One of the crimes of the steroid or PED era in baseball is that players who really stand above the crowd have gotten washed out for what they do. Jim Thome has been a fabulous power hitter his entire career (let's face it, he was a lousy fielder) and at the age of 40 is still a big-time contributer for the Minnesota Twins.
Thome was supposed to be a role player this season. He signed for only $1.5 million with the Twins after making over $138 million in his career. The Twins already had a DH in Kubel who had a good year last year. But injuries and lack of performance elsewhere led to Thome getting in the line up regularly, especially in the last two months, and he has proved that he is as much a threat now as ever. His OPS is his highest since 2007 and his OPS+ is his highest since 2002. He is slugging .578 and his On Base Percentage is .387. Not bad for an old guy. And that's not just in a handful or small sample size. He is up to 248 plate appearances now.
There is no doubt in this Fan's mind that Thome is a Hall of Famer and should be a first ballot one. He has hit 1031 extra base hits in his career. He has a career On Base Percentage of .404. He's driven in over 1600 runs and scored over 1500. And if he is fortunate enough to play another year (something his play this year has given him a good argument for), he could end up with over 600 homers.
Sure, he played in the PED era and thus his stats are looked at with a jaded eye. Sure, he was a lousy third baseman and a lousy first baseman. But as a hitter? Forget about it. He's been great. And since testing has gone into place, the Fan doesn't really see a drop off in his production that can't be accounted for besides the inevetible age decline. He has hit 108 homers in the last five years in mostly part time duty the last couple of years. He is a tough out just like he has always been.
One of the reasons that the Twins haven't missed a beat since Justin Morneau went out with a concussion is that Thome has allowed Kubel to go to the outfield so Cuddyer could play first. All three are hitting well and the Thome has made the most of his playing time. He has a 1.060 OPS in his last 28 days despite a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .259. Imagine what he would be doing if he had been a little luckier! He is holding his own against left-handers with an .800 OPS (above league average). and as usual is killing right-handers.
The Fan can already hear the arguments against Thome when he hits the HOF ballot:
- Played in the PED era. Yeah, so did a lot of players. Were they as good as him?
- Was mostly a DH. Okay, but that's why they put the rule in there in the first place. Edgar Martinez isn't a Hall of Famer?
- Never won an MVP. He was in the top ten in voting four times and was in the top twenty six times.
- Was never considered as one of the best players in his sport. Says who? Okay, he made only five All Star Games. But there were always a lot of big slugging first basemen. How many of them will finish close to or over 600 homers?
- Only hit .222 during post season play. Yeah, but he hit 17 homers or one less than Mickey Mantle (who didn't get the benefit of playoff series).
But forget about all of that right now because Thome is still playing and he is just another big reason why the Twins are doing as well as they are. Enjoy him while you can. He was and is all class and he's had one heck of a career. Thankfully, it isn't over yet.