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On Jim Thome and steroids

Aug 16, 2011, 6:28 PM EDT

Jim Thome Reuters

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.

  1. thefalcon123 - Aug 17, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    By this logic, the following people used steroids:
    Wade Boggs (1987 only)
    Stan Musial (the guy had never hit 20 and he suddenly hits 39?!!?)
    Babe Ruth (jumped from 29 to 54. Roid user!)
    Roger Maris (goes without saying)
    Ryne Sandberg (hr per year, 82-88: 16, 89-90: 35)
    Andre Dawson (career high from 32 to 49!)
    Carl Yastrzemski (career high was 20, then hits 40 3 times in 4 years! User!)
    George Foster (29 career to 52!)

  2. offseasonblues - Aug 17, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    This is Bug Selig’s and Donald Fehr’s legacy.

    The doubt and suspicion around what should be a celebrated achievement are the result of MLB and MLBPA counting the money with blinders on.

  3. tuftsb - Aug 17, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    The steroids issue and the blaming of Bud Selig and Don Fehr sounds good, but it is not accurate.

    Go back to the history of drug issues and the collective bargaining agreement.Bowie Kuhn negotiated a drug agreement with the union to deal with cocaine and “recreational drugs”. But when Ueberroth became Commissioner, he ripped up the existing agreement. Ueberroth was within his rights to abrogate the drug agreement in 1985 – but the reasons semmed to be for PR for baseball (kind of a MLB “just say no”) and to enhance Ueberroth’s image for a future politcal run (Ubie was also advocating bombing drug fields in South America at the time).

    But the next seven or eight years were taken up with the collusion cases, in which MLB was found guilty and paid $ 280 million in damages. Then there was the Pete Rose scandal, the death of Giammati and the palace coupt that deposed Vincent – and the the big one – the owner’s desire to crush the union at the bargaining table that led to the 1994-95 strike.

    Collusion, CBA gamesmanship, Ubie’s political ambitions and internal MLB politics cost baseball any chance to deal with the drug issue until it was far too late.

  4. IdahoMariner - Aug 17, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    I think it’s even more telling when you line it up chronologically. Pretty much just looks like the usual ups and downs of an elite hitter’s career.

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