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Jim Thome is having a historic season for a 39-year-old

Posted by Andy on September 7, 2010

Jim Thome has continued to hit and hit and hit this year, and check out where he ranks now on the list of most plate appearances by a guy 39 or older, minimum 170 OPS+:

Rk Player PA OPS+ Year Age Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Barry Bonds 617 263 2004 39 SFG 147 373 129 135 27 3 45 101 232 120 41 .362 .609 .812 1.422 *7/D
2 Ted Williams 517 179 1958 39 BOS 129 411 81 135 23 2 26 85 98 12 49 .328 .458 .584 1.042 *7
3 Hank Aaron 465 177 1973 39 ATL 120 392 84 118 12 1 40 96 68 13 51 .301 .402 .643 1.045 *79
4 Ted Williams 390 190 1960 41 BOS 113 310 56 98 15 0 29 72 75 7 41 .316 .451 .645 1.096 *7
5 Jim Thome 293 173 2010 39 MIN 95 240 39 66 16 2 21 51 50 3 75 .275 .399 .621 1.020 *D
6 Barry Bonds 52 174 2005 40 SFG 14 42 8 12 1 0 5 10 9 3 6 .286 .404 .667 1.071 *7
7 Manny Mota 50 176 1977 39 LAD 49 38 5 15 1 0 1 4 10 3 0 .395 .521 .500 1.021 /7
8 Cy Williams 21 174 1930 42 PHI 21 17 1 8 2 0 0 2 4 0 3 .471 .571 .588 1.160 /879
9 Harry Davis 9 201 1914 40 PHA 5 7 0 3 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 .429 .556 .429 .984 /3
10 Sparrow Morton 8 181 1884 99 PHI 2 8 0 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 .375 .375 .500 .875 /*1
11 Sullivan 8 177 1875 99 NHV 2 8 3 3 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 .375 .375 .375 .750 /*9
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/7/2010.

Yes, this takes me right back to the days when "Sullivan" did it in 1875.

Usually I delete the IBB column from tables like this, but I thought it would be nice for us to remember Bonds' 120 such walks in 2004.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010 at 10:08 am and is filed under Season Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

30 Responses to “Jim Thome is having a historic season for a 39-year-old”

  1. The super cool thing about Sullivan's feat is that he did it just days shy of his 100th birthday.

  2. So this guy Sullivan played in two games...ever. Although I question him being on this list since there's no birth date given for him on his player page and the Age column in his stats shows --.

  3. Hence why I drew attention to him...it's just silly.

    Of course, maybe that's Peggy Sullivan and "he" is a woman.

  4. David in Toledo Says:

    This season's work is what I think will settle Thome's Hall of Fame question. Without this season, the answer might have been "no."

  5. Thome is closing in on 600 HR, so I hope he's a lock for the Hall of Fame at this point.

    9700+ PA, .960+ OPS (All-Time)
    Barry Bonds
    Babe Ruth
    Mickey Mantle
    Frank Thomas
    Ted Williams
    Stan Musial
    Jim Thome

  6. Thome is obviously having a great year, and I already considered him a clear HOFer even before this year.

    On a tangent, though: I was looking at Thome's splits and noticed that he'd done a lot better in wins than losses; this is broadly true of most big hitters, but Thome's split is larger than most. This, plus the fact that Minnesota is 43-22 when he starts and 38-35 when he doesn't, plus anecdotal bits I'd picked up from news coverage, gave me the idea that Thome is having an especially "clutch" season.

    But no; in fact, by the standard "clutch" measures, quite the opposite: He has hit worse with runners on than with the bases empty, and worse yet with RISP. His 2-out/RISP numbers are very poor, and his late & close numbers are even worse. In the leverage breakdown, he's done worst in high-leverage and best in low-leverage.

    I don't think these "unclutch" numbers are any more meaningful than they would have been if they tilted the opposite direction; I just think it's interesting how two different sets of breakdown stats can be so at odds. Neither the team's record in his starts, nor his clutch splits, paints a true picture of Thome's impact.

