Hall Watch 2004-The First Basemen-Jim Thome

Saturday, November 13 2004 @ 02:12 AM EST

Contributed by: Mike Green

Jim Thome probably advanced his Hall of Fame case more than any first baseman this year. He did not have a great year by his own standards, but he put up another solid year at age 33, going .279/.396/.581 with 42 homers. He has now hit 423 homers in his career. Two to three more seasons like this, and there will be little question.

Jim Thome was a thirteenth round draft pick of the Indians in the 1989 draft. He was a third baseman in the minors, and advanced quickly. In 1991, he went through double A and triple A, and had a cup of coffee in September. He didn’t have the good power then, but hit for a good average. He was a big kid and fantasy owners around the world just knew he was eventually going to hit for power. He went back to double A for 1992, and made the same 2 step jump that he had made the previous year. In 1993, the Indians decided to change things up and started him in Triple A., he grew into his man-strength and hit 25 homers in 410 at-bats, and he was given the call. He played third through 1996. In 1997, the Indians acquired Matt Williams, and Thome was moved to first.

Thome’s strengths are his power and his patience. He is slow and an average defender. He has played in 11 post-season series, posting a .229/.326/.516 line with 17 homers.

Let’s turn to his comparables. Harmon Killebrew is an excellent comparison for Thome in several respects. Killebrew was also originally a third baseman, and was probably slower than Thome. Killebrew was famous for his tape-measure shots; Thome has hit quite a few of those, but he doesn’t quite have the name that Harmon did for that in the 60s. Both were very patient hitters, who did not hit for a tremendous average; the comparison between the two in this respect is closer than the bare statistics would allow. Killebrew’s batting average was 22 points lower than Thome’s, but the league batting averages of Killebrew’s day were 13 points lower than today’s. Strangely, one major difference between the two is that Killebrew struck out much less often, particularly when you account for the pitching environment of the day. With that in mind, here’s the comparables chart:

Player    G     AB     H     HR    W     BA    OBP   SLUG   OPS+
Thome 1679 5726 1625 423 1212 .284 .410 .569 151
Killebrew 1695 5794 1520 446 1083 .262 .380 .536 150
McCovey 1631 5273 1491 370 873 .283 .387 .552 161
Bagwell 1637 5949 1803 349 1098 .303 .415 .554 157

I’ll follow that with a repeat of the performance by age chart:

             24-26                  27-29              30-32         Career
Player PA wt.OPS PA wt.OPS PA wt.OPS
Delgado 1776 127.9 2096 153.6 1889 147.9 140
McGriff 1961 158.4 1914 151.3 1773 129.6 145
Palmeiro 1997 131 1885 136.6 2048 129 130
Bagwell 1785 158.9 1975 165 2109 159.7 159
Thome 1820 159.8 1850 141.5 1955 169.5 151

Should Thome be a Hall of Famer? Will he? Right now, he is well on his way, and he appears objectively to be significantly ahead of Delgado. Somehow, I don’t think he is, for two reasons. First, the age comparison which shows Thome as one year older than Delgado is deceptive; Thome is 22 months older, but his birth date is just after the July 1 cutoff and Delgado’s is just before. Secondly, subjectively, I believe that Delgado’s build and dedication to fitness make it likely that he will be healthier in his late 30s. than Thome. I see Thome ending up with numbers very close to McGriff’s when all is said and done, but probably just enough to squeak in to the Hall of Fame.

For the Green projection method today, we have a little chicken soup. One whole onion, a cut up chicken, water to cover, cook for 45 minutes, then add dill, one sliced parsnip, six sliced carrots, six stalks of celery in 3” pieces and some freshly ground pepper, followed by another 45 minutes of cooking. Inhale and pronounce:

Jim Thome’s final career statistics: 510 homers, .274/.395/.540

This completes the first basemen I will cover. I have avoided Todd Helton, who is 30 and Albert Pujols, who is way too young to be this great. We’ll catch them later. We’re going to take a break for a week or so before beginning the second basemen with a general piece on second basemen in the Hall.

Other first basemen in this series: Carlos Delgado, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff