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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. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:39 PM

    Is there such a thing as a ‘pre-steroids era’? Could we compare the career peaks of sluggers from the past with those of guys like Thome to see if there is some statistical precedent for a three-year power peak in a 16 year career?

  2. Bryz - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:39 PM

    Jumping from nothing more than 42 home runs to an average of 49? Well geez, if that’s all it takes to be under suspicion for steroids, then Jason Bartlett better find a way to delete his 2009 from the record books.

  3. Utley's Hair - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    Hey, Matthew, take a look at nudeman’s assertions over on the reactions thread ( http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/08/16/the-reactions-to-jim-thomes-600th-are-just-as-interesting-as-the-feat-itself/comment-page-1/#comment-179587 ).

    • drmonkeyarmy - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:47 PM

      That was the first time I ever heard somebody call CBP a tough HR park. It is usually referred to as a “bandbox”.

      • Utley's Hair - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:18 PM

        You gotta hand it to these guys who are trying to pin ‘roids on Thome.

      • FC - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:55 PM

        Not defending the guy but:

        If you want to look at Thome’s numbers earlier in his career, they are equally as compelling. He hit 190 HRs between 2001-2004. This was the ‘roid era at its peak. Tough power parks too; Cleveland and to a lesser extent Philadelphia. Never hit less than 42 in that atretch.

        Wasn’t CBP inaugurated in 2004? I think the Vet wasn’t exactly HR friendly during 2001-03. Nevertheless this guy goofed a bit, but I’m positive he’s talking about the Vet. Or he meant to anyway.

      • Utley's Hair - Aug 16, 2011 at 9:23 PM

        But he only played at the Vet for a year.

      • drmonkeyarmy - Aug 17, 2011 at 8:45 AM

        I wasn’t sure which park he was talking about…it would have to be the Vet though. I guess the point is that he should have made the distinction.

  4. The Baseball Gods - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:44 PM

    Jeff Miller is a jackass. Hasn’t our country always run on the principle of innocent unless proven guilty? I thought journalists were supposed to have some sort of ethics. This guy obviously has none.

    • paperlions - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:01 PM

      No. The legal system runs on that precept, nothing else does. Especially not public opinion.

      • The Baseball Gods - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:22 PM

        So instead everyone just jumps to their own conclusions with no evidential basis. Public opinion doesn’t adhere to innocent til proven guilty because most of the public are ignorant individuals.

      • paperlions - Aug 16, 2011 at 9:09 PM

        In addition, plenty of people are guilty (and everyone knows it) and still found to be not guilty in the legal system. “Proven guilty” and guilty are not the same thing.

    • purnellmeagrejr - Aug 17, 2011 at 7:51 AM

      More than other reporters sportswriters seem willing throw anything out there if it gets them attention. Not sure why, but they do.

      • Matt - Aug 17, 2011 at 8:18 AM

        You must not watch much news…thats all FoxNews, CNN, MSNBC, etc do…throw out stupid opinions mixed with misleading spins on facts without taking an honest multi-sided look at any issue. Sportswriters and news writers almost all pander to the lowest common denominator because there are enough stupid people that don’t question what they read/see/hear and keep coming back for more misleading and inflammatory statements.

  5. Ari Collins - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    Unless you hit the same number of homers every year of your career, it is reasonable to assume you did steroids.

    Jackass.

    • Ari Collins - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:54 PM

      Ellsbury just hit his 21st home run, and he’s never even hit double digits before. He’s obviously juicing. I mean, look at the guy’s body! He’s a dead ringer for Jose Canseco!

      • Kevin S. - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:34 PM

        I’m comfortable with that statement. :)

  6. crazimitch - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:53 PM

    He’s played with multiple known steroid users and he hit 600 home runs in the steroid era. Did he use steroids? I have no idea, however there is enough circumstantial evidence to know it’s possible he did. The same is true for Jeff Kent. Well almost, Kent hit 377 homers as a second baseman.

    • Ari Collins - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:59 PM

      There’s also enough circumstantial evidence to say that it’s possible any player in baseball is using steroids, a corked bat, cocaine, etc. If by “circumstantial evidence,” you mean “the fact that someone in baseball used it during the player’s career.”

      There’s no actual reason to think that Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell, Jose Bautista, or any other player whose name starts with J is using steroids. Speculating on the possibility based on no evidence whatsoever is illogical, paranoid, and irresponsible.

