|Serious Baseball: Projecting Jim Thome|
Written by Frank Bundy III (Contact & Archive) on February 22, 2007
It was only a little more than one year ago when I, and many other writers and analysts, jumped all over the Chicago White Sox for acquiring Designated Hitter Jim Thome from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for CF Aaron Rowand, and two minor league pitchers. That off-season the Pale Hose were coming off of a World Series Championship in which Rowand played a huge role. While at first glance one may say his batting line of .270/.329/.407 was nothing special, it becomes so when you consider that the average American League center fielder that year posted a .268/.322/.407 batting line and then take into account Rowand’s phenomenal center field defense. In 2005 Rowand was the second best full-time center fielder in all of baseball (behind only Andruw Jones), and the best in the American League according to Baseball Musings’ Probabilistic Model of Range. That season, he turned 25 more balls in play into outs than would have been expected. On top of this, 2006 would only be his age-28 season.
To add fuel to the fire, it’s not as if Rowand’s offense wasn’t going to get better. It seemed 2005 was actually a “down” year for Rowand with the bat. After all, coming into that season his career batting line was .290/.342/.475 in 1069 AB’s. And it was just the season before (2004) he posted a .310/.361/.544 batting line in 487 AB’s.
It seemed logical that not only would Rowand be an above-average offensive player in 2006, and down the road as well, but he would also provide stellar defense at a position on the diamond where defense is of utmost importance. All this from a 28 year old! Why would any team want to trade him, and two decent prospects, for an aging designated hitter who was coming off of an injury-shortened season caused by a bad back and a strained right elbow?
Well, at least for one season, that question was partially answered when the man the White Sox acquired for Rowand posted a .288/.416/.598 batting line with 42 HR and 109 RBI. Jim Thome did, indeed, rebound from his injury-riddled 2005 season and gave the White Sox exactly what they were hoping for. While he still missed a few games due to his balky back, his right elbow never acted up, and all other games he missed were due to injuries unrelated to the ones he suffered in 2005. If the White Sox get 143 games from Thome again in 2007, I’m sure they’d be ecstatic. It won’t be until Thome’s contract runs out after the 2008 season, though, that the White Sox will truly know if they received what they were wishing for--which would be two replicas of Thome’s 2006 campaign in the next two seasons.
With that in mind, let’s try and project how season two of the “Jim Thome Experiment” will turn out on the South Side of Chicago.
Before revealing the numbers, let’s go back and take a look at this article I penned last off-season where I attempted to project Thome’s 2006 season.
Then I said Thome would post a .267/.407/.542 batting line with 37 HR in 2006, and told White Sox fans, “…I still have the same opinion I had on Thursday, and this article only strengthens my belief (about the trade not favoring the White Sox). I will say one thing though; ‘You White Sox fans will enjoy watching Thome next season (if he stays healthy) because he is truly a special player.’”
It turns out that I was right about Thome being enjoyable to watch, but not right on the projection as he actually hit .288/.416/.598 with 42 HR’s. It turned out that he played even better than he did in his last injury-free season of 2004 (.274/.396/.581, 42 HR). My prediction of regression from Thome was clearly off.
Now I have new numbers to work with, and a new method which completely neutralizes Thome’s previous seasons from his home ballpark, and allows me to make projections off of what Thome really did…without any outside influences. With that in mind, here is Thome’s previous three, fully-healthy (2003, 2004, and 2006) “park-neutral” seasons:
Year AB AVG OBP SLG OPS
In all three seasons Thome was unquestionably helped by his home ballpark as both Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia and U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago are both very hitter-friendly. His actual OPS in each of the three above seasons was .958, .977, and 1.014, respectively. As you can see, when neutralized, his production wasn’t nearly as high.
Using rate stats derived from those previous three seasons, and common knowledge about the aging curves of certain player profiles, here is what I have come up with for Jim Thome’s 2007 season:
439 AB, .277/.408/.587 (.994 OPS), 38 HR, 100 RBI.
Knowing that players with Thome’s profile of “high-walk, high power” tend to keep those facets of their game through their late thirties, I have not projected much decline. If healthy, Thome is a very “predictable” player. Think about it, even though I was a bit off last season, I perfectly predicted the exact kind of season Thome would have. I take no credit for this because Thome has been putting up the same “high walk, high HR total” seasons for more than ten years now. He has great patience at the plate, hits the ball hard when he makes contact, and has enough power to knock a whole lot of balls over the fence. Same ol’ story, different year--every year; and that will be the case in 2007 as well.
Before I end this rant I would like to do what I’ve done at the end of each of my other projection articles this off-season and compare what I’ve predicted to what Baseball Prospectus’ projection system, PECOTA, predicted.
This is the first of my projections (albeit I’ve only done two prior) where PECOTA and I disagree. They have Thome posting a .263/.385/.521 (.906 OPS) batting line in 358 AB’s with 25 HR and 69 RBI.
They must see Thome’s back injury coming back and clearly affecting his power (.258 predicted ISOP vs. my predicted ISOP of .310). This is completely understandable, as I too believe Thome will miss some time due to injury, but not as much and not quite as detrimental.
We’ll see how I do versus PECOTA on this one. It’s basically a question of how bad will Thome’s back act up in 2007, and how badly will it effect him? My rationale is that his back was hurt in 2005, and that is not an injury that just “goes away,” so it was probably there in 2006. But, somehow, Thome learned to lessen it’s effect, or just play through it, and I believe he can do it again. If he’s going to be affected by an injury in 2007, it will probably be something other than his back (he did suffer minor groin and hamstring injuries in 2006).
Thank you for reading,
Frank Bundy III