As Eric Seidman writes over in FanGraphs, Jim Thome heading to the Philadelphia Phillies on a one year, $1.25M contract is a good move in the real baseball world. However, from a fantasy baseball perspective, it almost certainly closes the book on one of the game’s more prolific hitters at the turn of this century. The 41 year old, lefty slugger may still have enough in the tank to make him a relevant power threat off the bench for the Phils, but for fantasy owners, the DH eligibility and the inconsistent at bats makes it very difficult to roster him. He is waiver fodder, at best.
Now I certainly don’t want to trash the guy. His career has been massive. From 1994 through 2009, Thome hit 504 HR, averaging almost 35 a year for 16 years; and that includes missing almost all of 2005 with an elbow injury. His OBP never dropped below .360 in that span and was above .410 for nine of those 16 seasons. Pure fantasy gold. What was even better was that Thome started out as a third basemen and didn’t lose that eligibility until after the ’97 season when he was moved to first base to make room for Matt Williams, and it wasn’t until the 2007 season that Thome lost his first base eligibility, having finally switched to full-time DH for the 2006 season. If you wanted power at first though, Thome was your guy.
But like all good things in life, there is always an end. Thome still had enough to offer to keep himself relevant in fantasy during his DH years as he still continued to hit for solid power, but by the time the 2010 season wrapped, he was merely the left-handed bat in a DH platoon and more of a 20 HR threat than anything else. He was limited to DH/utility spots and with a consistent sub-.250 average, he became more of a hindrance to rosters than an asset. Sure, it was nice to have him active for a burst of power, but those became so difficult to rely on, that he ended up on the waiver wire in most leagues more than he was actually rostered.
Now, with this move to Philadelphia, the trend continues. Sure, Thome may garner some starts at first base given the injury to Ryan Howard and he may even regain his eligibility there. But will he play enough to make himself relevant? How long will the Phillies be able to tolerate his defensive liabilities? Cliff Lee may be more of an even split, but Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels rely pretty heavily on the ground ball and a slow roller to first becomes less of an easy play than before. Not that Howard’s defense was anything special, but he still had more mobility than a 41 year old Thome will have.
Then there’s the whole lefty/righty split. There’s a reason that Thome was splitting time at DH and giving way to younger, stronger right-handed bats. Over the last three seasons, Thome’s average vs southpaws was .233 with a very un-Thome like .331 OBP over 253 at bats. It’s not that he can’t hit them, it’s just that, at this stage of his career, he can’t hit them very well. If the Phillies were even thinking of giving him regular playing time, Thome’s twilight years shortcomings will certainly put a stop to that.
It’s great to see him get another shot and the fans in Philadelphia get themselves a beloved hero that did them right for two and a half seasons. But for the sake of fantasy, it is recommended that you watch from afar. You might see a nice, little power display during interleague time in AL parks, but it certainly won’t be enough for you to covet him on draft day.