Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy Birthday...

Jim Thome!

I can't think of a hitter in the last 10 or so years that has been more fun for me to watch than Thome, #1 on my now-two-man list of tolerable White Sox. He turns 39 today, and is in his nineteenth season in the major leagues. (Incidentally, his 20th seems at least somewhat likely to come with his fourth different ballclub. Maybe the Mariners?)

Three quick things about Thome:

(1) If he wants to, he's now almost a lock to top 600 homers. He's not the hitter he once was, with a 124 OPS+ in 2008-09 after a 154 OPS+ from 1995-2007, and he has to rest or miss games to injury a lot more than he used to, but there has got to be at least one AL team (like, say, the Mariners) who can use 120 games of a .250/.370/.500 DH. He'll come close to 30 homers again this year, but even if he doesn't hit another one this year and falls off precipitously after that, all he needs is 18 homers a year for two more years. If he's healthy and wants to play, it's almost impossible to see him not managing that. Maybe once he's the eighth to hit #600 (only six right now, but A-Rod will almost certainly get there first), people will start noticing him a little.

(2) He's got close to the most extreme splits of any Hall of Fame hitter ever. He's hit a Bondsian .294/.430/.616 (1.046 OPS) vs. RHP, and a Todd Zeilean .239/.342/.423 vs. LHP. In fact, there's little doubt that, just as is the case with Ryan Howard (more on that in the coming weeks, probably), for most of his career it would've made sense to platoon him, if not for the fact that his performance against righties (who are, after all, something like 70% of MLB pitchers) is so great that his overall line gives him a reputation that prohibits it.

Thome's OPS against lefties is just 60% of his overall OPS. That's kind of amazing (though since I brought him up, Howard's is 58%). Obviously most lefties have a hard time hitting lefties, but consider some of the other all-time elite lefty hitters of the retrosheet era: McCovey, 75%; Reggie, 83%; Helton, 75%; Mathews, 70%; Bonds, 87%; Yastrzemski, 65%; Griffey, 85%; Mauer (couldn't resist), 72%. Yaz was actually pretty dreadful against lefties, too, but even he had less extreme splits than Thome, and none of these other guys is anywhere close. Which kind of draws attention to how incredibly awesome he's been in those other 70% of his PAs.

(3) He's really quite funny in fictional, all-caps chatroom form.


  1. Two great posts in a row, Bill.

    I'm always amazed at just how good of a career Jim Thome has had. it's like he's completely forgotten, but he's still about to enter the 600-HR club. How does that happen?

    Oh, and remember how there used to only be 3 members of the 600-HR club? It seems soiled by the likes of Sammy Sosa, but I guess that's how people probably felt when others started reaching the 500 HR club...

    My buddy's friend has a real interesting story that he heard about Jim Thome from a Minneapolis-area stripper... not sure it should be put online, though...

  2. Those are amazing splits against lefthanded or righthanded pitchers. He's never really come close to winning an MVP, which I understand, but there is something a little off about it.

    In arguably his best season, 2002, when he had 52 HR, 118 RBI, .304 BA, .677 SLG (led the league), 1.122 OPS (led the league), 122 BB (led the league), OPS+ 197 (best in the league) he only came in 7th in MVP voting.

    He even seriously cut down his strkeouts too, with only 137 (sandwiched in between 2 epic 180+ SO seasons). Garret Anderson finished ahead of him at 4th and he had essentially the same season as he did in 2001 (when he finished 21 in the voting).

    Thome's OPS that year ranks in the top 10 in the AL over the last 50 years. It was Cleveland's first down season in about 10 years, which probably hurt him a lot. He played the field too, only being the DH in 18 games.

    Few players have been as fun to watch hit home runs as Jim Thome, hopefully he'll get his due when it come time to vote for the Hall of Fame.

  3. Thanks, Lar. I've never really understood why Thome hasn't been more widely popular. Not only an amazing player, but he looks like a normal (if rather enormous) guy and always has that goofy smile on...what's not to like? Oh, and now obviously I'm really curious about the story. :)

    Brad, yeah, it was definitely the writers' senseless MVP-must-come-from-a-contender thing that kept him from doing better in '02. That was a terrible year for the MVP award...I remember being furious that Tejada beat A-Rod (for the same reason), and I probably still would be. Looks to me like it probably should've gone something like (1) A-Rod, (2) Thome, (3) Pedro. (who of course finished 20th).

    Incidentally, he celebrated his birthday with a 3-for-4, a double and 2 RBI. So good for him. Now let that be it for the White Sox and the winning.