Thome comparisons to Jeter are ridiculous

Can we just let Jim Thome enjoy a Jim Thome moment, without bringing up the name of Derek Jeter?

I guess I’m guilty too by writing this post.

Thome blasted career home runs No. 599 and 600 in back-to-back at-bats on Monday night as the Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers.

And it wasn’t long after the second homer when baseball fans and pundits started comparing Thome’s milestone blast to Jeter’s milestone 3,000th hit just more than a month ago.

Is Thome’s 600th homer a bigger deal than Jeter’s 3,000th hit? Why did Jeter get more attention than Thome? Yada yada yada.

My answer is: Who cares? What Thome did was awesome. It’s only been done by seven other players in major league history. He needed the second-fewest at-bats (Babe Ruth) to get to 600 homers. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

The 600th homer and Bert Blyleven’s Hall of Fame induction are the two highlights from what has been otherwise a disappointing Twins season. Twins fans have a right to celebrate that. But I’d prefer that baseball observers not bother trying to compare Thome’s achievement to Jeter’s. It’s a pointless endeavor.

Home run leader Thome returns to Twins for cheap again

I’m not too surprised the Minnesota Twins are bringing Jim Thome back on another one-year deal. But I did think it would be for a little more money.

Thome and the Twins have agreed to terms on a one-year deal for $3 million. That’s double what his salary was last season, when he led the Twins with 25 home runs in just 108 games.

As Manny Ramirez is about to find out, the market for DH-only players just isn’t that great. But considering Thome’s prodigious numbers last season, I figured he’d get about $5 million. Reports were that he was seeking an $8 million deal similar to the one Lance Berkman got from the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this offseason.

But back to the playing field. This is a big addition for the Twins. Thome was seemingly the one hitter who could tame the pitcher-friendly Target Field, with 15 of his 25 moon shots being hit at home.

While it might be a lot to ask the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer to repeat a season in which he posted an OPS of 1.039 – his highest since 2001 – if the Twins stick to the plan and limit his playing time to keep him fresh, he should still be one of the more productive hitters in the lineup.

It’s also worth noting that he needs just 11 homers to reach 600 for his career. Only seven players in big league history have hit 600 homers (Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Sammy Sosa.

Twins aren’t alone in Thome bidding

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney – via MLBtraderumors.com – the Texas Rangers are showing interest in designated hitter Jim Thome.

The future Hall of Famer became a fan favorite for the Minnesota Twins last season. He was seemingly the only sugger on the team to tame Target Field, hitting 15 of his team-high 25 homers at home. He reportedly is seeking a one-year deal for $8 million, which is a big hike from the $1.5 million base salary he got last season.

I still think Thome will be back. The Twins don’t typically shy away from paying money on short-term deals like that. It’s those long-term deals where the Twins prove to be more tight-fisted. And it really did seem like Thome enjoyed his time in the Twin Cities.

No big surprises from Twins’ offseason predictions

Minnesota Twins hoping for a big splash this offseason probably won’t get it.

The Twins have $75 million locked up in nine players with determined salaries for the 2011 season. That doesn’t leave a lot left over for the remaining 16 players.

The writers over at MLBtraderumors.com published their predictions for the top 50 free agents.

The highlights:

  • The majority of writers have the Twins retaining starting pitcher Carl Pavano and designated hitter Jim Thome. But none of the five writers have the Twins keep infielder Orlando Hudson or reliever Brian Fuentes.
  • Other free agents tabbed by the writers to be heading to the Twins this offseason are pitchers Koji Uehara (two writers) and Pedro Feliciano (one writer).
  • All five writers believe the New York Yankees will sign Cliff Lee. I have no doubt in my mind of that happening.
  • All five writers also have the Los Angeles Angels signing outfielder Carl Crawford. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Detroit Tigers or Boston Red Sox get involved in that bidding war. And you can’t count the Yankees out either.

September slump shouldn’t concern Twins fans

Fans of the Minnesota Twins will have to excuse me for not being too worked up over the team’s losing streak, which reached four games after Minnesota failed to hold an early lead en route to losing 10-8 to Kansas City on Tuesday.

Fans can be quick-triggered, so after the Minnesota Vikings’ win Sunday, it’s easy to shift gears from Vikings panic mode to Twins panic mode.

But I think what the Twins are going through is pretty normal. Barring a huge collapse, they’ve had a pretty good grip on home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Since clinching a playoff spot last week, they’ve essentially been playing for two reasons: Getting an extra home game in the ALCS, and not getting injured.

