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Frank Thomas is the most underrated hitter ever

Feb 12, 2010, 11:45 AM EST

Frank Thomas officially announcing his retirement has me thinking about his place in baseball history and preemptively worried that the Baseball Writers Association of America may not fully appreciate him when he appears on their Hall of Fame ballots in 2014.

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 he’s the most
underrated hitter in baseball history. 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 1399 6082 .334 .427 .628 172
Thomas 1076 4789 .330 .452 .600 182

Pujols has hit .334 with a 1.055 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 172. Pujols has three MVPs and one batting title while thrice
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 in some context: 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.

And now that he’s officially 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?

  1. Motherscratcher - Feb 12, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    ESPN has a poll up asking about Frank’s HOF prospects. 16% say no and can be immediately dismissed as complete morons.
    A full 55% said YES – BUT NOT FIRST BALLOT.
    I was astounded by that. Not first ballot? How can so many people not appreciate how awesome this guy was?

  2. BCTF - Feb 12, 2010 at 12:12 PM

    BUT HE CLOGS THE BASES!!!!11!!!!!1

  3. Chris - Feb 12, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    As usual wonderfully stated Aaron. You forgot to mention his ability to give the kids in the upper part of left field GA at the Metrodome souvenirs. Those kids got squat unless McGwire or the Big Hurt were in town.

  4. Moses Green - Feb 12, 2010 at 12:14 PM

    So with you on this, except for the worrying. Fear not, chicks and HOF voters dig the long ball.

  5. BCTF - Feb 12, 2010 at 12:17 PM

    RF upper GA

  6. Largebill - Feb 12, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    Motherscratcher,
    A possible explanation for the high percentage saying Frank won’t go in on the first ballot is the glut of players that will hit the ballot in the next couple years. I think there are around ten guys who retired in the last few years who would normally be quickly inducted once the five year wait is done. We could have a situation where only a couple reach the magic 75% causing a large backlog of quality players. Adding to this problem is the voters still sorting out how they will deal with players from the “steroid era.” If there are six or more returning players with 50% or higher it makes it very difficult for a new name to top 75%. Keep in mind there are still a few voters who just won’t vote for first timers period. Don’t get me wrong Thomas should sail in to the HoF, but I wouldn’t bet any money on the elections in 2012 on. It is going to be a mess.

  7. frank pepe - Feb 12, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    his stats dipped when he started playing DH. hmm. that 182 ops+ put him behind only babe and ted williams. what he did in the 90s with a bat was unholy. big hurt forever

  8. moreflagsmorefun - Feb 12, 2010 at 12:31 PM

    His #’s are really good, sometimes people get too possesive with who is the best this and that, Pujols is great, no doubt but there are some other fellas who can swing a mean stick too.There is a guy in New York that plays third who swings a awesome piece of wood and I’am not talking about what he does for the ladies.The BIG Hurt is probably not in on the first ballot but he will get in.

  9. Don - Feb 12, 2010 at 12:31 PM

    The guy slugged .600 for an entire decade of his baseball career. He averaged over a double each time he hit a baseball with a batting average at .330. These numbers are sick and he has always been a huge guy and not the over night 35 pounds of muscle cough, cough I-Rod, Big Mac, A-Rod, etc…
    The guy flat out hit and was one of the best during his prime. Injuries cost him alot of numbers. Like Griffey, Frank Thomas will always been seen in “What if he stayed healthy…”
    The guy is a flat out first ballot Hall of Famer. If someone was writing about the history of baseball, his name would have to be mentioned in the greats of the 1990’s. This alone says enough about his Hall of Fame career.

  10. nelson - Feb 12, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    don’t forget that thomas finished second to jason giambi in mvp voting in 2000. that might help his case in the wake of the steroids backlash.

  11. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Feb 12, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    His #’s are really good, sometimes people get too possesive with who is the best this and that, Pujols is great, no doubt but there are some other fellas who can swing a mean stick too.There is a guy in New York that plays third who swings a awesome piece of wood and I’am not talking about what he does for the ladies.The BIG Hurt is probably not in on the first ballot but he will get in.