      • bleedgreen - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:58 PM

        Except for Jose Canseco. Cuz he did. And his name starts with J.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:16 PM

      I have no idea, however there is enough circumstantial evidence to know it’s possible he did

      What circumstantial evidence is there? Merely being in the same profession as other users is not enough. Circumstantial evidence is A’s players (Giambi and McGwire) getting bigger while they were around a known user like Canseco. Circumstantial evidence is working out with the same trainer who’s providing steroids to other athletes (BALCO, Sheffield, Bonds, Tim Montgomery, Marion Jones, etc).

    • Charles Gates - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:19 PM

      Dear crazimitch,
      You just made me feel a lot smarter.
      Thanks,
      Charles

    • The Common Man - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:20 PM

      There’s also as much circumstantial evidence to say that you look at child pornography because you hang around the internet and are clearly a moron.

  7. royalsfaninfargo - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    One more reason to doubt he juiced is his body type has stayed pretty much the same throughout his entire career. He didnt go from skinny to massive in a short amount of time like some of the most obvious ‘roid heads did. He has looked the same since he first came into the league. He is a big guy who can knock the crap out of the ball.

  8. crazimitch - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:10 PM

    It depends on what you consider evidence. Since the mid-eighties the baseball writers ignored steroids because there was no evidence. Before 1985 only two players ever hit more homers after the age of 35. For me that’s enough to believe his stats are possibly tainted. He has the option to come out and say that it never happened ever. I do not believe he’s chosen to do that.

    • firedude7160 - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:17 PM

      He shouldn’t have to

      • crazimitch - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:30 PM

        You’re correct, just enjoy the 10 year wait after hes eligible to get into Cooperstown. If I’m wrong he’ll get in on the first ballot.

        I’m not wishing this, I just remember these same arguments five years ago about Roger Clemens.

        Doing things in a 135 year old sport that require years to do that’s either never been done before (winning 7 Cy Young Awards) or rarely been done before (homers after the age of 35) could be considered suspect in an era when so many players used steroids.

        When your at a party where there’s a crime commited doesn’t mean you had anything to do with it or even know it happened. it only means you were at the party where a crime was committed. While it’s not fair that you get asked if you were involved, or required for you to answer, you must know until proven otherwise, it’s possible for an outsider to believe you may have been involved.

        Lifes not fair.

    • Ari Collins - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:24 PM

      You realize that there are a TON of factors that made the ’90s and early ’00s a hitter’s era? Besides steroids, there are more hitter’s ballparks and, most importantly, juiced balls.

      A guy hitting a lot of home runs is not evidence of steroid use.

      • Kevin S. - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:36 PM

        And two rounds of expansion.

      • FC - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:58 PM

        …and, most importantly, juiced balls.

        Wouldn’t taking a syringe to the testicular area be unpleasant? Well I guess a fellow gotta do what he feels he gotta do…

    • Utley's Hair - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:24 PM

      Why should these guys need to “come out and say that it never happened ever” anyway? Because people are throwing around unfounded allegations that it is remotely possible that he roided up simply because he played in an era when other shlubs used? That’s completely asinine.

    • asharak - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:29 PM

      You have the option to go down to your local police department and give a written statement that you have never killed anyone, never beaten your wife, never kicked your dog, never choked your child, never screwed your neighbour, never used the last of the toilet paper without replacing it, or any of an infinite number of heinous possibilities.

      Are you going to so? No, of course you’re not. Does that make it reasonable for us to go around crowing that you might be a murderer, wife beater, dog kicker, child choker, etc., and citing “he’s never denied it!” as justification for our suspicions? No, of course it does not.

      And as for what happened before 1985 versus the last 25 years, I would suggest that you do some reading about the various other factors that have contributed to the change in the game (nutrition, training, equipment, medical science, strike zones, smaller ballparks, league expansion, and more) and when you feel like you have a complete understanding of the precise relationship between all of those factors and power output, then by all means let us know what constitutes a suspicious power spike or aging curve for a modern major league ballplayer.

      • tlegg6 - Aug 16, 2011 at 11:56 PM

        crazimitch, this is an example of great logical, common sense thinking… try it

    • mogogo1 - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:30 PM

      “He has the option to come out and say that it never happened ever.”

      Normally, I’d try and debate you, but being that there’s a decent chance you’re strung out on meth right now, there’s really no point. And the fact you haven’t come out to deny you’re on meth just makes it all the more suspicious. Now, maybe you’ll finally be willing to tell us when you stopped beating your wife…. /sarcasm

  9. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:20 PM

    It’s already been said a lot here on HBT, but it really is sad that the simple fact Thome played in the steroid era has led people to speculate about the legitimacy of his accomplishments. This despite him never having been tied to steroids or any PED throughout his career. This “writer” really takes it a step further though by suggesting Thome did in fact take steroids because he played on teams with steroid users and saw his HR totals jump by a whopping 7 at his peak. The lack of journalistic integrity in that piece is astounding

    • Charles Gates - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:26 PM

      I think you’re confusing ‘the writer’ (Matthew Pouliot) with the commenter (crazimitch).

