Is Jim Thome a Hall of Famer?

March 8th, 2015 by Kyle Lutz | Filed under Baseball, General, Phillies.

It’s about time for another “is ____ a Hall of Famer” post. This past June, I talked about whether or not I thought former Phillies’ shortstop Jimmy Rollins is/will be a future Hall of Famer, and less than a month later, I explained why I felt that former Flyers’ right-winger Tim Kerr deserves to be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Here, I’ll discuss whether or not former Phillies’ first baseman Jim Thome deserves to be in Cooperstown (where the National Baseball Hall of Fame is located, in New York). He was drafted in the 13th round, 333rd overall, by the Cleveland Indians in the 1989 MLB Draft, out of Illinois Central College. Throughout his career, Thome played for six-different teams: the Indians (1991-2002, 2011), the Phillies (2003-05, 2012), the Chicago White Sox (2006-09), the Dodgers (2009), the Twins (2010-11), and the Baltimore Orioles (2012).

Accomplishments/Awards

-5x All-Star (1997-99, 2004, 2006)
-Silver Slugger Award (1996)
-AL Comeback Player of the Year (2006)
-Roberto Clemente Award (2002)
-NL Home-Run Champ (2003)

Career Statistics

-2,543 games played
-612 career home-runs
-1,699 RBIs
-2,328 hits
-1747 walks
-451 doubles

Career Averages (per 162 games)

-.276 batting average/.414 OBP/.566 SLG/.980 OPS
-148 hits
-101 runs
-39 home-runs
-108 RBIs
-111 walks
-29 doubles
-72.9 wins above replacement
-162 strikeouts

Career Hitting Ranks (all-time)

-7th in Home Runs
-24th in RBIs
-54th in Wins Above Replacement (among position players)
-43rd in offensive WAR (77.1)
-51st in on-base-percentage
-23rd in slugging percentage, and runs created (1,991)
-18th in OPS
-46th in games played
-50th in runs
-38th in total bases (4,667)
-7th in walks
-2nd in strikeouts (behind Reggie Jackson)
-4th in at-bats per home run (13.8)
-13th in situational wins added (63.8)

Thome played 22 seasons in the major leagues, a very-impressive feat, especially considering his physique (250 pounds) and position (first base), although he spent a significant amount of time as a designated hitter with Chicago (2006-08) towards the end of his career. Not only could Thome hit for power, but his plate presence was very impressive, too, as he averaged over 100 walks per season and had an on-base-percentage (albeit slightly) over .400- which is extremely rare for a power hitter.

During his (original) stay with the Indians (1991-2002), during (part of) the prime of his career, he was one of a few Indians’ hitters that carried the team to five-straight division titles/post-season appearances, including two World-Series appearances in 1995 and 1997.

Additionally, Thome was also one of the most well-liked players during his playing career, and was beloved everywhere he went, including Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago- three of the biggest sports cities in the country. As a matter of fact, in a 2007 poll of 464 players, he tied then-Royals’ designated-hitter Mike Sweeney for the second-friendliest player honor, finishing only behind Detroit’s first-baseman Sean Casey. After allowing Thome’s 600th-career home-run, then-Twins’ closer Joe Nathan had this to say about Thome (among other things): “He is the world’s nicest man.”

Point being, especially if he’s on the edge of being inducted into Cooperstown, a player’s personality can determine their induction. A fair amount of times, a player’s mean demeanor has cost them being inducted, whether it be due to a bad personal relationship with a Hall-of-Fame voter(s) or an overall lack of personality on and off the field. In this case, it can only help Thome’s candidacy.

(Amy Sancett/AP Photo)

Thome played the bulk of his career in the steroid era, although he’s one of only a few star power hitters during that generation to not be tied to performing-enhancing drugs, unlike some of his contemporaries at the time, in Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Thome himself denies ever using PEDs. Many power hitters during his generation who used PEDs significantly cost themselves the chance at a Hall-of-Fame induction, especially ones, like Bonds, who were considered clean earlier on in their careers. Thankfully, at least for now, Thome doesn’t have to worry about that problem.

