The Jim Thome Reunion Tour continues! The 41-year-old slugger/Brawny Paper Towel model, who returned to Cleveland in a waiver wire deal last August, signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal (plus $250K in possible incentives) with the Phillies over the weekend. Thome left the Indians following the 2002 season to sign with Philly, spending three seasons there before being swapped to the White Sox. While Thome is hardly an ideal fit on a National League roster, it's hard to fault the Phillies for adding a power bat for a pittance.
It's true that, aside from nine interleague games that Philly plays in AL parks in 2012, Thome's spot in the lineup is uncertain. Ryan Howard may miss the first half of the season following left Achilles surgery, but Thome hasn't appeared at the position since 2007 and hasn't played there regularly since 2005. Thome says he could use the offseason to work out at first base in hopes of playing there a few days a week, but that's a dicey proposition for a 40-something with a balky back.
Still, it's not like Howard (dead last among qualified first basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating/150 games over the past three years) is a Keith Hernandez clone at first. And even though he broke into the big leagues when the Soviet Union collapsed, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" topped the charts and Jack Morris was the World Series MVP, Thome can still kill baseballs. Over the past three seasons, he ranks 17th in both on-base percentage (.379) and slugging percentage (.523) among MLB hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances.
Thome remains a fearsome hitter because he still hammers fastballs like few others. Since 2009, Thome has a .286/.408/.587 line against fastballs and sinkers. That slugging percentage ranks in the top 20 among batters, in the same neighborhood as David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez. Thome rarely chases fastballs/sinkers out of the zone (18 percent, compared to the 26 percent big league average), and unless pitchers tie him up inside, he hammers those pitches to all fields. Check out Thome's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location vs. fastballs and sinkers, as well as the location of his homers hit on those pitches:
Considering that Philly turned to the likes of Ross Gload, Ben Francisco and Michael Martinez to pinch-hit last year, Thome is a worthwhile addition even if he's called upon solely to spot for pitchers or bottom-of-the-lineup bats in the late innings.