Last week, Ken Griffey Jr. was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with a record 99.3% of the vote.

Griffey accumulated most of his Hall of Fame credentials in Seattle from 1989-1999. He was 1997 AL MVP, a 10-time All Star, hit 398 HR and was arguably on pace to break Hank Aaron’s career mark, and won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves (despite hints of declining defense).

The best player in the game was traded to the Reds in February of 2000, where he played until being traded to the White Sox in the summer of 2008.

Even before acquiring Griffey, the Reds were a team on the rise. In 1999, Barry Larkin and MVP candidate Greg Vaughn led a 96-win season, which ended with a heartbreaking loss to the Mets in a wildcard playoff game. The team’s rising stars included Sean Casey, Pokey Reese, and Aaron Boone. The two-headed monster of Danny Graves and NL Rookie of the Year Scott Williamson headlined a dominant bullpen.

Adding the best player in baseball to the team’s young core should have taken this team to the next level. The Reds were widely predicted to win the NL Central in 2000, and remain among the division’s elite for years to come.

However, despite a strong season by Junior (he hit 40 HRs and accounted for 5.5 WAR), the team managed only 85 wins. The Reds finished 10 games back of St. Louis, and were out of playoff contention by July. After 1999, Jack McKeon was named NL manager of the year. After 2000, he was fired.

With Griffey’s good play, what explains this sizable year-over-year falloff? Why were the 2000 Reds not the juggernaut many expected going into the season?

Where was the shortcoming? Looking at batter vs. pitcher WAR provides a good starting point. In 1999, Reds hitters accounted for 29 WAR, and the pitchers 14.7. In 2000, the hitters slumped to 21.7 WAR, while the pitchers improved slightly, to 15.9.

This is not a notably strong year of pitching—the 2012 Reds’ pitchers had 26.9 WAR—but the Reds were able to overcome mediocre pitching in 1999. Declining position player performance was responsible for the Reds decline from 1999 to 2000.

1999

2000

Difference

Hitter WAR

29

21.7

-7.3

Pitcher WAR

14.7

15.9

+1.2

Dante the Terrible. With 1999 MVP candidate Greg Vaughn expected to leave via free agency, the Reds brought in 4-time All Star Dante Bichette.

Greg Vaughn was a key cog in the Reds’ 1999 team. He belted 45 HR and accumulated 3.3 WAR. However, coming off a 34 HR, 133 RBI season in Colorado, Bichette seemed a good candidate to replace his production.

Unfortunately, despite these impressive stats, Bichette was worth -2.3 WAR in 1999, the season before he joined the Reds. Yes, that’s a negative.

This negative WAR count is attributable to hitting in the offense-inflating thin air of Coors Field and, more importantly, Bichette’s horrendous defense. He was worth -3.9 WAR playing left field for the Rockies in 1999—easily the worst rating in all of baseball.

Bichette’s defense improved with the Reds, but he still only put up .4 WAR over 125 games. The Reds traded him to the Red Sox in August of 2000.

This 3 WAR year-over-year decline cost the Reds dearly, and in retrospect it does not appear to be much of a surprise. Bichette was worth a cumulative 1.6 WAR from 1994 through 1999—and that includes a 1995 season where he finished second in MVP voting. It was unrealistic to expect much production from a player with this history entering his age-36 season.

Year

WAR

1994

1

1995

1.1

1996

0.6

1997

0.2

1998

1

1999

-2.3

2000

0.7

Mike Cameron’s Better Glove. Fortunately, the Reds didn’t need to count too much on Bichette, since they were getting a massive upgrade in CF—right?

Not so fast. Mike Cameron, the center fielder traded for Griffey, was worth 5.5 WAR in 1999—identical to Griffey’s 2000 value.

Defense accounts for the unexpected similarity. While Griffey was a better hitter in 2000 than Cameron had been in 1999 (4.5 vs. 3.2 offensive WAR), Cameron’s defense was twice as valuable (2.6 vs. 1.3 defensive WAR).

Cameron 1999

Griffey 2000

Offensive WAR

3.2 4.5

Defensive WAR

2.6

1.3

Total WAR 5.5

5.5

Like Dante Bichette’s mediocre season, it was unrealistic to expect Griffey to be a defensive ace. In his last two seasons in Seattle—when he won his 9th and 10th Gold Gloves—his defense was worth 0 and -.9 WAR, respectively. Although he did not reach Cameron’s dWAR total, Griffey’s 2000 defensive season actually was a nice bounce-back. Cameron went on to win two Gold Gloves in the American League. Griffey didn’t win one for the Reds.

Performance Declines and Injury. With personnel turnover cumulating to a drop-off in the outfield, the Reds needed strong seasons from their infield in order to contend. Unfortunately, the infield declined even more steeply.

