "Ohhhh yeahhhhh, that guy. what's up with him?"

Thanks for reading both my mind and Kieran's, Thomas.

dp - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 10:00 AM EST (#104875) #
If Griffin and/or Arnold took a major step forward this year, would you credit JP with success for it? Or conversely, if Felipe Lopez suddenly becomes a .340/.450 hitting shortstop, was it a mistake to deal him? Part of the job is seeing a guy and predicting if he'll be any good- JP was obviously right (up to this point) about Lopez. Really, this deal has worked out poorly for everyone...
Named For Hank - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 10:00 AM EST (#104876) #
For me, the moment of yesterday's game was Gross' homer off Crain to break a 3-3 tie late.

Does anyone else think that maybe Gross is responding to the challenge of being left out of the Major League plans for the start of the year?

Pistol - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 10:15 AM EST (#104877) #
"Really, this deal has worked out poorly for everyone..."

Well, Oakland has done alright with Durazo.
Jordan - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 10:28 AM EST (#104878) #
maybe Gross is responding to the challenge of being left out of the Major League plans for the start of the year?

Possibly so, but it's also just the first week of ST games, and there are a lot of vanilla fastballs crossing the plate these days. I'm happy to see the power -- it really is the only thing missing from Gross's game (other than hitting lefties, which will take considerably longer). And Gross's fate is in his own hands -- if he tears the cover off the ball at Syracuse to open the year, the Jays will find a place for him. But it's very early.

Cristian - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 10:29 AM EST (#104879) #
Really, this deal has worked out poorly for everyone...

Billy Beane is probably very happy with Erubiel Durazo.

Wildrose - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 10:52 AM EST (#104881) #
While I'm a firm believer in the "stat-head" approach to analyzing players, we still have to keep in mind all the other stuff which goes into the making of a major league player.

Perhaps some of Griffin's problems lay witin this domain. Does he have problems with a particular type of pitch? Is he able to make proper adjustments in his mechanics? Is there some sort of lingering injury problem affecting his abilities? Maybe he has some off-field issues?

Unfortunately we don't have access to this type of information, but we do have to keep it in mind , when we see a player perform below expectations.
Ryan01 - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 11:01 AM EST (#104882) #
Great piece Thomas. It would be an enormous boost to the team if Griffin could become this year's Chacin and turn into the player many of us expected. But I don't think many of us are getting our hopes up at this point.

Of course, the A's also got Jason Perry out of the deal whom they added to the 40 man roster in the fall. Technically the deal was Griffin for Perry, but it was widely considered an extension of the Lopez/Arnold/Durazo/Dessens deal since Perry was fresh off the draft and couldn't be traded yet. Oh well, the D'backs ended up paying about $5.5 million for a year and a half of mediocre performance from Dessens and then traded him for the speedy Jereme Milons.
daryn - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 11:10 AM EST (#104883) #
How did the touted Halladay-Santana matchup play out?
Useless Tyler - Monday, March 07 2005 @ 11:57 AM EST (#104888) #
On a completely unrelated note, I have finally conquered MVP Baseball 2005's rosters by finding all of the "accurate-info-with-inaccurate-names" players in the Jays system and changing their names and appearance to create a proper Jays, SkyChiefs, and FisherCats.

So now I've finally got Justin Miller, Dustin McGowan, Francisco Rosario, Kerry Ligtenberg, Frank Menechino, and the lot of 'em ready for play in my owner mode.

And we're only 1.5 games back of first-place Baltimore.

I feel proud now.
Spring Training Game Report 3 – Blue Jays 6, Twins 5 | 15 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.