Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Keltner List: Frank Thomas

Number three in the series is The Big Hurt Frank Thomas. I think he is forgotten at  this point, but he was Pujols before Pujols.

1. Was he ever considered the best player in baseball?

Thomas was never considered the best player in baseball, but many in the early 1990s considered him the game's best right handed hitter. He was a very large (6'5, 240 lbs) man who hit the ball very hard. Many of his home runs as a youngster were flat out line drives. Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. were the best players during Thomas' prime seasons.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Thomas was the best player on the White Sox from 1992 through 1997 (Tim Raines was still very productive early in Thomas's career but was not the player he was in Montreal) and in 2000 and 2003. Injuries cost him several seasons in that period. Sammy Sosa was not yet the player he would become with the Cubs when Thomas came to the majors in 1990.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

Thomas was a full time first baseman from 1991-1996 before he moved to DH. In that time, he was arguably the best first baseman in the American League (not fielding, obviously). Was he better than Jeff Bagwell? Probably not, but let's compare the two.


(stats courtesy of www.baseball-reference.com)

Thomas was a superior hitter, but Bagwell was hampered by playing in the Astrodome. Bagwell was a better baserunner than Thomas and a much better fielder, but Thomas was the best first baseman in the AL. Fred McGriff should be in this discussion as well. Rafael Palmeiro also, but I am unable to tackle the steroids issue yet.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

In 1993, the White Sox went 29-14 after August 19 to win the AL West over the Rangers and Royals. During that stretch Thomas hit 9 HR with 28 RBIs. He struck out only 9 times. The White Sox were in first in 1994 when the strike hit by a game over a strong Indians team. That season was the second MVP of Thomas' career, and the White Sox would not have been in first without him. In 2006, the A's finished four games ahead of the Angels, with Thomas hitting 11 HR in September and October. Thomas was not on the post season roster for the 2005 White Sox.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly past his prime?

Yes if you count the DH. Thomas played only 131 games at first following the 1997 season. A tricep injury in 2001 cost him 140 games that year at age 33. He came back to post good numbers as a DH in 2003, 2006 and 2007 but was unable to play the field. He was no longer a .300 hitter but still had good power and plate discipline.

6. Is he the best player in baseball history who is not in the hall of fame?

No, that is probably Barry Bonds.

7. Are most players with comparable stats in the Hall of Fame?

Thomas finished his career with 521 HR, 1704 RBI, 1667 walks and the 14th highest OPS in history. There are only four players who are "essentially similar" to Thomas (defined by James as a comp score of 850 or over): Bagwell, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Fred McGriff. None of those four players are in the Hall, and only Bagwell and McGriff are eligible. Ramirez is in my mind the most similar to Thomas, in that they were both right handed power hitters who played poor defense, but Thomas drew many more walks than Ramirez. Bagwell is in a sense the most similar player. McGriff and Thome were both left handed. Pujols (822) is also similar to Thomas, but again is a better fielder. Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle and Willie McCovey are also similar to Thomas (between 800-850) and all are in the Hall of Fame.

8. Do the players numbers meet hall of fame standards?

Thomas scores a 60 on the standards test, well above the 50 of an average hall of famer.

9. Is there evidence that the player was significantly better or worse than his statistics show?

I would argue that Thomas' defense was a liability. In 1997 he played only 97 games at first but committed 11 errors, the third most in the AL. By that point he was a professional hitter only due to back and arm problems. However, his bat produced far more runs than his defense gave away. Thomas was the model for OPS before OPS was cool;  he led the league in walks and OBP four times. Unfortunately none of his teammates could hit like Thomas.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but has not been inducted?

No; I would argue Bagwell is the best first baseman who is currently eligible.

11. How many MVP type seasons did he have? Did he win any MVPs? How many times was he close?

Thomas won back to back MVPs in 1993 and 1994. He finished second in 2000 and third in 1991 and 1997. He was in the top ten in the voting nine times in his fourteen full seasons, an impressive record for any player. He was the comeback player of the year in 2000.

12. How many All Star seasons did he have? How many All Star games did he play in?

Unbelievably, Thomas was selected to only 5 All Star games. In 1991 he finished third in the MVP voting, won the Silver Slugger award....but Cecil Fielder and Rafael Palmeiro were the first basemen for the AL. In 1992 he was 8th in the MVP voting, led the league in doubles and walks....but Mark McGwire was the all star starter and Thomas did not even get selected. The AL had a pretty good DH that year in Paul Molitor. Five all star games is not a lot for a hall of famer.

13. If this man were the best player on the team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?


14. What impact did the player have on baseball history?

Thomas at one point held the record for most HR by a DH. He is still the career leader in multiple categories (HR, RBI, BB) for the White Sox. I think one of the reasons Thomas is overlooked is that by the year 2000, Thomas was just what the DH position was intended for: players who could still hit but could not longer play the field. This view of him as a "all hit-no field player" tends to discount his earlier accomplishments.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of the Hall of Fame?

Thomas had a very good relationship with the fans in Chicago throughout his time there, and was a noted leader in the locker room. He is known to be an outspoken proponent of drug testing for MLB and has said in the past that he got his 500 home runs "clean". I would say yes to this question.

For me, Thomas is a strange case. Bagwell will probably be voted in first, but Thomas is deserving. That said, however, is this because he put up 500 HR clean? What will we do with McGwire and Palmeiro? For that matter, what about Dale Murphy who won back to back MVPs in the 1980s, only to have his hitting records swamped by the steroid era?  Thomas suffers because by the time he started to break down other players were bulking up. For seven years (1991-1997) Thomas was as good a right handed hitter as many of us had ever seen, and again, finishing in the top 10 in MVP voting 9 times in a career is impressive.


1 comment:

  1. Groß Inhalt. Ich schätze immer diese zuverlässige Informationen von Ihnen.
    Vielen Dank für das Teilen dieser großen Inhalt. Ich lese deine Beiträge. Sie sind inspirierend. Ich habe einige relevante Informationen, die Sie unten überprüfen können
    Stargames Erfahrungsberichte