      • Ari Collins - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:54 PM

        I think he’s referring to the writer of the original blog, about which Matthew is blogging.

        It’s a tangled web we weave.

      • firedude7160 - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:57 PM

        I believe he was referring to the Jeff Miller article as the piece lacking journalistic integrity. An assessment with which I would agree

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:34 PM

        Exactly, the only problem with what Matt wrote was that he took it too easy on the guy who wrote that original drivel

  10. jamie54 - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:24 PM

    If that’s the case then he’s also assuming Griffey, Jr. did also. But I don’t see that in print. A few short sentences with no backbone to support. Spineless.

  11. crazimitch - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:32 PM

    I am just a commenter

    • Utley's Hair - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:39 PM

      “I am just a commenter…”

      …who is spreading baseless allegations of cheating, and trying to get a widely respected baseball professional to deny doing something that hasn’t ever been rumored that he did.

    • Charles Gates - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:53 PM

      Guess: crazimitch lives in Salem, MA

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 16, 2011 at 9:56 PM

        So you’re saying we should drown him right? That’ll tell us the truth or not.

      • Utley's Hair - Aug 16, 2011 at 10:17 PM

        Circumstantial evidence shows the m in crazimitch is an upside down w, so, burn him at the stake, since he/she hasn’t denied being a witch—if he/she survives, he/she’s a witch…if not, he/she’s not very good at being a witch….

  12. The Common Man - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    Irresponsible accusations, unfounded and disgusting. I won’t reward this troll by clicking through, but will denounce him from afar. Miller’s a traditional columnist for the paper. Again, I can’t wait to hear the mainstream response to one of their own for making these accusations. Obviously, they would crucify him if he was a blogger.

  13. hooockey - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:58 PM

    If Thome juiced, he would have hit 55-65 homers the years McGuire, Sosa, and Bonds were going nuts. Plus, like others said, his body type never changed.

    Why can’t guys like Thome (huge guy; consistent numbers except juiced ball years / prime), Griffey (injury troubles and steep decline in 30s unlike Bonds; kinda skinny his whole career), and Bautista (solved major timing issue in swing that always held him back; a little bit skinny, same body type as 3 years ago) be given the benefit of the doubt?

    Logic dictates that in an era of steroid use, there has to be some star players that didn’t use. It’s stupid to assume all ballplayers are cheaters.

  14. number11exposfan - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    Thome is a juicer and not a hall of famer? You’re a tard. And haven’t denied it either

  15. number11exposfan - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:12 PM

    Crazymitch that is…

  16. tuftsb - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:23 PM

    Sigh. let me tell you a story about baseless accusations and drugs from the 80′s.

    I pitched for the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals in the early eighties. I played on a Royals team with Vida Blue, Willie Wilson, Willie Mays Aikens and Jerry Martin, who were all sentenced for cocaine possession. I also played with some players who were called to testify in the Pittsburgh drug trials. Despite my best efforts to continue playing baseball in 1984, I was unable to find a place in the major leagues or even at the minor league level. Odd for a left handed reliever to not even get a AA chance….

    Later that year, I ran into a Royals official who passed along an apology to me from one of the players. When I asked why, he informed me that I had been blackballed after having a poor season. An inaccurate conclusion was reached that since I played with these offenders and my performance differed markedly from the prior season, I may also have been involved with cocaine. I was told by a current federal judge that she had heard the same rumors about me.

    These wild and baseless accusations even followed me through business school at Columbia University and during my interviews with Wall Street firms and caused me to not get offers at three firms.

    To all those who want to randonly speculate on whether someone was violating federal drug law, you caused collateral damage to my baseball and post-baseball career. I will not let your idicoy carry the day.

    • tuftsb - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:26 PM

      and I have a relative that was convicted of witchcraft in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1680 – 12 years before the Salem witch trials.

      and I can’t spell “idiocy”….

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 16, 2011 at 9:59 PM

        Good (and at the same time due to the circumstances it’s a shame) to see these comments from a former player. Thanks for the insight.

        Hope all is well with you also.

    • Jason @ IIATMS - Aug 17, 2011 at 8:15 AM

      tuftsb (or Bob)… Good to hear from you again, no matter the forum. Hope you’re doing well. Sorry to hear that MLB was that narrowminded… wait, MLB being narrowminded? I’m not exactly shocked.

      Sorry it cost you additional years in the Bigs, or the minors. It’s still an impressive feat; one any of us here would have killed to have the same change to don a big league uniform and dare call some of those players teammates and friends (coke issues aside).

