Tuesday, September 07, 2010

How about that Jim Thome fella?

Now that the season’s almost done, I can finally bring myself to admit it.

I was wrong about Jim Thome.

Back in January, I took a cautionary stance on the signing of the designated hitter. While he still had the same eagle-eyed approach at the plate, the biggest reason I urged people to exercise caution on the Thome acquisition was that his ability to pull the ball last year had completely evaporated. To me, this suggested age and injuries had taken a toll on the big slugger’s body and that it was just a matter of time before he would become just bench-filler.

In 2009, just a handful of Thome home runs left the yard on the right side of the field, his lowest mark of his career. At 38 years old and a track record of back injuries piling up, it was easy to associate this with an overall decline. Needless to say, Thome’s symbolic shot off the flag pole deep in right field on Monday afternoon sent a clear message: Jimmer’s is just fine.

This season, the now 40 year old Thome has been able to generate power once again to the right field portion of the ballpark, launching seven home runs in that direction as well as producing a .769 slugging percentage:

Jim Thome’s Pull Power
Pulled HR%
Pulled SLG%

Not long ago, in a recent Sunday Night Baseball broadcast, commentator Joe Morgan also echoed this sentiment about Thome’s inability to pull the ball. Morgan said that he noted last season that Thome’s bat speed was slowed and thus was unable to turn on an inside pitch. In Morgan’s view, Thome was in the twilight of his career when playing with the Dodgers.

In a rare occurrence of a blind squirrel finding a nut, it appears that Morgan was right. According to Inside Edge’s database, Thome had not handled anything thrown inside particularly well the previous two seasons, posting well-hit averages below the league’s average.

Of course, like almost everything else Morgan usually says, it was proven to be false. Thome is absolutely destroying anything that flies within that inner-half of the plate:

Jim Thome and the Inside Pitch
Well-Hit Average (Inside)
MLB Average

Overall, Thome’s power has had a remarkable rebound. Research showed that his power was slowly decreasing as his isolated power (slugging minus batting average) numbers had fallen from .287 in ’07 to .258 in ’08 to .232 in ’09. This was yet another indication that Thome was potentially slowing down. Clearly, Thome has proven the critics (and, without a doubt, me) wrong there. In just a shade under 300 plate appearances, Thome has produced a .346 isolated power – his highest since 2002 when he was still in a Cleveland Indians uniform.

Whatever the reason might be behind this resurgence – health, exercise regiment, coaching – Thome’s been able to rediscover the approach that has made him feared by opposing pitchers. He's been a blessing to this lineup and the Twins should consider themselves fortunate he fell to them this past offseason.