Monday, October 26, 2009

Jim Thome and Pinch Hitters

I was reading the Hardball Times tonight (excellent) and came across their article breaking down the Phillies win over the Dodgers, when one little paragraph caught my attention:

Another baffling decision was not pinch-hitting Thome with the bases loaded in the eighth inning of a 9-4 Phillies lead in Game Five. Torre elected to let Martin strike out with one away, and then let Casey “the Grinder/Battler/insert stupid analyst cliché here” Blake ground out for the 9,000th time this series. All the while, Thome waited in the on-deck circle. I fail to see the logic in this. Both Martin and Blake struggled in the series, and both are much worse candidates to face Ryan Madson than Thome.

I thought to myself -- self, is that true? I wonder how Thome did this year. Turns out, with the White Sox, the 38-year-old Thome was having a typical season: Hitting only .249 but with an 864 OPS thanks to his walks and power. But then I saw his performance with the Dodgers. 17 pinch-hit appearances, 4 hits, all singles.

Curious, I took a look at his career splits:

as 1B: 999 OPS
as 3B: 937 OPS
as DH: 922 OPS
as pinch hitter: .220/.343/.378 ... 721 OPS, in 99 plate appearances

Oops, Dodgers? Did they acquire Thome without knowing he couldn't pinch hit well? Then, come playoff time, never want to use him in a big spot?

Is that merely an aberration, and Thome isn't worse at pinch hitting than he is regularly? I realize that most hitters would probably be worse at pinch hitting, but is it typically so severe?

Alex Rodriguez: as 3B: 967, as PH: 0-for-9

Manny Ramirez: as LF: 1011, as RF: 1011, as PH: 4-for-30, 541 OPS

[Interesting footnote on Manny... as a LF and as a RF, he has the same career OPS and over 3200 at bats at each position. His LF batting average is .311, his RF batting average is .318. His OBP and SLG are exactly the same at each.]

Carlos Beltran: as CF: 860, as PH: 3-for-19, 554 OPS

Obviously very unscientific here -- but it seems like struggling to a huge degree as a pinch hitter is common for stars(1). That said -- what was Los Angeles thinking when they traded for Thome?

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti envisions Thome playing a role similar to the one Matt Stairs filled for the World Series champion Phillies last year -- he hit a key home run against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. - ESPN

Hm.(2) I love baseball.


(1) Curious about pinch hitter extraordinaire Lenny Harris? His career OPS was only 667. As a pinch hitter, it was 654. So he was merely no worse than usual. But in context -- he should have been viewed as a more fearsome pinch hitter than any of the above guys (A-Rod, Manny, Beltran) should be.

(2) What the hell? Matt Stairs is amazing. A hitter with a career 839 OPS, he owns a shocking 885 OPS as a pinch hitter. That's a .268/.377/.508 line over 325 at-bats. The man is a clutch god. I guess he just loves the feeling of guys hammering his ass so much that he steps it up a notch.(3)


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