Don’t use MVP voting to throw cold water on Jim Thome’s Hall of Fame case

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Personally speaking I think Jim Thome is a Hall of Famer. I haven’t really analyzed his case yet and won’t for a while, but I think he is.  The general sentiment among writers over the past few days seems to reflect that too. Even guys who have historically been opposed to so-called “stat-compilers” and who are thus less-impressed with milestone numbers as opposed to how fearsome or clutch a player seemed to be are on the Thome train. Guys like Jon Heyman, for example.

But Joel Sherman isn’t quite so sure.  His column today, while not sharply discounting Thome’s Hall of Fame case, certainly places it in second-tier status.  Sherman believes that Thome is more of a Don Sutton figure who, if he is elected, will do so because he hung around a long time and was likable.  Sherman does not believe, however, that Thome was ever an elite player, the sort of which people considered to be among the best in the game.  Among the evidence he cites:

Fred McGriff, for example, finished with 493 homers and is roundly viewed as a clean player, yet in his two eligible years has not exceeded 21.6 percent of the Hall vote.

McGriff, also a lefty, slugging first baseman, was named to five All-Star teams and his highest finish in the MVP tally was fourth. Want to guess Thome’s results? It is five All-Star teams and a high of fourth in the MVP voting. In fact, McGriff finished in the top 10 of MVP voting six times compared to four for Thome.

Does anyone besides me have a major problem with using MVP voting results as a Hall of Fame criteria? That having the same guys who vote on those awards — baseball writers — cite those vote totals as evidence for their Hall of Fame decisions?  Kind of circular, no?

This is especially true when you realize that Thome — just like Fred McGriff — was severely underrated when it came to postseason awards voting.  To cite the example many have cited in the past few days, in 2002, the baseball writers voted Thome 7th in the MVP voting despite the fact that he led the league in OPS and was second in WAR.  Indeed for several years Thome’s contributions were discounted as if he were some sort of bizarro Dave Kingman figure, doing little besides hitting home runs but at least doing it with a smile.

Thome was much more than that.  So too was McGriff for that matter.  That the writers didn’t appreciate that at the time should not count a lick to the writers who will need to assess Thome’s case in five or six years.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.