  17. tuftsb - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:23 PM

    Sigh. let me tell you a story about baseless accusations and drugs from the 80′s.

    I pitched for the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals in the early eighties. I played on a Royals team with Vida Blue, Willie Wilson, Willie Mays Aikens and Jerry Martin, who were all sentenced for cocaine possession. I also played with some players who were called to testify in the Pittsburgh drug trials. Despite my best efforts to continue playing baseball in 1984, I was unable to find a place in the major leagues or even at the minor league level. Odd for a left handed reliever to not even get a AA chance….

    Later that year, I ran into a Royals official who passed along an apology to me from one of the players. When I asked why, he informed me that I had been blackballed after having a poor season. An inaccurate conclusion was reached that since I played with these offenders and my performance differed markedly from the prior season, I may also have been involved with cocaine. I was told by a current federal judge that she had heard the same rumors about me.

    These wild and baseless accusations even followed me through business school at Columbia University and during my interviews with Wall Street firms and caused me to not get offers at three firms.

    To all those who want to randonly speculate on whether someone was violating federal drug law, you caused collateral damage to my baseball and post-baseball career. I will not let your idiocy carry the day.

  18. brockw82 - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:24 PM

    1. Amateurs? You mean like you who scours the net all day to post other amateurs’ blogs?

    2. I don’t think Thome juiced, but I can see why some are skeptical, look at his AB/HR ratio from the beginning of his career as opposed to the later part…

  19. number11exposfan - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:40 PM

    Brock: Show me a player who had an at bat to homerun ratio that was better at the beginning of his career. It takes time to learn to hit in the bigs. This is a very normal stat and should absolutely not cause someone to raise an eyebrow.

  20. wintwins - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    Just wanted to say I loved the ‘when amateurs go to the numbers’ dig from SABRhead Matthew Pouliot.

  21. jaypace - Aug 16, 2011 at 9:09 PM

    Who cares. If he did so what. Show me a positive test and I still won’t care

  22. nps6724 - Aug 16, 2011 at 9:47 PM

    From 2001-03, Thome was 30-32. Meaning he was near the end, but still in his prime. The fact is Thome was extremely consistent during his career as his AB/HR illustrates.

  23. metalhead65 - Aug 17, 2011 at 12:29 AM

    is this guy serious?he goes from 42-40 and then back down and that proves he used roids?it is 1 thing to go from 48-to say 73 like a certain player who bulked up and whose head size grew 10 inches in a year but hitting 7 more a year means he did them? idiot!

  24. sawxalicious - Aug 17, 2011 at 1:24 AM

    This is a whole bunch of bull malarkey. I don’t know Jim Thome, but I know that no one even has ever hinted at any circustantial evidence that he used PEDs…people need to understanad what circumstancial evidence is…a set of circumstances that would induce a reasonable person to believe that a certain pattern of facts can determine a likely scenario. Obviously this reporter is not a reasonable person and is partaking in unresponsible journalism as the circumstances are presented.There is as much circumstantial evidence “linking” Thome to PEDs as there is evidence linking the umpires or fans from that era to PEDs…just because one was present during a certain time and place, does not justify claiming “circumstancial evidence, because there HAS to be something more there. I’m not a big fan of lawsuits or lawyers, but if Thome is clean, he should sue the pants off of this reporter for slander and defamation of character.

    • nlfan865 - Aug 17, 2011 at 8:27 AM

      I agree Saw…this is a load of crap…i cant understand the need for people to bash on the players from this era…this throwing players under the bus mentallity can be directly related to the failed leadership of Bud Selig…in my opinion they let this happen turned the other way when most players took steroids in my opinion to remain healthy and stay in the game. not for the greed of records…also noone ever mentions the effects expansion had on this so called steroid era…we added four teams to the league in five years..thats 14 major league pitchers to the game per team, that we didnt have to start with…there was also an increase in earned runs and losses, these major league hitters were teeing off on minor league pitching but everyone just assumes it must be steroids because thats the mentallity Bud Selig created by sticking his head in the sand and shoving the professionals up to the front of the line….Sad…Baseball needs to remove this cancer from the game

  25. thefalcon123 - Aug 17, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    F**k it. I guess we just have to pretend that baseball from 1994-2005 never happened. If Jim Thome doesn’t get into the hall of fame because a bunch of guys did steroids from that era (same goes for Bagwell), then sportswriters are sending a very clear and deeply stupid message: That steroids are worse than segregation, racism, greenies, coke, spitballs, spousal abuse, ect. And yes, segregation and greenies helped peoples numbers too.

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