Ballplayers are paid to play 162 games, but two of the team’s best hitters – Joe Mauer and Jim Thome – haven’t played during the slump.

I think for the Twins, it’s more important to enter the playoffs with a set rotation and a healthy lineup than it is to get home-field advantage in the ALCS when the Twins aren’t even guaranteed a spot in it. If Mauer or Thome misses time in the ALDS, it won’t matter what position they’re in with the ALCS. They need those two sluggers healthy.

As far as momentum, there’s an interesting comment on the latest blog post from Howard Sinker at the Star Tribune. I didn’t see the story the person who left this comment is referring to, but I’ll let you take a look at it:

Interesting tidbit in ESPN The Mag this week. They had a piece on the complete nonsense of “momentum” heading into the playoffs. Popular thinking has most fans believing it to be very important. Reality shows that only 2 of 20 teams that were 8-2 or better in the last ten games advanced to the WS. Contrarily, there were more WS participants that finished 3-7 or worse. Health and good fortune mean much more than how a team finishes the regular season.

Also, baseball fans, don’t forget to check out PBS at 7 tonight for the first in the two-part “Tenth Inning” of Ken Burns‘ “Baseball” documentary. The initial nine innings, which came out in 1994, were outstanding. Can’t wait to see what Burns has done with the years 1993-2009.

Reviewing the Week 3 NFL picks:

  •  Not as good this week. Got the Chiefs and Bengals right, but missed on the Saints, Giants and Redskins. I shouldn’t be putting faith in the G-Men right now. Record for the season in my picks against the spread is 8-7.

Twins can clinch as early as tonight

Danny Valencia

Minnesota Twins third baseman Danny Valencia has homered in three of his last four games. Associated Press photo

It’s currently the early morning hours of Tuesday, so as early as tonight the Minnesota Twins can clinch the AL Central division.

The Chicago White Sox lost a late game to Oakland on the West Coast on Monday, hours after the Twins defeated the Cleveland Indians at Target Field. So the party could be on, should that scenario repeat itself Tuesday.

Cincinnati and Texas both have the next lowest magic numbers at 6, so it’s safe to say the Twins will be the first team celebrating a postseason berth. And that has a good possibility of happening at Target Field sometime in the next two days before Thursday’s off day for both the White Sox and A’s.

Big news on Monday was word that Twins catcher Joe Mauer might need an MRI on Tuesday for his injured knee. Initially, it was reported that Mauer was day-to-day. Twins fans should be on pins and needles waiting for word that MRI.

Also, as seen on the Fox Sports Net North telecast, Jim Thome is the subject of a cover story for Sports Illustrated this week. I’m not sure when that hits store shelves and magazine racks. My guess is sometime Wednesday or Thursday or Friday. So I really don’t know.

If you were a loyal listener to “Sports Talk,” Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski told us last week that he was doing a story on Thome. So we know Posnanski wrote it, so no doubt it will be good.

Has Thome caught Favre as Minnesota’s best athlete at 40?

It’s an interesting question. With Jim Thome leading the Minnesota Twins in home runs, does he have more left in the tank at the age of 40 than Brett Favre does with the Minnesota Vikings?

It’s too much of a leap this early in the NFL season to say that he does. But if Favre keeps putting up so-so efforts like he did on Thursday, then it’s safe to say Thome is the premier 40-year-old athlete.

Coming into the season, what would you have thought if someone told you Thome would lead the Twins in homers in 2010? It’s probably not good news. Either that, or Thome must have hit like 40 homers.

Just another one of the surprises on this year’s Twins team.

Looking ahead to 2016 Hall class

I’m extremely biased, but unless a steroid admission or positive test is in our future, I assume Ken Griffey Jr. will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he hits the ballot in January of 2016.

So that left me wondering who would join him. Reports are that Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones is leaning toward retiring after this season. In my opinion, he’s a Hall of Famer too. Whether or not he gets in on the first ballot, I don’t know. But he should be there.

And what about Jim Thome? Can you see him playing another season beyond this one? I can’t. And he’s certainly a Hall of Famer, barring any of the potential pitfalls I listed above.

Griffey. Chipper. Thome. Not a bad class at all.

The biggest question is: If Manny Ramirez retires, will he get in on the first ballot? Will he ever get in?

Playing the percentages

Considering I’ve been asked in the comments sections of back-to-back blog posts what the NBA and NHL are, let’s get back to a little baseball talk.

I’m feeling ambitious with this post today. Hopefully, I don’t write too much.

I’d like to tackle to some degree the shift of thinking that we see in baseball today from 15 or 20 years ago regarding the percentage categories.

