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Frank Thomas is the most underrated hitter ever

Feb 12, 2010, 11:45 AM EDT

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. boz - Feb 13, 2010 at 6:00 AM

    saw frank play in summer baseball on cape cod. he lived with family of youngster I was coaching in jr little league. Someone asked him if he was going to follow Bo into football and baseball. He said just baseball,ie no career ending injury. My son and I called him the “home run king” after seeing him win the HR derby at the all star game. He routinely hit homers 40 feet or more longer than anyone. Only problem at that time, hadn’t figured out the curve. Obviously 2 years later he had. He is one of the greatest. Signed a little football for my son but we played with it and the rain washed it off.

  2. Justin - Feb 13, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    Thank you. I’ve been saying this about Thomas and Pujols FOREVER. Thomas was a machine and I can’t see see how the guy doesn’t make the HOF on the first ballot.

  3. Libservative - Feb 14, 2010 at 6:46 AM

    So what exactly does “most underrated” mean? Is there a post-season award for it? It means nothing, except that the peabrained sports media didn’t fuss over him as much as they did Ken Griffey or Derek Jeter. So it goes. To the people who know baseball, he was never “underrated.”
    “if that doesn’t get him into Cooperstown then what use is there in even having a Hall of Fame?”
    Calm down. There’s no chance on earth he won’t be elected to the Hall.

  4. Mike - Feb 15, 2010 at 7:39 AM

    I think that two players who should be sure HOF inductees would be Thomas and Ken Griffey, Jr. Their numbers certainly back it up, and while almost everyone else in this era of rampant steroid use, I have NEVER heard any whispers about these two. If they would have ‘followed the leaders’ and used performance enhancers – what would their numbers look like? Does anyone really think that we’d be talking about Barry and Mark holding records?

  5. JT - Mar 5, 2010 at 2:02 PM

    To start each game, one of the batters in front of him was instructed to kick the crap out of the back chalk line, destroying it before Thomas was to bat. Sometimes, they did a poor job and you could see just how far outside the box he was. If you care at all about rules, none of his hits should count. That would make him the worst hitter of all time instead.
    What will be the response of his fans? Everybody does it?

  6. My OTH addicted - Mar 5, 2010 at 11:52 PM

    Quite interesting, well I just wanted some songs and got your blog. Thanks for this one mate I just loved it. An additional comment or feedback which I would like to give is that this theme is quite boring and you need to work on it but everything else I fine.

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