Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jim Thome

Jim Thome recently hit his 500th career home run, as you may have heard. Since he's reached this milestone, there's been some discussion as to whether or not Jim Thome is a Hall-of-Famer. From what I've heard, Thome isn't any kind of lock for Cooperstown; players from his era have to do more than hit 500 HR to merit consideration.
So let's take a look at Thome and see if we can come to our own consensus, shall we?

Let's start with the numbers and see what we can see. Thome is 37 years old and in the middle of his 17th big-league season. (* indicates numbers are through 2006. dt indicates Davenport Translations)

2,000 Games
1,913 Hits
500 HR
1,451 Walks
2,031 Strikeouts
.281 Career Batting Avg.
.408 Career OBP
.562 Career SLG

.327 Equivalent Average
328 Career Win Shares
108.7 WARP3
5-Time All Star

Pretty impressive, even considering his environment. Now let's see how he ranks.

Home Runs:

21. Frank Thomas (509)
22. Eddie Murray (504)
23. Jim Thome (500)
24. Lou Gehrig & Fred McGriff (493)


18. Willie Mays (1464)
19. Jimmie Foxx (1452)
20. Jim Thome (1451)
21. Eddie Mathews (1444)

1. Reggie Jackson (2597)
2. Sammy Sosa (2302)
3. Jim Thome (2031)


37. Manny Ramirez (.409)
38. Jackie Robinson (.409)
39. Bobby Abreu, Roy Cullenbine, Jake Stenzel, & Jim Thome (.408)

OBP (among 1B only):
1. Lou Gehrig, 2164 career games played (.447)

2. Todd Helton, 1564 G (.430)
3. Jimmie Foxx, 2317 G (.428)
4. Ferris Fain, 1151 G (.424)
5. Dan Brouthers, 1673 G (.423)
6. Frank Thomas, 2240 G (.421)
7. Albert Pujols, 1079 G (.419)
8. Hank Greenberg, 1394 G (.412)
9. Jason Giambi, 1695 G (.411)
10. Jim Thome, 2000 G (.408)
11. Jeff Bagwell, 2150 G (.408)

14. Rogers Hornsby (.577)
15. Larry Walker (.565)
16. Albert Belle (.564)
17. Jim Thome (.562)
18. Johnny Mize (.562)

SLG (among 1B only):
1. Lou Gehrig (.632)

2. Albert Pujols (.619)
3. Jimmie Foxx (.609)
4. Hank Greenberg (.605)
5. Mark McGwire (.588)
6. Todd Helton (.583)
7. Jim Thome (.562)

That all puts him in some pretty rare company. Strikeouts are overrated (although the voters will take note more than I do), and it looks like -- with all those walks -- Thome has a better case for the Hall than those 500 homers alone would indicate.
The best news here is OBP. Thome ranks high on the list anyways, and it should be noted that Baseball-Reference.com (whom I referenced for these stats) requires just 3000 career Plate Appearances (a little more than six full seasons) to appear on these leaderboards, so you get short-timers like Ferris Fain and Albert Pujols on the list, despite the fact that they played very few games. Thome, on the other hand, just played in his 2000th game, and therefore his OBP means more than most on the list. In fact, when you take that into account, Thome ranks 8th all-time in OBP among first basemen with full careers (discounting Fain and Pujols) and 6th all-time in SLG in the same category. When you consider how many great first basemen have played the game, Thome's amazing combination of power and patience are fantastic and, considering that he's been around so long, easily Hall-of-Fame worthy.

But let's play the devil's advocate here and say that our case still isn't proven, because Thome played in a slugger-friendly era. This is true, and although I don't think it counts that much against him, let's take a look at the all-inclusive stats that take era into account and see how Thome fares when his stats are normalized for the offense-heavy environment in which he's spent his career.

Equivalent Average*:

11. Stan Musial (.332)
12. Jason Giambi (.330)
T-13. Willie Mays & Mel Ott (.328)
T-15. Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Edgar Martinez, Johnny Mize, Jim Thome (.327)
T-20. Hank Aaron & Ty Cobb (.326)

Inherently, I just can't accept these modern players so high on the list. But EQA takes into account how competitive the leagues are, and with the quality of play at an all-time high and some measure of parity reached between teams, modern players are thrust higher than we may otherwise put them. Regardless, Jim Thome's hitting stats stand the test of time quite well, thank you.

