Posted by Andy on July 11, 2010
(The Hall of Fame posts are moving to Tuesdays, so look for another poll in just a couple of days.)
We've had a lot of comments about Jim Thome and the Hall of Fame already. Here's the poll. Please read all the comments below and then vote at the bottom.
One thing to keep in mind about Thome is that it's likely that all of his career rate stats will decline a bit before his career is over. His career OPS+ of 147 will, in all likelihood, drop by a few points before the end. To a large degree, the size of this drop depends on how long he chooses to play. If he continues to hit well this year and then retires in October, there will be no drop. But if he hangs on for 3-4 more years, we can expect a modest drop.
Let's stop the talk about Thome not deserving the Hall because he was a DH. He's only been a full-time DH in the last few years and has appeared there in only 660 of his 2300+ career games. Yes, it's fair to say that his career has been extended by having the DH slot available, but the DH exists and he can't be blamed for that. The only other guy to play at least 400 games at 3B, 1B, and DH is George Brett.
Arguments for the Hall of Fame:
- Thome has some impressive career rankings, including home runs (10th all-time), walks (10th), Win Probability Added (34th), Adjusting Batting Runs (23rd), OPS+ (43rd), and WAR among position players (62nd).
- He's got very good overall numbers in the playoffs, despite a .222 batting average. In 238 plate appearances he hit 17 HR with 37 RBI and 33 runs scored. Against the best pitchers in the league, those are good numbers.
- From 1995 to 2003, Thome was among the best hitters in baseball in terms of Batting Runs Above Replacement. Barry Bonds was first, of course, followed distantly by the rest of the universe. Edgar Martinez was drop ahead of Thome, who himself was a tiny bit ahead of Jeff Bagwell and Manny Ramirez. He was quite a bit further ahead of Jason Giambi, Frank Thomas, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, and everybody else. Quite simply, Thome was one of the very best offensive players of his era.
- To dispel the argument that Thome was another strikeout machine who occasionally hit a longball, let's look at his WAR and WPA values. Some say he was his era's Dave Kingman. Kingman had 18.0 Wins Above Replacement and 11.7 Win Probability Added over his career. Thome? Try 68.2 WAR and 47.5 WPA. These two players--Kingman and Thome--are light years apart. Kingman was a good piece who was overall a help to winning. Thome was a centerpiece around which perennial playoff teams were built. (By the way, I think Kingman was a much better player than most people give him credit for...look for a post on that in the future.)
Arguments against the Hall of Fame:
- Despite some good playoff performances, he had a number of very lousy ones too. In the 1997 ALCS against the Orioles, Thome had just 1 hit over 6 games, good for a .071 BA with no RBI. In the 1998 ALDS against Boston, he hit just 2 solo homers. In the 2001 ALDS against the Mariners, he had just 3 hits in 21 plate appearances with a single solo homer accounting for his only RBI. Similar story in the 2008 ALDS against the Rays, with just 2 hits and 1 RBI in 17 trips to the plate.
- Thome was never on a World Series champion. I don't hang all the blame on him, but while some other players benefit from being part of championship teams, Thome gets no such bonus. He at least played on 8 playoff teams (so far.)
- Thome's defense was not very good. His total zone fielding runs above replacement was -22 for his career. That includes a really bad -13 runs at 1B in 1998. That's among the 40 worst seasons in history by a player playing primarily first base that season.
- With defense as part of the argument, Thome doesn't compare particular well to Mark McGwire, a guy who himself hasn't gotten a ton of votes for the Hall of Fame. McGwire finished his career with -25 total zone fielding runs but that was due largely to some huge negative seasons in the last few years of his career (when Tony LaRussa had no choice but to play him at first base.) McGwire also had two seasons above +10 runs and even won a Gold Glove. Thome never had a single season as good as McGwire's best. The two guys' batting runs are virtually identical--579 for Thome and 578 for McGwire. Thome enjoys a slight edge in WAR, to 68.1 to 63.1. When defense is factored in, I think these two guys have had nearly identical career values.
- Despite being a valuable hitter, Thome didn't get a lot of recognition at the time, which may indicate that he was never ranked as one of the best players in baseball. He never ranked higher than 4th in MVP voting (although he deserved to finish 2nd in the inexplicable 2002 AL voting.) His blank inky is only 13 which is quite low for a possible HOFer. His gray ink is low, too.
I think Thome is a really tough case. He hit a ton of homers and drove in a ton of runs. If you look at his stats in a total vacuum, independent of everything else going on in baseball, he looks extremely impressive, and I think this is where the arguments come from that he's a slam dunk Hall of Famer. But if you contextualize his performance to The Steroids Era, he looks like another guy who hit a lot of homers and struck out a lot. His lack of MVP votes and league-leading totals supports the idea that he was nothing special. I think is where the arguments come from that he shouldn't get in the HOF without a ticket.
The truth is clearly that he's somewhere in between....but which side of the line?