Frank Thomas is the most underrated hitter of all time

Leave a comment

Craig touched on
Frank Thomas’ likely retirement this morning and his noting that
“Thomas will be an interesting Hall of Fame case” because “the BBWAA
can be unfair and irrational” has me preemptively annoyed about a vote
that won’t take place for at least another five years.

Thomas was my favorite player growing up, which is admittedly an odd
sentiment for a Twins fan. However, when The Big Hurt was at his
baseball-crushing best my beloved Twins were finishing in fourth or
fifth place for eight straight seasons, so they were barely worth
following and the White Sox were on WGN just about every day when
baseball-watching options were limited.

A 6-foot-5, 250-pound mountain of a man who played tight end at
Auburn and was a massive slugger from the moment that he arrived in the
majors as a 22-year-old in 1990, the sheer magnitude of Thomas’
physical size and offensive numbers made a fan in me immediately. And
now, two decades later, I’m here to tell you that he’s the most
underrated hitter in the history of baseball. Seriously.

Because of what has happened to power numbers and power hitters
during the past decade or so Thomas is often talked about as just
another great slugger from this era, but that misses the boat in a big
way. Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball and surely everyone
would agree that at 29 years old he’s on track to be a first-ballot
Hall of Famer, but look at his numbers compared to Thomas’ stats at the
same age:

               G       PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+
Pujols 1312 5696 .334 .426 .628 171
Thomas 1076 4789 .330 .452 .600 182

Pujols has hit .334 with a 1.054 OPS, whereas Thomas hit .330 with a
1.052 OPS through the age of 29. Plus, Thomas’ twenties came in a
slightly lower-scoring era, which is why his adjusted OPS+ of 182 tops
Pujols at 171. Pujols has two MVPs and one batting title while twice
leading the league in OPS. Before his 30th birthday Thomas had two MVPs
and one batting title while leading the league in OPS four times.

Frank Thomas was Albert Pujols before Albert Pujols. And while it
remains to be seen what Pujols does after turning 30, Thomas hit
.276/.389/.515 with 264 homers and a 134 OPS+ in 1,246 games. To put
that into some context, consider that Jim Rice had a 128 OPS+ for his
entire “Hall of Fame career.” Add his amazing twenties to his very good
thirties and Thomas is a career .301/.419/.555 hitter with 521 homers
and a 156 OPS+.

Thomas ranks ninth all time in walks, 18th in homers, 21st in RBIs,
25th in extra-base hits, 29th in times on base, and 37th in total
bases. Among players with at least 7,500 career plate appearances,
Thomas ranks 11th in on-base percentage, 17th in slugging percentage,
12th in OPS, and 13th in adjusted OPS+. He’s also one of just 11
players to win back-to-back MVP awards.

If he’s indeed finished playing, Thomas becomes just the seventh
hitter in baseball history to retire with 500 homers and a .300 batting
average, joining Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx, Ted
Williams, and Mel Ott. He also joins Ruth, Williams, and Ott as the
only players with 500 homers, 1,500 RBIs, 1,500 walks, and a .300
average.

Whether you choose to focus on peak dominance or career longevity
Thomas is quite simply one of the greatest 20 or so hitters in the
history of the sport and if that doesn’t get him into Cooperstown then
what use is there in even having a Hall of Fame?

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

Getty Images
11 Comments

Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.