Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Case for Thome for the HOF

Its only coincidence that I am writing this and the Indians recently acquired Jim Thome.  Ever since he hit his 600th, I have been thinking about his place in history.  He was one of the greatest pure sluggers of this generation.  Bonds and Sosa have more home runs, but they were not "pure" sluggers because they used impure methods to enhance their records.  Thome's legacy will forever be somewhat tainted by these men.  In 50 years, people may try to speculate everyone in this generation was using.  Eight players in history have hit 600 home runs and 3 are tainted by PEDs.

Thome didn't make the kind of noise that Sosa or Bonds did, but he put up some incredible numbers nonetheless & ranks among the all-time greats in many categories. However, adjusted numbers like OPS+ , which adjusts for the era a player played in, rank him low because of when he played.  Frank Thomas hit 500 home runs in the era but his OPS+ is barely better than Carl Crawford's.

A Sabermetric stat I find useful is ISO or Isolated Power.  It's a measurement of slugging %-batting average, to get at the "Isolated Power" of a player.  If we take away the steroid users, he ranks extremely high.  He ranks 6th, behind Jimmie Fox and Ralph Kiner.  This stat also shows how amazing those 90s Indians teams were because right up there are Belle and Ramirez.

Just to get an idea of where Thome ranks in terms of historical sluggers, these are his adjusted rankings all-time in offensive categories (adjusted by taking out players with steroid connections and players who are in their prime):
OPS (13th), Slugging % (14th), ISO (6th), At Bat/HR (2nd), Total Bases (32nd), HR (5th), RBI (20th), Walks (7th), XBHs (19th), Times on base (39th), BB% (13th)

The stat that jumps out at me is 2nd in AB/HR.  There is only one player who hit them out of the park more frequently than Thome without the use of PEDs and that is Babe Ruth.  Now Thome isn't in Ruth's category overall as a player, but it shows the scope of how great of a pure slugger Thome is.

Now Thome will make the Hall of Fame.  If not on his first ballot, one one of the next few after that.  The casual fan may not realize how great Jim Thome was.  As a pure slugger, he makes a good case for being the best of this generation. He'll always be compared to Griffey, but Thome was a better overall player at the plate.  If you look at the averages (such as ISO, OPS, and Slugging), Thome has a clear advantage, in addition to Thome having much better plate discipline.   

The other player who is probably a first ballot HOFer from this generation is Derek Jeter.  He will be a first ballot player because he hit 3,000 hits and he was a New York Yankee and a team leader of the Yankees.  I am not sure if Derek Jeter is a definitive first ballot HOFer in my mind. 

The argument against the 500 club is it being perverted by of steroids, but there are still 3 less members than the 3,000 club.  You can argue that all 3,000 hits takes is longevity and is perverted by advanced medical technology, in fact 2 of its members have career averages under .280. The number of new members to both clubs is almost identical..  Jeter is a very good hitter, but 3,000 is not the accomplishment 600 is, let alone 500.  Fielding does play a factor, but all the metrics point to him being an average fielder at best.

By looking at unadjusted averages, Thome stacks up as maybe the best clean hitter of the 90s, yet because he wasn't the personality of A-Rod or Jeter, he may be forgotten by some.  

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