  7. John-

    You are looking at it backwards. It is not that Thome hits better in Wins. It's that the Twins tend to win when he hits well. Which is to be expected. Most teams do better when their better players play better.

  8. Andy -- Nice idea for a list, and I'm all for anything that brings Sparrow Morton more attention, not to mention terrific but forgotten players like Cy Williams and Harry Davis. But wouldn't the list be more meaningful if you set a floor for PAs (say, 250) and then ranked them by OPS+, rather than the other way around? That top-10 list would show 2 more seasons by Barry Bonds (age 41 & 42), plus seasons by Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Carlton Fisk.

    Also, as good as Thome has been, I note that the 4 seasons above his on your list (and on mine) all had many more PAs or a much higher OPS, or both -- i.e., Bonds, Williams and Aaron all put a lot more runs on the board than did Thome.

    P.S. Thome ranks 7th all-time with 352 HRs from age 30 onward, closing in on McGwire (354).

  9. John-

    You propose an interesting idea, but that's really looking at something quite different. This list tells us how many players 39 or over were able to maintain a high OPS+ (170 or higher) for an extended period of time. Some did it for a full season, like Bonds; others while in a platoon, like Thome; and others were blips on the radar, like Sullivan.

    The list you propose would tell us what older players got a lot of playing time, though without necessarily justifying it.

  10. @7 BSK -- Isn't it "six of one, half-dozen of the other?" I guess my intro would have been clearer had I phrased it your way. But I thought the rest of my post -- e.g., "this is broadly true of most big hitters" (which you echoed) -- made it clear that I was contrasting Thome's (apparent) impact on Twins' outcomes, as suggested by both his own Win/Loss splits and the team's record when he starts, with his (apparent) weakness in "clutch" situations.

  11. John-

    Yes, indeed that is the case. I was reacting to the initial point.

    Also, in my second post, I should clarify that the list doesn't necessarily show us old guys who maintained a high OPS+ for an extended perior, but merely old guys who maintained a high OPS+ and in what amount of playing time.

  12. @9 BSK -- My point about flipping the criteria is that setting the floor at a 170 OPS+ (right below Thome's current season) creates the false impression that only a very few players at this age have played regularly and hit at a very high level. You say the list shows "how many players 39 or over were able to maintain a high OPS+ (170 or higher) for an extended period of time," and I agree that this is the implicit *intent* of the list. But the 170 floor is arbitrary. The difference in Thome's 173 OPS+ and the 169 by Barry Bonds at age 42 is negligible compared to the difference in their playing time (477 PAs for Bonds, 293 for Thome).

    Andy showed a top-11 list in which only 5 had significant playing time; the presence of the other 6 guys doesn't really tell me anything, save that the search criteria were cherry-picked to include Thome. My top-10 list shows only regular players, and I think it's pretty interesting that Carlton Fisk (#10 on my list) had a 155 OPS+ in 298 PAs at age 40, winning the Silver Slugger for catchers.

    And I'm not sure what you meant in saying that my list "would tell us what older players got a lot of playing time, though without necessarily justifying it." My list is sorted by OPS, so the justification (or not) of their getting 250+ PAs is evident in where they rank by OPS. Setting the floor at 150 OPS+ yields 10 player-seasons; a 140 floor yields 11 (adding Edgar Martinez, with a 141 OPS+ in 603 PAs at age 40); a 130 floor finds 35; and a 120 floor, 59.

    We can quibble about what constitutes "a very high level," but I think using a floor that yields just 5 meaningful hits is overly selective. Right now, Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto and Albert Pujols all have an outside shot at the Triple Crown, and there's a good chance that one of them will be named the NL MVP. I would say they're all hitting at a very high level; but not one of them has an OPS+ of at least 170.

