August 20, 2010
Big League Stew goes through the quad and into the gymnasium to look at some of the hottest players in baseball and their chances of keeping it going.
The Naked Truth: .269/.389/.585, 17 HR, 44 RBIs
Having a nice little Saturday: When I wrote about Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame chances on Wednesday, I couldn't avoid talking about Jim Thome. Big Jim has never held the highest profile, has never won an MVP (or finished higher than fourth in the voting) and, believe it or not, he's only gone to five All-Star games.
But Thome is also 10th on the all-time homers list with 581 and, after Bagwell and Frank Thomas(notes), was clearly the best 1B/DH of the past 20 years. He's clearly not done playing good baseball, either, as he's singlehandedly made up for the absence of Justin Morneau(notes) while the Twins have built a four-game lead in the AL Central. Not bad for an old man.
You're my boy, Blue!: Thome currently has the sixth-best OPS+ for a 39-year-old ever, notes Andy at Baseball-Reference, and the ninth-best career OPS+ from age 35 onward. He was very good for the White Sox the last three years (Ozzie Guillen accepts the blame for Thome signing with Minnesota), so it's not like his good hitting is out of context with the recent past. Indeed, a glance at the numbers indicates that this season is nearly identical to his performance from 2006-2009, when he hit .265/.390/.539 for the White Sox and Dodgers. Indeed, his BABIP, strikeout and walk percentages, and line-drive rate are all virtually identical.
Stilll, I don't want to make too much of the similarity because that 2006-2009 period was marked by a four-year decline in OPS, from 1.014 to .847, exactly when we would have expected his numbers to decline due to age. That's why this year's resurgence is so surprising — he has been this good recently, but it seems distinctly unlikely that he will be able to keep this up much longer. After all, his 40th birthday is just a week away.
Think KFC will still be open?: For the next month of the season, and perhaps into the postseason, Thome appears to be a good bet to keep raking. But he's slugging on borrowed time. The Twins caught lightning in a bottle with his terrific performance on a very team-friendly one-year contract this season, but no one can fight father time forever.
Mike Stanton(notes), Florida Marlins .266/.340/.541, 14 HR, 39 RBIs
The man with the reliever's name and the tape-measure home runs has stolen Jason Heyward's(notes) thunder as the most exciting rookie outfielder in the NL East. In August, he's batting .362 with five homers and nine RBIs. He'll never hit for a high average — his strikeout tendencies are Mark Reynolds(notes)-like — but his raw power is frightening. And he's still only 20.
Adam Lind(notes), Toronto Blue Jays .237/.296/.414 17 HR, 54 RBIs
For most of the season, everyone in Toronto was having career years with the bat except for the team's best hitter in 2009. But Lind has finally started to emerge from his season-long slump, raising his OPS 102 points since the beginning of June. He's still fourth on the team in home runs — tied with former shortstop Alex Gonzalez(notes), who was traded a month ago — but he's finally demonstrating that 2009 was less a fluke and more of a sign of things to come.
Dan Uggla(notes), Florida Marlins .293/.380/.530, 28 HR, 77 RBIs
Dan Uggla has been one of the top middle infielders in the league since 2006, so it's a little scary when he has a career year. He is setting career highs in nearly all of his rate stats while getting on pace to set career highs in nearly all of his counting stats. He's striking out less, hitting more line drives and home runs, and with Mike Stanton behind him, he's awfully hard to pitch around. His name means "Owl" in Swedish; in the National League, it just means pain.