Cleveland Guardians: Is it possible Jim Thome had an underrated career?

Jim Thome #25 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Tim Umphrey/Getty Images)
Jim Thome #25 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Tim Umphrey/Getty Images) /
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CLEVELAND, OH – JULY 13: The Jim Thome statue at Progressive Field before the Cleveland Indians play an intrasquad game during summer workouts on July 13, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH – JULY 13: The Jim Thome statue at Progressive Field before the Cleveland Indians play an intrasquad game during summer workouts on July 13, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images) /

How can a ballplayer who hit more than 600 home runs and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer be underrated? Jim Thome is eighth all-time with 612 home runs, but many people view him as just a power hitter because he struck out over 2,500 times, which is utterly short-sighted. Thome was still invaluable because he walked over 1,700 times; his career on-base percentage is over 400, which is simply outstanding. His career OPS is over 950 which is beyond elite and his OPS+ is 147, which means it’s 47 points higher than the average hitter.

Eye-popping stats to be sure.

During his time with Cleveland, over the course of thirteen seasons, these numbers are even better: he hit 337 home runs, which was one home run for every fourteen at-bats. His OPS was 980 and his OPS + was 152. It should go without saying he’s one of the best hitters in the history of the team. He leads the franchise in home runs, is second in RBI (937) and third in OBP/OPS. He also just so happens to have the 16th-highest OPS in MLB history.

If you look at his WAR, it puts him in the top-five discussion for first baseman. He ranks sixth, with one win lower than Frank Thomas of the White Sox. Thome wasn’t known as a defensive whiz by any means, but the advance numbers show he wasn’t as bad as people thought. He had -3 defensive runs saved and an ultimate zone rating of -1.5. These numbers are average to barely below average, He was a designated hitter for the last 4-5 years of his career, but he was adequately able to field his position for the majority of his career, although this should be taken with a grain of salt because advanced metrics weren’t able to track this information before 2002. This sample size is only six years, but he obviously had much more range earlier in his career.

Looking at more of the advanced metrics such as WRC+ and OBA+, Thome continues to pass the analytical test. WRC+ stands for weighted runs created. This factors in the ballpark’s eras and adjusts to other factors that are out of the player’s control. One hundred is considered league average and 145 would be equal to 45% above league average. That was Thome’s career WRC+, which is yet another example of how exceptional he was. As a hitter, Thome was truly in a class of his own, even during a time when many hitters were putting up astounding numbers.

The metric OBA+ is another version of on-base percentage, but it accounts for how a player got on base. A walk is worth .069 and a home run is worth 2.1. Doubles and triples are also worth more. An average OBA+ is 320 and above average is 340. Thome’s OBA+ was 406. A good reference for this is that 20 points is worth about ten runs above average per 600 plate appearances. Quick math on Thome shows he was over 40 runs above average per 600 plate appearances.

What more really needs to be said? Most people just don’t realize how good this humble, soft-spoken, and legendary ballplayer really was.

Cleveland Indians, Jim Thome
Jim Thome #25 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by SPX/Ron Vesely Photography via Getty Images) /
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