  13. @8 Agreed. In fact, Cy Williams originally got the "Williams shift" before Ted ever did. He was a dead pull hitter, so teams started shifting all the way to the right in the 20s, I believe. If you check Google news archives from the period, you can find a few articles on it.

    Also, I think it's time the Phillies give Sparrow Morton another chance.

  14. @8
    Agreed John A., that the study should probably eliminate the Sparrow Morton's, Harry Davis's and Cy Williams's of this world.

    I don't want to go against the grain of the Jim Thome love-fest going on in here just to generate debate, but what about the distorting effect of the DH in prolonging player's careers.

    In the NL, what position would Jim Thome play right now, without being a defensive liability to his team?

  15. @12
    I agree with that. The tendency with these lists is to make the floor equal to the featured player's level so as to make the list smaller and seem more impressive. That has its value, but dropping the floor down such that the featured player is in the middle of the list would generate a better discussion.

  16. @#14: pinch-hitter

    @John Autin, I agree in principle with your comments about different possible types of searches. I did post the exact search you are referring to on a previous post about Thome's season.

  17. With respect, Andy, what am I missing about your post?

    A PH generally gets 1 PA per game while a DH will get multiple. Are you saying DH in the AL is the equivalent of PH in the NL.

    Isn't it a much different decision to keep Jim Thome on your roster in the NL than to have him occupy a roster spot in the AL?

  18. @8
    Neil -- You don't think that Thome could play 1B in the NL? Sure, he'd be a defensive liability. Babe Ruth was a defensive liability in RF in his late 30s, but his bat knocked in more runs than his glove gave back. Weren't Barry Bonds and Ted Williams defensive liabilities in their final years?

    Gavvy Cravath, age 38 in 1919, played 56 games in the outfield and had a .914 fielding percentage and very poor range factor. But he hit .341 and led the league with 12 HRs in just 214 AB; it was the first OPS over 1.000 in the modern NL, and a 213 OPS+ -- of course they were going to find a way to get him in the game.

    I watched Moises Alou roam left field for the Mets at age 40-41 -- not a pretty sight, but he hit .340 with power, so you bite the bullet.

    I don't pretend to know how bad Thome would be. He hasn't played the field regularly in 5 years, but that's arguably because the teams that acquired him already had younger, big-hitting 1Bs (Konerko, Morneau). But baseball has always found a place in the field for a guy with a 4-digit OPS.

  19. Neil -- Sorry, I misidentified the post to which I was replying; it was #14.

  20. Another HR tonight to tie Frank Robinson. Preceded by 2 BB and a HBP.

    I think his Cooperstown resume was fine before this year, but its always impressive when a guy doesn't limp to his career milestones. These home runs have just been crushed.

  21. John-

    Good points all around. Different searches and lists will tell us different things. My guess is the point of a list like this is it shows us what other folks are in the "club" that the current hitter is in. This list is the "39+/170+" club. As you point how, it is hard to know how "impressive" that is without more context, and the exclusiveness of that club alone is not enough to demonstrate the value of the accomplishment. I'm sure with enough criteria, just about any individual player could find himself in a club of his own.

    Andy's list essentially answered the question of, "Who was obscenely productive/efficient at age 39 or older?" Your proposal would answer the question of, "Who got a lot of playing time at age 39 or older?" Obviously, but looking at other criteria in each list, we can learn more than JUST the answer to that question. And whenever we starting making cut-off points, we risk being arbitrary.

    I think the only problem arises is when a list purports to tell us something that it doesn't actually tell us or can't tell us. Sometimes that is accidental, which will happen. But too often we see stats manipulated in that way deliberately. I have no reason to believe Andy was doing the latter in this case, and my hunch is he was simply showing us guys who've done what Thome is currently doing, no more, no less. It was not an end-all, be-all assessment of his season... just one way to look about it and think about it.

    I think the BEST Thome-related search would have to have something to do with guys who jump/spin around on their heels when swinging. Thome has one of the goofier swings that proved effective in the long term in recent memory.