Win Shares (1B only):
15. Fred McGriff (341)
16. Johnny Mize (338)
17. Will Clark (330)
18. Jim Thome (328)
19. Jake Beckley (318)

Once Thome retires, he'll easily be within the top 10 first basemen, which is pretty strong company.

dtOBP* (1B only):
1. Frank Thomas (.438)
2. Jason Giambi (.424)
3. Albert Pujols (.423)
4. Lou Gehrig (.422)
T-5. Jeff Bagwell & Mike Hargrove (.413)
7. Jim Thome (.411)
8. John Olerud (.408)

While this is a high-slugging era, OBPs aren't really that high, historically speaking. So Thome's career .281 average and all of his walks are pretty unimpeachable. Let's check on SLG . . .

dtSLG*: (1B only)

7. Frank Thomas (.616)
8. Dick Allen (.615)
T-9. Dan Brouthers & Willie McCovey (.588)
11. Jim Thome (.584)
12. Carlos Delgado (.573)

Even when you normalize Thome's slugging stats, he's still one of the top-slugging first basemen. The Davenport Translations have failed to put a dent in his Hall of Fame case.

WARP3* (1B only):
T-12. Mark McGwire & Tony Perez (109.5)
T-14. Will Clark & Willie McCovey (107.3)
16. Fred McGriff (104.6)
17. Jim Thome (103.9)
18. Johnny Mize (102.8)

Once again, Thome should move into the top 10 before he retires.

There's no one number to really represent Thome's defense. There is something, however. I would like to present a piece of evidence that isn't really the decisive point of Thome's case, but it is the one that everyone keeps forgetting:
492 Career Games at Third Base
Yes, what everyone seems to have forgotten is that Thome started out his career as a third baseman. And it wasn't just a fleeting taste at third in his rookie year; from 1991-1996 Thome played every game but 2 at third base; it wasn't until '97 that he became a full-time first baseman. And it wasn't until last year that he became a full-time DH. This time spent on the field is what helps buoy his numbers ahead of the guys who were full-time first basemen or DHs, of which there are many.
Everyone's image of Thome is that of a defensively worthless slugger, but that's not at all accurate. That's what Thome's been since his injury in 2005, but for six seasons he was an adequate (if less than stellar) third baseman, and until 2006 he was the same, but at first base. Those who have pictured Thome as a career DH-type should take note that he's played more games at third (492) than as a DH (377). Granted, that won't last long, as Thome will be finishing his career as a DH.
Which brings me to my last point.
Jim Thome is 37 years old and still hitting brilliantly. Yes, he's a DH now, and Comiskey Park is hitter-friendly, but the point is that Thome has a lot of good baseball yet to play. If his Hall-of-Fame case isn't a sure thing now (which I think it is), it will be when he retires after 3-4 more years with about 575 HR. He isn't in the best of health, and his production will suffer in the years to come, but not before he pads out all his numbers to the point where there's really no denying his Cooperstown credentials. If he has another year or two of excellent hitting, plus a year or two of decent hitting, there will be no denying that he is, statistically speaking, a Hall-of-Famer.
There really isn't anything "intangible" or outside of the stats to make us reconsider our opinion of Thome. There's never been any evidence of steroid or PED use, although he was one guy whose growth into a behemoth brought on some whispers. But so long as they're still whispers, they don't deserve even the smallest consideration.
Thome has never been considered a big team leader, but neither has he been a clubhouse cancer, so there's nothing there to change our minds.
Thome reached the postseason six times with the Indians, hitting 229/326/516 in 55 postseason games. That's pretty good, if not spectacular. What's more impressive is his 255/352/511 batting line with 6 HR in two World Series (1995 and 1997). So there's an extra point in his favor.
Really, if you take the time to look at the evidence, there's no reason to think that Jim Thome isn't a Hall-of-Famer or at least that he won't become one by the time he retires. He may never have been a superstar, won an MVP, or received proper consideration for his defense (such as it was), but he's earned his plaque.
Stats referenced came from Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball Prospectus, and the Hardball Times.

No comments: