One of the complaints people have about baseball in 2018 is the lack of balls in play, that too many plate appearances end in one of what are called the “three true outcomes” — walk, strikeout or home run.
In a lot of ways, Jim Thome was the harbinger of where baseball was headed.
Thome, who will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame on Sunday, boasts an accomplishment no other inductee can claim — he is top 10 on the MLB career lists in home runs (eighth with 612), strikeouts (second with 2,548) and walks (seventh with 1,747).
Nobody was truer to the three true outcomes than Thome.
“We’ve seen more of that style come into play in terms of the three true outcomes, but we haven’t seen a lot of guys with the power and patience Thome did,” said former Sports Illustrated writer Jay Jaffe, author of the “Cooperstown Casebook,” which analyzes the arguments for players who should and should not be in the Hall of Fame. “Not everybody in this day and age has Jim Thome’s kind of power or Jim Thome’s plate discipline.”
Thome stands out from today’s players in a few ways. First, Thome didn’t forsake his batting average. In an era that has seen hitters sacrifice average at the expense of hitting as many home runs as possible, Thome would’ve stood out. He was a lifetime .276 hitter and had a career on-base percentage of .402 thanks to all his walks. His slugging percentage was .554, giving him an eye-popping OPS of .956.
That number would make him eighth in the majors today, and his top season in OPS (2002 at 1.122) would top that of the current MLB leader, Mookie Betts, who could win the AL MVP this season. Thome only finished seventh in the MVP voting in 2002 despite finishing third in WAR (wins above replacement) at 7.4. Thome’s career, specifically from 1995-2002, is filled with similar statistical lines.
Perhaps Thome’s offensive prowess would be even more appreciated in 2018 than it was when he played.
“He was a cut above,” Jaffe said. “And even in this more homer-saturated age, that particular archetype is a little scarce.”