  22. The steroid word has not been mentioned so far on this page.

    Hard to not say the 'steroid' word when you talk about Jim Thome's career, or any hitter of that era, or any hitter dating back to the mid seventies for that matter. George Foster for example, sings out 'steroids', that early kind that made your face look like Martina Navratilova's (or all those East German female runners in the Olympics of the 70's).

    Still what Jim is doing at 39 seems solid and not necessarily steroid- or HGH-induced.

    See Reggie Jackson, who had a pretty good year at 39.

    Pete Rose hit well past 40 but he was reved on amphetamines most of the time, most of his career. Charlie Hustle.

  23. Mike Felber Says:

    Pete Rose hit & played below average his last 9 years. The small exception is a decent year when he turned 40 in '81-he had a 119 OPS +, the other years were all double digit/below average OPS +.

    I have no idea if Thome took steroids. But I do not know of players using them before Canseco introduced them to some. Until past the middle of the '80's, who took 'roids or HgH? They, & bulking up in general, was not a part of baseball culture, the value of each was not recognized.

    And the expanded face 9+ internal organ growth) stigmata is associated with Human Growth Hormones, not steroids. Though understand that naturally some have a jaw &/or chin structure that overlaps with the distortions created by HgH. I severely doubt Jay Leno has ever taken HgH.

  24. Back in the off season, I was hoping the Yankees would sign Thome, but instead they signed injury-prone Nick Johnson, who got injured. The Yankees probably wish they signed Thome now too.

  25. Johnny Twisto Says:

    baseball has always found a place in the field for a guy with a 4-digit OPS.

    Let's not forget that Thome is playing only part-time this season, which I have no doubt has contributed to his excellent hitting. I do not expect that he would hit as well if he had to also play the field. The rest is beneficial.

  26. Or if he had to face all the opposing pitchers.

  27. Im glad Thome went to Minnesota. seems like a better fit than NYY would have been..

  28. David in Toledo Says:

    I heard former Indian Vern Fuller lament that Cleveland didn't sign Thome and Omar Vizquel to give them a last hurrah in the city where they had played the most. As it turns out, 2010 may not be the final inning for either of them.

    Vizquel now has approximately 270 win shares. While that is far behind Bill Dahlen (386), Derek Jeter (368), Barry Larkin (344), and Alan Trammell (313), and also trails Bert Campaneris (283), 270 is more than five shortstops in the Hall (including Phil Rizzuto, who lost 3 prime years to WWII). In Vizquel's favor, however, are his fielding percentage, his flair and general good-guy image, and the fact that he has played 107 more games at shortstop than anyone else. (Except for Ivan Rodriguez and Graig Nettles, every player who ranks 1 and 2 in games played/position is in the Hall.) He merits consideration (as did Jake Beckley, for at least one of the same reasons). And what utility infielder ever did more at age 43?

    Thome's win shares now total 374. For comparison, Jeff Bagwell 379, Frank Thomas 406, Rafael Palmeiro 401, Harmon Killebrew 369, Fred McGriff 349, Tony Perez 348, Albert Pujols 337, Mark McGwire 333, Johnny Mize 332 and WWII, Jake Beckley 326, Orlando Cepeda 310. I'd like to see a full-time DH get to 400 before being able to have a Hall presumption work in his favor. For a first baseman, 370 seems enough to merit that status (that is, we have to prove why you don't deserve entry, as may well be the case with Palmeiro). Thome is a hybrid, and I'm about ready to give him my presumption, particularly since he's going out in style.

  29. David in Toledo Says:

    Thome's 12th inning home run wins a game for the Twins (in Cleveland) on 9/11. Going on in style.

  30. [...] 2010:  The Twins sign him near the end of January to a 1-year, 1.5 million dollar contract.  Good decision.  Thome has hit 23 home runs in 98 games as the Twins’ DH.  Doing it at age 39 is very rare. [...]