Jim Thome Has Still Got It

OAKLAND, CA: Jim Thome #25 of the Minnesota Twins hits a home run in the third inning against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Minnesota Twins DH Jim Thome is almost 41 years old. You should try telling that to the baseballs he hits.

Jim Thome is in his second year of being the regular designated hitter for the Minnesota Twins and his 21st year overall, and any day now, some poor but not-quite-unsuspecting opposing pitcher is going to allow his 600th career home run. The chase hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as Derek Jeter's pursuit of 3,000 career hits, for two main reasons, I think:

1. It's Jim Thome, not Derek Jeter
2. Home runs happen far less frequently than hits

Indeed, even in a down season, Jeter has averaged better than a hit per game. Thome's averaging a home run roughly every six and a half games. He'll get a lot of attention when he reaches 599, and he'll get more attention when he reaches 600, but at 598, it's too early to sound the alarm. Thome could get there in two at bats, or he could get there in two months.

Still, attention be damned, Thome is nearing what really is a more impressive achievement than Jeter's, at least if you measure achievements by their exclusivity. Throughout baseball history, 28 different players have reached 3,000 career hits. Thome will be just the eighth player to reach 600 career home runs. In the realm of big round numbers, 600's a hell of a milestone.

And while Thome reaching 600 will be an incredible feat, what makes it all the more impressive is that he isn't limping there, even as an almost-41-year-old. We've seen players reach milestones in the past as shells of their former selves, but the same cannot be said of Thome, who just keeps on mashing.

Obviously, the Jim Thome of today is not the Jim Thome of ten years ago. When he was younger, Jim Thome played almost every day. Now he plays less frequently, either because he's being rested, or because he has a minor injury, or because he doesn't fare well against left-handed pitchers. Thome is no longer durable, as few players his age ever are.

But purely in terms of ability, Thome is more or less intact. What follows is a table of data from Hit Tracker Online, showing Thome's average home run distance over the past six years, and his longest home run in each season:

Year Average (ft) Longest (ft)
2006 410.3 464
2007 403.5 448
2008 413.2 471
2009 404.2 460
2010 404.2 466
2011 406.9 464

And, from the same source, some 2011 average distance comparables:

Mark Trumbo: 409 feet
Ryan Howard: 409
Prince Fielder: 408
Jim Thome: 407
Mark Reynolds: 407
Lance Berkman: 406
Jose Bautista: 399

Thome's still hitting the snot out of the ball, and though we can't examine the numbers from his prime, since Hit Tracker goes back to just 2006, it's clear he's still capable of longer flies than most. And we do have this: for his career, Thome has gone deep in 7.3 percent of his at-bats. Since debuting with the Twins in April 2010, he's gone deep in 7.6 percent of his at-bats.

Jim Thome looks like he's going to reach 600 career home runs very shortly, and he'll get there as a guy who's still among the biggest offensive threats in the game. Not bad for an old man a lot of people thought was nearing the end of the line many moons ago. With luck, Thome will hit number 600 at home, and with more luck, it'll look something like this:

Here's to the present and continuing success of one of the rare players in baseball who's easy for everybody to root for.

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