Jim Thome and the Hall of Fame

July 25, 2010: Jim Thome for the Minnesota Twins in action during a game against the hometown Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. RAIN DELAY.

Jim Thome is now in sole possession of 8th place on the all-time home run leaders list, blasting his 587th career home run in Cleveland on Saturday night. He’s just 13 home runs shy of 600, which isn’t bad considering that he started the season behind Rafael Palmeiro on the all-time list, with 564 career homers. In just 302 plate appearances this year, he’s mashed 23 taters and jumped four spots on the all-time home-run leaders list. I’ve already discussed how good Thome has been for the Twins, but now is a good time to examine his career numbers and his case for induction into baseball’s hall of fame.

Jim Thome has long been one of the premier hitters in the game. Over his 20 major league seasons, Gentleman Jim has compiled a .277/.404/.559/.963 line. He’s ranked in the top ten in the sabermetric triple crown categories in ten of fifteen seasons since 1995. He’s lead the league in home runs once (in 2002, with 47), slugging percentage once (.677, in 2002), OPS (1.122 in 2002), OPS+ (197, in 2002), walks three times, and strikeouts three times (seriously, look at how many times he has finished in the top five in nearly every offensive category). Here is how he stacks up against some of the other hitters with at least 500 career home runs:

Jim Thome: 587 HR, 70.0 rWAR, 73.3 fWAR, .277/.404/.559, 147 OPS+

Compared to the guys ahead of him on the all-time HR leaders list (all HOFers in bold, active players in italics)*:

Barry Bonds: 762 HR, 171.8 rWAR, 169.6 fWAR, .298/.444/.607, 181 OPS+

Hank Aaron: 755 HR, 141.6 rWAR, 150.5 fWAR .305/.374/.555, 155 OPS+

Babe Ruth: 714 HR, 172.0 rWAR, 177.7 fWAR, .342/.474/.690, 207 OPS+

Willie Mays: 660 HR, 154.7 rWAR, 163.2 fWAR, .302/.384/.557, 155 OPS+

Ken Griffey, jr.: 630 HR, 78.4 rWAR, 85.4 fWAR, .284/.370/.538, 135 OPS+

Sammy Sosa: 609 HR, 59.7 rWAR, 64.6 fWAR, .273/.344/.534 , 128 OPS+

Alex Rodriguez: 605 HR, 101.7 rWAR, 106.9 fWAR, .303/.387/.571, 146 OPS+

And the guys Thome has passed this season:

Frank Robinson: 586 HR, 107.4 rWAR, 116.3 fWAR, .294/.389/.537, 154 OPS+

Mark McGwire: 583 HR, 63.1 rWAR, 70.6 fWAR, .263/.394/.588, 162 OPS+

Harmon Killebrew: 573 HR, 61.1 rWAR, 78.4 fWAR, .356/.376/.509, 147 OPS+

Rafael Palmeiro: 569 HR, 66.0 rWAR, 75.5 fWAR, .288/.371/.515, 132 OPS+

*I understand the anti-PED sentiment, I really do, but until we can determine with any degree of certainty which players were actually using steroids and which players were clean (heck, until there is conclusive evidence that steroids even have any real affect on a player’s home run numbers), I’m going to take the career numbers for each and every player on this list at face value.

As far as clutch hitting, well, that is much more difficult to measure. I mean, there is no real evidence that anything more than pure dumb luck determines whether a hitter comes through with a big hit in a high leverage situation, even if he happens to be one of the best hitters in baseball. But, for fun, let’s look at how well Jim Thome has hit in various clutch situations throughout his career:

High leverage: .277/.400/.538/.938, 109 home runs, 1992 plate appearances

Medium leverage: .281/.406/.561/.967, 220 home runs, 3053 plate appearances

Low leverage: .275/.405/.569/.975, 258 home runs, 3290 plate appearances

2 outs, runners in scoring position: .252/.432/.497/.930, 61 home runs, 1282 plate appearances

Tie game: .271/.408/.521/929, 127 home runs, 2475 plate appearances. If the score is tied when Jim Thome comes to the plate, there’s a good chance it will be untied pretty quick.

Also, he ranks sixth among active players in win probability added (48.8), and 33rd all-time. He ranks second among active players in situational wins added (WPA/LI) with 61.1, and is 15th all-time. Whether you believe clutch hitting is real or not, Jim Thome is clearly someone you want to have at the plate in the later innings of close games.

I guess whether you think Jim Thome deserves to be in the Hall of Fame depends a lot on whether you think designated hitters belong in the Hall of Fame. The voters have traditionally been loathe to embrace DH candidates, with most DH inductees having been former position players who didn’t become full-time DHs until much later in their careers (such as George Brett and Paul Molitor). That attitude may change when someone like Frank Thomas, who was one of the greatest hitters of his generation as a full-time DH, becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame (well, and the fact that voters are reluctant to induct players even slightly tainted by the steroids scandal means the pickings will be mighty slim for years to come). Voters do seem to like nice, round, milestone career numbers though, so if Thome finishes his career with at least 600 home runs, he will probably get in. If the Big Hurt (whose career numbers are pretty comparable to Thome’s) gets in, then Thome will almost certainly get in as well.

Tags: Chicago White Sox Cleveland Indians Jim Thome Minnesota Twins Philadelphia Phillies