On Jim Thome and steroids

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Thanks largely to the work of Sam Miller, the Orange County Register has one of the best baseball blogs of any newspaper in the country.  The other bloggers, though, don’t always measure up, and Jeff Miller decided to take on Jim Thome’s 600th homer today, claiming that it’s just fine for us to assume he did steroids.

His big point to back it up?

“From 2001-03, Thome averaged 49 homers a year. He never hit more than 42 in any other season. A single statistic, a ton of suspicion.”

It’s a ton of something, alright.

I have no idea whether Jim Thome used steroids, but I strongly dislike it when amateurs go to the numbers to try to figure out when a guy was cheating.  It’s a ridiculous exercise, particularly since there’s just no reason to think that taking an average player and juicing him up is going to add 10 or 20 homers to his year’s total.  There’s simply no evidence that suggests that’s the case.

Anyway, Thome did peak in 2001-02.  But to say Miller’s three-year span stands out from the rest of his career is nonsense.  Let’s look at Thome’s at-bats per home run per year, ranked from top to bottom and only counting the seasons in which he had 300 plate appearances.

2002: 9.2
2001: 10.7
2010: 11.0
2006: 11.7
2004: 12.1
2003: 12.3
2007: 12.3
1997: 12.4
1996: 13.3
1998: 14.7
2008: 14.8
1999: 15.0
2000: 15.1
2009: 15.7
1994: 16.1
1995: 18.1

If Thome had exactly 500 at-bats at those rates in all of those seasons, he would have peaked at 54 homers in 2002.  However, his next seven best seasons all would have come in between 40 and 47 homers and those seasons were spread out from 1997 to 2010.

So, go ahead, find the steroids seasons in there.