    I’m one of the biggest Arod supporters; however, in terms of hitting only, Frank Thomas > Arod in every single category. Arod was/is a better player because he was a great defensive SS, and before the hip injury, a decent 3b as well.

  12. BC - Feb 12, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    Mel Ott hit .300??

  13. gary - Feb 12, 2010 at 1:11 PM

    Thomas will eventually get in – I think. Alas, another terrific player born on May 27, 1968 will not.

  14. BudLight - Feb 12, 2010 at 1:11 PM

    He still wears his ballcap funny…

  15. Rays fan - Feb 12, 2010 at 1:15 PM

    No worries. There’s no first-ballot wing of the HoF. Note others who did not get in on the first ballot include Joe Dimaggio and Yogi Berra.

  16. Eric Solomon - Feb 12, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    Frank Thomas was AWESOME.
    I think he may get extra points from the anti-PED group; I seem to recall his being the only player to meet with George Mitchell during the steriod “investigation”.

  17. BCTF - Feb 12, 2010 at 2:19 PM

    Add Cy Young to that list

  18. Carl - Feb 12, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    I think the fact that he was the ONLY player to cooperate with George Mitchell ought to really help him.

  19. nelson - Feb 12, 2010 at 5:02 PM

    not only did he cooperate, he didn’t forget how to speak english like his cross-town counterpart.

  20. Dump - Feb 12, 2010 at 6:08 PM

    but he just wasn’t flashy…

  21. Andrew P - Feb 12, 2010 at 8:16 PM

    But he played for the White Sox, Aaron!
    Okay, I agree. The man was a monster.
    1st ballot voting is ridiculous, though, and I actually don’t think he’ll get in.
    It shouldn’t matter as much for a 1B, but Pujols is a far superior defensive player than Thomas ever was. In every other way, I think the comparison is legitimate, though.

  22. Reflex - Feb 12, 2010 at 8:30 PM

    I’d also add that in the mid-90’s he was calling for a steroid investigation and the press was ignoring him or calling him paranoid. He’s been an anti-steroid crusader since long before the press suddenly found religion on the topic(and went way off the deep end in the other direction).

  23. The Vera - Feb 12, 2010 at 10:17 PM

    The most underrated hitter ever is Frank Robinson. The ONLY player to ever win the Triple Crown in each league. (When do you think we’ll see another Triple Crown winner?)
    When people talk about the “Greats” past & present, his name is never mentioned.
    If you don’t know his stats…look them up.

  24. Old Gator - Feb 12, 2010 at 11:56 PM

    I seriously doubt if any of the pitchers who faced Frank Thomas ever “underrated” him. Ditto Frank Robinson – who, by the way, was never “underrated” that I can pinpoint; no pitcher nor any fan of a team against who he was batting particularly wanted to see him walking to the plate. Any mention of him always brought respect, and the two triple crowns are a pretty well-known and deeply admired part of his reputation. If the problem is that you don’t hear him brought up often enough, when was the last time you heard Tris Speaker, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Mathews or Dick Stuart figure in comparisons with any modern player? You’d be hard pressed to call any of those guys “underrated” with a straight face.

  25. frightwig - Feb 13, 2010 at 12:56 AM

    I think Thomas missed out on some adulation because he won his MVP’s in ’93-94, and nobody really cared about the ’94 awards, or anything else about baseball for awhile after the strike. Then, as he turned 30 and began to decline, he was overshadowed by Mac/Sammy/Bonds and the steroids era. Starting at age 33, people periodically wondered whether he was washed up. He had the stigma of the DH attached to him. He never played in a World Series. And he never came across as a likable personality.
    Still, I don’t think you need to worry about him getting into the HOF. He finished with a .301 batting average and 521 HR. Plus, 2 MVP’s is 2 MVP’s (not to mention 4 more Top 5 finishes). The voters won’t fail to be impressed by that. If not with the first ballot, then surely the second.

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