2B Pokey Reese was a breakout star in 1999. He won his first Gold Glove and accumulated 4 WAR. In 2000, he regressed to 1.9 WAR. Despite winning a second Gold Glove, his defense accounted for the lion’s share of the downturn, as Pokey followed his fantastic 3.2 defensive WAR in 1999 with a good-but-not-fantastic 1.7 defensive WAR in 2000.

Reds catchers regressed even further. Eddie Taubensee put up a solid season with 1.5 WAR in 1999, but the platoon of Taubensee and Benito Santiago combined to produce an offsetting -1.4 WAR in 2000. Taubensee was particularly disappointing, as his negative hitting and fielding resulted in -1.2 WAR over 81 games.

Compounding these difficulties, the left side of the infield struggled with injury. After combining to play all but 24 games in 1999, Aaron Boone and Barry Larkin missed a combined 138 games in 2000. Their collective 7.3 WAR in 1999 became just 4.5 WAR in 2000.

While Boone’s replacement—Chris Stynes—played well, securing 2.5 WAR—Larkin’s replacement—Juan Castro—was worth -0.4 WAR.

Position

1999 Player 1999 WAR 2000 Player 2000 WAR

Difference

C

Eddie Taubensee 1.5 Taubensee / Benito Santiago -1.4

-2.9

1B

Sean Casey 4.0 Sean Casey 3.3

-0.7

2B

Pokey Reese 4.0 Pokey Reese 1.9

-2.1

3B

Aaron Boone 2.2 Aaron Boone / Chris Stynes 4.5

+2.3

SS

Barry Larkin 5.1 Barry Larkin / Juan Castro 2.1

-3.0

-6.4

The cumulative effect was that the Reds’ 2000 infield was worth 6.4 WAR less than it had been in 1999—roughly the value of Joey Votto’s MVP season in 2010.

Conclusion

Over-valuing Dante Bichette, under-appreciating Mike Cameron and an ugly drop-off in infield production were to blame for the Reds disappointing 2000.

Sadly, the Reds performance went from mediocre to worse. The team followed up its 85 wins in 2000 with 9 consecutive seasons of sub-.500 baseball, including the remaining 7.5 years before Griffey was traded to the White Sox.

It was an extremely difficult run after a magical 1999 season and an offseason filled with hope and high expectations.

Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. During that season I always wondered “Why isn’t this team better than it is?”

    Losing Vaughn to FA was pretty huge. Despite the low avg, he just killed the ball.

    Bichette was nothing special at all.

    Wasn’t that also the year that Larkin almost got traded to the Mets?

  2. My dad and I loved to call Bichette “Double play Dante”.

  3. Good article. From the perspective of memory, one thought I’d throw into the mix is that I’m not so sure the Reds undervalued or under appreciated Mike Cameron They simply wanted KGjr more, as most all of the contemporary coverage of the Griffey deal had the Reds trying everything they could to not include Cameron while the M’s held out that they got Cameron; or, the deal was off.

    This begs one of those what if questions for the ages. What if the Reds had gotten KGjr without surrendering MC as part of the return? Who would have been the Reds CF if both JGjr and MC had both been on the team? If JGjr had moved to a corner spot in 2000 how might that have impacted on the string of injuries that followed? What would his final career stats have been in that case?

    • Reds could have gotten Jr. for whoever they wanted. I remember Bowden basically dictating terms of the deal… “We will not trade Pokey Reese!” And surprisingly enough, Seattle lowered their terms substantially.

      • But the one they wouldn’t back down on was Cameron.

        • Agree, Cameron was always in that deal. Remember Jr. was a FA the next year, so we only were trading for 1 year of him not 10. What if Cameron had never been traded for Konerko the year before?

      • If Cameron (who I guess was a must-include in the deal) was never traded for Konerko, then I’m not sure the Reds make such a run in 1999. No one good in CF if Cameron doesn’t appear.

        • Tucker and Hammonds had great seasons in ’99, but the OF takes a hit defensively, not sure how you rotate Konerko and Casey

  4. I completely forgot about Bichette. I didn’t really appreciate the reminder… 🙂

  5. I remember being excited about the Griffey trade, but in retrospect, I wonder what would have happened if they hadn’t made the trade at all and kept Cameron in cf. and, of course, checked Bichette’s metaphorical teeth more closely. that ’99 team was exciting and seemed to be on the rise. Interesting, and appropriate to the current Reds, is the evident impact of defense. Really interesting analysis. Thanks, Eli.

  6. It is amazing they actually won 85 games in 2000, the pitching was horrible and ’99 was a fluke for the SP they got out of Villone and Parris and even replacement level work from Avery until Neagle came back and Guzman was obtained.
    Harnisch declined severely in 2000 and Rob Bell was a disappointment. It is hard to say there were improvements from ’99 to 2000 anywhere, maybe Stynes and Ochoa offensively though the bench in ’99 was great and Elmer pitching wise

  7. I really enjoyed this article – thank you for it!!

Comments are closed.

Latest Posts By Eli Jacobs

Category

Reds History

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,