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Entries in Jim Thome (2)


Phillies Add Thome's Pop for Peanuts

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:

Thome's in-play slugging percentage vs. fastballs and sinkers, 2009-2011 Location of Thome's HR on fastballs and sinkers, 2009-2011

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.


Defining the Strike Zone

Can batters define their own strike zones? There is conjecture that umpires will tend to call pitches strikes in locations where batters swing, and balls in locations where batters don't swing.  That may be the case for Jim Thome.  Over the last three season, Jim walked in 16% of his plate appearances, the third highest in the major leagues behind Chipper Jones and Jack Cust (minimum 1300 PA).  So Jim knows when to swing and when to take. The following heat map shows where Jim swings at pitches:

Jim Thome swings, 2008-2010Note that Thome swings less when the pitches are at the top and bottom edge of the strike zone, and more when the pitches are on the insdie and outside corners.  Compare that to where the umpires call balls:

Jim Thome called balls, 2008-2010While not exactly the same, the umpires are giving Jim the benefit of the doubt up and down, where he swings less, but they are penalizing him on the outside corner, where he swings more.  There may be something to batter swings influencing umpires after all.