Bob’s Keltner – Jim Thome

Seems like an appropriate time to do a Keltner List for Thome. If somebody’s already done one, 1000 apologies. I’ll forewarn that 1) I don’t plan on getting too bogged down in numbers, just stating my general impressions to the questions, 2) I tend to be a HOF exclusivist, so I may be a little harsher than others, and 3) I’m going to try to avoid the steroids issue, or at least minimize it; he hasn’t tested positive since the 2005 crackdown, so I’ll let it go at that.

1. Was he ever regarded as the bet player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

Very tough standard, but no, I doubt that there was anytime while he was active he was considered the best.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Yes, quite often he was. And he played for some really good teams with other really good players.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

He wasn’t often the very best at his position, but he was almost always in the discussion. Or at least until 2001 when Pujols came along.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Quite a few. Thome has played with a number of .500+ teams who, if they didn’t win their division, were in the hunt. There were many seasons where he had good numbers and his team won, and a couple of seasons where he was injured and his team floundered.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

He turns 41 in a few days. A definitive Yes answer.

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the HOF?

Tough standard, but I’d say no, he is not. Greg Maddux, Ken Griffey, I think rate ahead of Thome. Depending upon how you feel about steroids, Bonds and Clemens do have better numbers. It also depends on how you feel about the DH as well.

7. Are most of the players who have comparable career stats in the HOF?

No, not most…ALL!!! There isn’t anybody who is eligible and/or not tainted not in the HOF.

8. Do the player’s number meet HOF standards?

Black Ink: 13 (27 for average HOFer)
Gray Ink: 118 (144)
HOF Monitor: 156 (100)
HOF Standards: 57 (50)

Seasonal tests he is below average for a HOFer; it’s his career stats that put him way over the line.

9. Is there evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his stats?

Weeeelllll…if you’re convinced he didn’t use steroids, then yes, he was better than his stats (or rather: his stats are legit); if you’re skeptical about his using prior to 2005, then no, he might be worse than his stats. I don’t want to discuss steroids here; I want to discuss Thome. Will you folks forgive me if I just punt, by saying I haven’t a clue whether his stats are significantly better or worse than suggested?

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the HOF but not in?

He’s not eligible, naturally, but he’s right there with Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, McGwire and Palmeiro as the prime candidates as the best first baseman not yet elected. I put him above those last two named, for the obvious reason. Bagwell is think is clearly a notch below Thome. Thomas and Thome seem awfully close. And I’m not sure I have him above Pujols either. If Pujols’ career ended today, I’d likely rank Thome ahead of him. So there’s tough competition for Thome as the best first baseman not in. Ultimately if I had to choose Thome or Thomas, I think I’d go with Thomas, but it’s not anywhere near being set in stone.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP Award? If not, how many times was he close.?

Never won one. Never really deserved one. But he was in the top ten five times. Again, his HOF candidacy is based more on career numbers than seasonal numbers (tho, of course, you can’t have remarkable career stats without having SOME good seasonal stats).

12. How many All-Star caliber seasons did he have? How many all-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the HOF?

If you’re going to talk negatively about Thome’s HOF candidacy, this is where you can ding him some. He only played in five all-star games, and was never elected by the fans, which is really odd, I think, because of his good guy image. Great players who are liked and respected get into a LOT of all-star games, and for some reason Thome didn’t. I don’t hold only being in 5 games against him, but I do find it curious.

13. If this player were the best on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

Pretty easy to answer: yes!!!

14. What impact did he have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Nothing comes to mind.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character tht the HOF, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

If you’re skeptical about ALL players between 1990 and 2005…otherwise, Thome may be THE guy of his generation who fits the conduct requirements.

—–

Bottom line: Thome is undoubtedly a HOFer. Whether you think he is a first ballot selectee or not depends upon your skepticism, your heavy weighing of lack of all-star recognition, and finally who he’ll be on the ballot with. I can’t think of anyone who is clearly better than Thome who’ll likely retire in 2011 or 2012 or who might still be on the ballot come 2017/18, depending on when Thome retires. So I say he’s a likely first ballot HOFer.

I didn’t mean for it to be a systematic analysis. I didn’t specifically look up Bagwell’s or Thomas’ numbers. So let me do that and put the three’s numbers in a chart. This way I get to try out the new Forum and see if charts are coherent.
Thome Bagwell Thomas
OPS+ 147 149 156
RBIs 1662 1529 1667
Runs 1553 1517 1494
Off WAR 762 751 841
Black Ink 13 24 21
Gray Ink 118 157 200
HOF Monitor 156 150 194
HOF Standards 57 59 60

Just looking at these few criteria, I think a case could be made for any of the three. Thome has (or will have – he needs 6 RBIs to pass Thomas) larger career counting numbers. His seasonal quality numbers are significantly lower than the other two. I think that with closer examination Bagwell is probably a notch higher than Thome, and both are below Thomas.

