Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jim Thome

Congratulations to Jim Thome on hitting his 600th HR last night, only the eighth player in history to accomplish that. With it, he has practically written his ticket into the HOF. (It used to be 500, but the Steroid Era ruined that)

But let me be a contrarian for a moment. If we could ignore for a moment that specific number, I would suggest that he doesn't pass the Smell Test. In that way, he's sort of the Don Sutton of position players. For this, let me use Bill James' "common-sense approach" to deciding whether or not a person belongs in the HOF. He asked 14 questions of a person:

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball? No. Even after eliminating the steroid-tainted players from MVP voting, Thome would have finished (in his best years): 6th, 3rd, 4th, and 2nd. Not what one would expect from the best player in baseball.

2. Was he the best player on his team? Yes. He was the best player on the a number of Cleveland teams, and the first two seasons with Philadelphia.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Does DH count? He was never considered a good fielder - he moved from third to first to hide this weakness, and then eventually became a DH. Except for a short pinch-hitting stint with the Dodgers, he has been exclusively a DH since 2007. That being said, he was was probably the best first baseman in the AL in 2001 and 2002. He was behind, at various times, Tino Martinez, Frank Thomas and Albert Pujols.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races? Yes. The Indians were a consistent powerhouse in the mid- to late 1990s, and reached the World Series in his second full season. After they faded, he signed with the Phillies, and while they didn't win a pennant in 2003/2004, they were competitive. He didn't do much with the Dodgers in 2009 (.235 BA, 0 HRs as a pinch hitter).

5. Was he good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime? Well, he's the 5th oldest player in the AL right now, so yes.

6. Was he the best player in the league at his position? He wasn't, as mentioned before, but he was the in the top three for a few years.

7. Is he the very best player not in the HOF? No. He isn't eligible, and there are other non-tainted players awaiting eligibility that are better (Maddux, Griffey)

8. Are most of the players who have comparable triple crown stats in the HOF? HOF voters are starting to get away from "Triple Crown stats", as well they should. But I wouldn't throw all of my trust into WAR, because many of those "numbers" are artificially created. Sticking with the initial question, yes.

9. Are the player's totals of career approximate value and offensive wins and losses similar to those of other HOFers? Yes

I guess I could continue, but he's a "Yes" to most of them. Congrats to Jim Thome.