25 Best Hitters of the Free Agent Era: #17 Jim Thome

We continue our countdown of the 25 Best Hitters of the Free Agent Era.  The rest of the posts can be found here.

These rankings get harder and harder as we get closer to the top ten.  At the middle of this conflict is Jim Thome, a prolific home run hitter whose power is hardly matched in history.

Though Thome played with six different teams in his career, it’s hard to imagine him in any other uniform than that of the Cleveland Indians (1,399 games).  Between the Phillies, White Sox, Twins, Dodgers, and Orioles, he played an additional 1,144 games.  But it doesn’t matter where he played, Jim Thome was a beast who mashed.

Only three qualifying hitters hit homers more often than Thome (McGwire, Ruth, Bonds).  He finished with 612 round-trippers in 8,422 official at bats, a 7.27% clip.

He compiled a stellar .406 on-base percentage, helped along by his 16.9% walk percentage.  Thome’s power was obviously a major factor: pitchers were just flat out afraid to pitch to him.  And with good reason.  His .554 slugging was higher than David Ortiz, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey Jr.

Sabermetrics support Thome’s case. His offensive WAR is outstanding, finishing up at 554.6, good for 10th highest of the top 25. His wRC+ is 3rd highest of the players we’ve named so far (Bagwell and Schmidt).

These things considered, Jim Thome makes a great argument to be much higher on this list. And I expect that those with a more modern view of metrics would put him higher. I still cling to some traditional ideas, and he falls a few points because of some other rather picky comparisons against his peers.

Thome batted .276 in his career.  Not too shabby, but there are some gaudy numbers still to come.  Sure, he homered 612 times, but only managed 2,328 total hits in his career, fifth lowest of all 25.  Number of hits is hardly the best metric, but relative to the rest of the hitters on this list, it puts him behind the 8-ball.

And though I get it… the home run is the king of stats and worth the swing-and-miss part of the game, Jim Thome struck out more often than anyone of the 25.  He came up empty in 24.7% of his plate appearances, which means 1 in 4 at bats he produced nothing.  Traditionally, I find it hard to overlook that, despite what the homers provide from a metrics standpoint.

When you think of the greatest hitters of our era, does Jim Thome come to mind?  I don’t know that he did immediately for me.  But after one look at this homer total, his OPS, his on-base, and his sabermetrics, it was an easy call to put him in front of names like Jeter, Schmidt, or even Ichiro.  He was absolutely feared, and hit homers as well as anyone in history save three individuals.

That’s not just prolific power, that’s legendary.

Here he is hitting homers 599 and 600 as a member of the Minnesota Twins.

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