Although he played in 71 career games, and had 232 at-bats, Thome only hit .211 in the post-season in his career, with only a .312 on-base-percentage, and 167 strikeouts per 162 games. Although he hit 17 home-runs in that time span (1995-99, ’01, 2008-10, ’12), including six in 13 career World-Series games, he hit just .181 in 35 career ALDS games. His lack of post-season success surely hurts his Hall-of-Fame chances, though, whether or not it hurts his candidacy remains to be seen. In his regular-season career, he struck out a lot, too- almost just as he much, on average, as he did in the post-season (162 times in the regular season), which also hinders his chances.

Thankfully for Thome, his career is very similar to Hall-of-Famer, and former Athletics/Yankees legend Reggie Jackson, who was inducted into Cooperstown in 1993, on his very-first ballot.

Comparing their careers, on average, Jackson had a lower batting average (.262 to .276), (a significantly lower) on-base-percentage (.356 to .402), slugging percentage (.490 to .554), and (a significantly lower) OPS (.846 to .956). Thome also averaged, per 162 games, more home-runs (39 to 32), runs-batted in (108-98), and a lot-more walks (111-79). Currently, Jackson holds the major-league record for career strikeouts, with 2,597, although Thome averaged (slightly) more strikeouts, 162-149. And as I mentioned, Jackson and Thome rank first and second, respectfully, all-time in career strikeouts, among position players.

In addition to those numbers, Thome has 49 more career home-runs than Jackson does, 612-563. Currently, Thome is one of only eight major-league hitters to compile 600 or more career home-runs (with Sosa being the only player behind him with 600+), and he ranks seventh all-time in career home-runs, while Mr. October (Jackson) ranks 13th.

Despite Thome hitting more homers and averaging better power numbers than Jackson did, the fact that Thome played (slightly) over half his career as a designed hitter (51%) hurts his chances of being inducted on his first or second try. This is due to the fact that — for a good amount of the time — Thome only had to worry about hitting, when he was a designated hitter in a game, whereas position players, like Jackson, have to worry about both the hitting and fielding aspects of their game. In comparison to Thome, Jackson only played 29% of his career as a designated hitter, although that’s still a decent margin in itself. Overall, Jackson only played 277-greater games than Thome did in his career, 2820-2543.

Fielding wise, statistically, Thome’s the better of the two, although — as mentioned above — Thome played a lot fewer games in the field than Jackson did. In comparison, Thome has a (slightly) better career fielding percentage (.988% to .967%). While Jackson played a tougher position (in right field), in terms of covering more ground, Thome played a more contact position (in first base), in terms of line drives. Overall, neither of the two players’ natural positions are considered one of the toughest positions in the field, which are pitcher/catcher, third base, shortstop, and center field.

Thome’s career is also very similar to another Hall-of-Famer (who got inducted this past year, and played in the same generation), in Frank Thomas, who: also played first base and designated hitter, hit 500+ home-runs, and had over 1600 RBIs and walks- although Thomas’ career batting average is significantly higher (.301 to .276) and he struck out a whole-lot less (97-162)

Since Thome is a very-similar player, as I mentioned, to both Jackson and Thomas, and since both are already in the Hall-of-Fame, there’s a good chance Thome will (eventually) be, too. Since I already compared a good portion of Thome and Jackson’s career numbers, here’s a brief comparison, side by side, of Thome and Thomas’ numbers.

Thome/Thomas
-Average (.276/.301)
-On-Base Percentage (.402 to .419)
-Slugging Percentage (.554 to .555)
-OPS+ (Adjusted On Base Plus Slugging Percentage) (147-156)
-Wins Above Replacement (72.9-73.7)
-Hits (2328-2468)
-Runs (1583-1494)
-Home Runs (612-521)
-RBIs (1699-1704)
-Doubles (451-495)
-Walks (1747-1667)
-Strikeouts (2548-1397)

HOF Verdict: Hall-of-Famer

Reasoning: Due to Thome’s solid resume, similarity scores to two Hall-of-Famers (in Jackson and Thomas), power numbers, plate discipline, longevity, lack of steroid allegations, and personality, I think he’s a lock to make the Hall-of-Fame, once he’s eligible in 2017. There’s a solid chance, too, that Thome not only makes the Hall-of-Fame but does so in his first year on the ballot, in two years from now.

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