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Spitballing: Jim Thome and Recognition July 21, 2011

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Jim Thome. Although he never played in my hometown, Buffalo was Cleveland’s AAA affiliate when I was a wee lad and so I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Indians. I also admire Thome’s small-town, farm-boy image. The PepsiMAX Clubhouse in the Corn ad showing Jim asking for autographs played off that image.

Thome’s pretty popular on the internet, based on the proportion of traffic I’m getting from searches for his name.  Kyle Kendrick (no, not that one) of the Winfield (Kansas) Daily Courier noticed, though, that media has been much quieter about Thome’s achievement than about Alex Rodriguez‘ same run last year. Kendrick blames the lack of coverage on Thome’s image:

Honestly, I believe it’s because he is too quiet and too humble for his own good. He isn’t flashy like Bonds, or flamboyant like Sosa or making it look easy like Griffey did. Therefore people, including the media, haven’t latched on to him like they have done with other hitters in the past. Add that to the fact that he’s never played more than one season in a very big media market town like New York or Boston or Chicago, and you may come to understand why he isn’t getting the bigtime coverage.

(Let’s leave aside the dismissal of three seasons in Philadelphia and three and a half in Chicago for a moment.)

It’s pretty clear to me why Derek Jeter‘s 3000-hit milestone got more coverage than Thome’s: Jeter is, for better or for worse, much more well-known than Thome. The average fan probably knows Jeter’s face, but it would take a much more interested fan to recognize Thome’s face. Jim was last an All-Star in 2006 and spent five and a half of the last six seasons  in the AL Central, meaning that the largest markets that he was regularly exposed to were Detroit and Chicago. (Granted, he spent half a season with the Dodgers.) He’s not well-known enough to be wildly popular, and he’s not hated enough (like Rodriguez) for people to take pleasure in any failure that might happen. As soon as A-Rod’s production slowed down, people started accusing him of choking. Thome’s been like clockwork throughout his career, but even if he did slow down, it’s no fun to call a likeable guy a choker. Gary Sheffield was a Met at the time he hit his 500th, so there was a bump in coverage from being with a large-market team, but he got a lot of coverage too. Is it any coincidence he was widely regarded as a bit of a tool?

As I said earlier, Thome will likely hit his 600th home run in August, and it’ll probably be only a few weeks before the September callups. Minnesota is five games back, but in third place in the AL Central, and 12 games back from the wild card. Thome probably won’t get his glory this postseason. Hopefully he’ll get his recognition when he hits #600, but whether or not he does, he’ll go down in history as the eighth member of an exclusive club that won’t expand for some time longer.

The Choke Index August 1, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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It’s been quite a while since Alex Rodriguez hit Home Run #599 – nine days since July 22, but more quantifiably, 42 plate appearances. Just how much of a slump is he in? I’d like to propose a quantifiable answer: the Choke Index.

From 2000 to 2009, A-Rod was hitting approximately .064 home runs per plate appearance. In 2008 he hit .059 and in 2009 he hit .056, so it’s probably much fairer to use a slightly lower rate. I’m going to make the assumption that Rodriguez’s true production is about .055 home runs per plate appearance, since he exhibited a downward trend and his 2010 production has been very low. (It also cuts him some additional slack in the Choke Index.)

Simply, we should assume that A-Rod’s failure to produce is merely the result of chance, and not due to choking or media distraction or even Rodriguez’s discomfort with the special chipped baseballs. (A better man than I would call this the Numbered Ball Effect.) Then, we should see how likely that is.

At .055 home runs per plate appearance, the likelihood of going 42 plate appearances without a home run is (1-.055)^{42} or approximately .093. The Choke Index is simply 1-(likelihood) or, in this case, .907. As it becomes progressively less likely that Rodriguez will go another plate appearance without hitting a home run, the Choke Index number rises. A theoretical Choke Index of 1 would indicate that the player’s lack of home run hitting is nearly impossible to describe by chance alone.

A-Rod’s Choke Index between #499 and #500 was about .877. This is a man who doesn’t handle milestones well.

Another example was Gary Sheffield in 2009, when he was attempting to hit his 500th home run. In the previous two years, he hit approximately .041 home runs per plate appearance. Much was made of Sheffield’s trouble hitting #500, but since he was hitting almost exclusively as a pinch hitter, he simply didn’t have many opportunities. Between his final plate appearance on September 26 of 2008 and his only plate appearance on April 17 of 2009, Sheffield went 21 plate appearances without hitting a homer. That gives him a choke index of .556.

Barry Bonds, meanwhile, was hitting .065 home runs per plate appearance in the seasons prior to his record-breaking home run #756. #755 was hit in Bonds’ first plate appearance on August 4, 2007. Bonds made 3 more plate appearances, all walks, in that game. He hit #756 in his third plate appearance only three days later on August 7.  He had August 5 off and made 4 plate appearances on August 6, meaning that Bonds went 9 plate appearances between home runs, giving him a choke index of .454.

Rodriguez will hit his 600th home run eventually, but it’s getting painful to watch.

Quickie: Kiss the Sheff April 22, 2009

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Why is Gary Sheffield employed for the league minimum when Barry Bonds can’t get a job?

Sheffield had a Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage and On-Base Plus Slugging of .225/.326/.400/.725 in 2008; Bonds was last active in 2007 and hit .276/.480/.565/1.045 (with the .480 OBP leading the National League). Clearly, something’s wrong. Collusion?

What’s wrong, in my estimation, is still that Bonds represents a negative externality on his team’s production, reputation, and revenue; Sheffield, meanwhile, is less of a threat to ticket sales. Despite being unpopular and saying bizarre things, Sheffield has not yet to my knowledge irritated fans to the extent that Bonds has, nor is he quite the clubhouse menace Bonds is said to be.

Of course, time will tell whether Sheffield produces $400,000 worth of runs for the ailing Mets.