That being said, I have little faith in WAR. The basic parameters of the measurement I find to be flawed in many ways. Let me give one quick example: two first basemen with EXACTLY the same stats, say, hitting .300/.400/.500, same number of Plate Appearances, same number of doubles, triples, home runs, walks, EVERYTHING exactly the same. Yet the National League player will have a higher WAR because he gets compared to pitchers hitting included in figuring replacement level, while the American Leaguer gets compared to stats that include DHs. Another quick example: WAR assumes that the two leagues are equal in talent. Looking at interleague play, it’s pretty obvious that the AL has been stronger overall, so a .300/.400/.500 is more impressive in the AL than the same stats in the NL. I don’t even want to go into why WAR doesn’t work (for me) when comparing 1920s players with 2000s players. WAR makes basic assumptions that I don’t believe to be true.

Who is also on the ballot rarely matters, but it does sometimes. In 1999, Ryan, Brett, Yount and Fisk all were on the ballot for the first time, but only the first three made it in that year – Fisk had to wait a year. Only three times since 1980 have 3 men been elected, 1984, 1991 and 1999. The BBWAA voters don’t like having a mass induction.

We’re going to have some interesting votes the next few years. In 2013, Biggio, Lofton, Sosa, Bonds and Clemens are all going to show up for the first time. In 2014, the new guys are going to be Thomas, Maddux, Glavine and Mussina. In 2015 added for the first time will be Sheffield, Delgado, Randy Johnson. In 2016 we’re going to see Griffey, Hoffman, Wagner and Pettite. There’s no way of knowing at this time which of these guys will be elected in their first year, altho some seem rather obvious, Maddux and Griffey to name two. Just a stab in the dark, but I’d guess that of these 16 players, 6-8 might have been elected by the time Thome is on the ballot. That would leave 8-10 still on the ballot that Thome will be vieing for attention with, plus guys who retire this year, like Manny; and if Thome plays in 2012, guys like Rivera, Helton, perhaps Jeter, might retire at the same time and join Thome on the 2018 ballot. Plus guys who might still be on the ballot like McGwire and Palmeiro. Whenever Thome retires, it’s potentially going to be a very crowded ballot.

For the sake of full disclosure, Thome’s Top 10 comps (from BBR):
861 Frank Thomas
858 Sammy Sosa
854 Mike Schmidt
847 Harmon Killebrew
842 Mickey Mantle
840 Willie McCovey
826 Willie Stargell
825 Fred McGriff
819 Manny Ramirez
817 Jeff Bagwell
So I supposed that technically only 5 of the most similar players are currently in.

But really, are Thomas and Thome even remotely similar? Right handed line drive hitter who struck out 100 times a year compares to a lefty slugger with 150 Ks? Killebrew, Mantle and Stargell seem like better comps than Thomas. Sosa’s walk rate is far below Thome’s. Schmidt was a defensive wizard at third. Bagwell seems more like Thomas than does Thome. Kiner seems like a good comp to Thome as well, of course his career was much shorter. And Reggie Jackson seems like he should have been a Top 10 comp, but isn’t.

Fred McGriff is somewhat similar (BJames defines a 825 similarity score as somewhat similar) to Thome, but don’t you just sort of assume that he’s going in the Hall fairly soon? And Jeff Bagwell as well, perhaps as soon as next year? Frank Thomas is likely to go in pretty quickly, once eligible, provided he was clean. The other two, Sosa and Ramirez, well, they obviously have HOF numbers but a huge “YEAH, BUT” that might/should keep them out.

Maybe I should have said for Question 7: No, not most…ALL!!!. There isn’t any eligible player comparable to Thome, other than those just recently eligible, not in the HOF”. That would have been more accurate. And I presume Bagwell and McGriff will go in relatively soon.

If you believe Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa are the two most similar players to Jim Thome, you put a lot more faith in Similarity Scores than I do. As far as I can tell, walks and strikeouts are not included, nor is there any era adjustment, which is a HUGE fault of Similarity Scores. Since those three basically played in the same era, they are a little easier to compare. Let me do a “per 162” comparison (and I’ll add in Killebrew and Reggie Jackson as well):

Games AB Hit 2B 3B HR Run RBI BBs SOs BAvg OBA Slug
2322 572 172 35 1 36 104 119 116 097 .301 .419 .555 Frank Thomas
2354 607 166 26 3 42 102 115 064 159 .273 .344 .534 Sammy Sosa
2459 539 149 29 2 40 102 110 113 162 .277 .403 .558 Jim Thome
2329 542 139 19 2 38 085 105 104 113 .262 .356 .490 Harmon Killebrew
2820 567 148 27 3 32 089 098 079 149 .262 .356 .490 Reggie Jackson

I don’t see how anyone, besides BBR, could call Thomas and Sosa similar to Thome, other than in the most superficial way. I would think that most people, with even rudimentary skills to apply era adjustments, would see that Killebrew is much more comparable to Thome. That BBR has Thomas being more similar than Killebrew to Thome, is more of an indictment against Similarity Scores, I would think.

 

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