What has led to this post, you ask?

I made a comment a couple weeks back that got laughed at by some colleagues. I said something like, "Batting average is overrated." It probably didn’t come out right. Of course, it’s an important stat. And when a guy like Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer wins three batting titles, he’s obviously doing something right.

What I should have said was, "Batting average is overrated compared to on-base and slugging percentages."

Mauer swept all three of those percentage categories last year, which SI’s Tom Verducci and a lot of other writers now dub as being "the modern-day triple crown."

As great as it was that Mauer hit .365, he reached base at a .444 clip. That’s right. When he came to the plate, there was a 44.4 percent chance he’d reach base. Pretty impressive.

To me, the two most important things a hitter can do is get on base and drive the ball. OBP and SLG (or combining those numbers to create OPS) make a lot of sense. That’s not to diminish batting average, but of the three, I’d say it’s the least important. Because a hitter’s job should be to either get on base at a high rate, or drive the ball with great efficiency. OBP and SLG best provide those numbers.

I’ll give you a couple of different Twins players as examples.

One of the Twins’ offseason acquisitions was Jim Thome. Thome’s a highly regarded bat, but he’s in the twilight of his career as the age of 40 fast approaches.

Thome’s TV broadcast stat from last year are: .249, 23 HR, 77 RBI

Those are good power numbers, but that average doesn’t set the world on fire.

But Thome reached base 36 percent (.361) of the time he came to the plate, and he slugged .481. His OPS last year was second-best among AL designated hitters before getting traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As I wrote when the Twins agreed to terms with Thome last month, his OBP was higher than anyone else’s on the Twins roster except for Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel and Denard Span. His SLG was higher than everyone else’s except Mauer, Kubel, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer.

Long story short: Thome’s got plenty of pop left in that bat.

My other example would be Twins left fielder Delmon Young. Young finished last season hitting .284, which is 35 points higher than Thome. It’s a good number. You can make a good living hitting .284 every year.

But Young doesn’t walk. Those who like him call him "a free swinger." Those who don’t say he lacks plate discipline.

Young reached base at a .308 clip last year, over 50 points less than Thome’s .361. And Young slugged .425, which is 55 points less than Thome’s .481.

Of course, Young is an outfielder and Thome can’t play anywhere in the field. I’m not trying to compare the players as a whole. I just want to compare the hitters and their abilities to get on base and slug.

Finding hitters that can do those two things is the approach we’re seeing a lot of teams take now. Teams want guys who can keep innings alive. If you have a guy who gets out less than another guy, it doesn’t matter what their batting averages are.

As in the case mentioned above, if Thome gets on base 5 percent more often than Young, then 1 out of 20 times during a game Thome will keep an inning alive where as Young would not.

It’s that poker mentality. Teams play the percentages and hope in the end it pays off.

Points of interest from Wednesday’s radio show

We had a very interesting conversation with Minnesota Twins beat writer La Velle E. Neal from the Minneapolis Star Tribune in the first segment of "Sports Talk" on 970-AM WDAY radio on Wednesday.

Here’s a few of the highlights from the discussion with Neal, for those of you who didn’t catch the show:

  • Delmon Young is still "the guy," meaning he will continue to be an everyday player. Neal says the Twins could very well likely go with the hot hand when making decisions on whether to start Young or newly signed slugger Jim Thome.
  • Neal expects Thome to get no more than 300 at-bats.
  • The Chicago White Sox weren’t as interested in Thome because he had built up equity with the fan base, making it tougher to just plant him on the bench five nights a week. I guess I can understand that. Still feel like for $1.5 million, he’s a heck of a bargain.
  • Neal expects no big moves coming. He believes the contract offer to free-agent starting pitcher Jarrod Washburn is no longer on the table. He thinks free-agent infielder Orlando Hudson will cost too much. "What you have right now is what you see," Neal said.
  • Third baseman Joe Crede remains a possible free-agent addition, but Neal was told "no" regarding Orlando Cabrera. So you can shut the door on O-Cab. He said the Twins think Danny Valencia will contribute this season, which makes the fact that he didn’t get a September call-up last year kind of unusual. Must have been sending a message, unless there was an injury to him that I don’t know about.
  • Neal expects Brian Duensing "will be appointed the leader by the pitching coach Rick Anderson" for the team’s fifth starting spot, though it’s up for grabs to Glen Perkins and Francisco Liriano. The team has Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey pretty much locked into the first four rotation spots.
  • Like myself, Neal expects the Chicago White Sox will be the biggest AL Central threat to the Twins in 2010. That rotation - Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd – could be filthy.