Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rollin' With The Thome

Okay, this NL West divisional crown is a done deal, home field advantage for the playoffs is as good as locked as well, and we've got eight games left against a bevy of last place teams: the Washington Nationals (34.5 GB, NL East), Pittsburgh Pirates (31.5 GB, NL Central), and San Diego Pirates Chickens (technically in fourth place, but still 22.5 GB, NL West).

We've been using the opportunity to tune up the offense and give live-action bullpen starts to Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, as well as #3 starter auditions to Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla. And now there's one thing left to do for the remainder of this season: Get Jim Thome back in the swing of things. And we can best do that by playing Thome in the field for a game or two, to give him four to five at bats instead of the one-per-game he's getting as a pinch hitter now.

Yes, Thome hasn't played a field position since June 13, 2007, when he played first base. And yes, there is no doubt that he will be a defensive liabiilty, particularly relative to James Loney. We may see a couple more doubles down the right field line. But that cost is worth it relative to the gains from him finding a groove again.

Since joining the Dodgers at the trade deadline, Thome has appeared in nine games and gone 1-for-9 with 5 Ks, with his lone single occurring in his first game. That's a .111 average, much less than the ~.250 average one would have expected from him based on his performance this year, let alone his .277 career batting average.

We acquired Thome for his pinch-hitting bat, as well as the prospect of him DHing for us should we get to the World Series. And it's clear that acquiring the 12th all-time leader in HRs (and #3 active HR leader) was designed for one thing: to make sure we've got another power bat off the bench, if not as a DH. Thome is here to win a title, and he's here to contribute to the team's success.

But with the little dribbles of pinch-hit at-bats that Thome is getting, he's not likely to find his stroke. Thome hasn't had a homerun in over a month and now is the time to get him back swinging for the fences again. Thome also has 17 career HRs in the postseason, including four each in 1998 (NYY) and 1999 (BOS), so we know he can thrive in the playoffs, if given the opportunity.

Meanwhile, Loney has found a hot bat again--even hitting home runs at home, for pete's sake--and giving him an extra day of rest makes sense, even more so when you consider the quality of the opposition we're facing for the next eight games. The 14-2 drubbing of the Nationals last night should be an indication that we're going to coast to victories each night, even if we have a hole in the lineup (or two, if you count Russell Martin). So let's get Jim Thome suited up for position play, and prepared for the postseason.

Come on, Joe Torre; we're offering up another lineup variation. You should be salivating. Get Thome in there at first base so we can get him ready for October.

photo: Jacob de Golish, Getty Images / September 4, 2009 (hitting a single against the Padres)

25 comments:

Dusty Baker said...

I'm all for it, but I've watched Thome moving toward first on the few times he actually has made contact with the ball, and it's an effort just to slowly trod those 90 feet. So it's not an issue of rust as much as it is he really has some sort of foot issue (I believe I read it was a heel).

Steve Sax said...

Good point Dusty. All I've seen is Thome whiff, mostly called strike threes as well, so I'm looking for him to get more at bats....

Nic j said...

It would be nice for this to happen, but Thome has made it pretty clear in interviews he has stated his back prohibits him from playing the field. Plus if he hurts his back in the field he won't be able to hit at all.

Nic j said...

Wait, can he ride a Segway?

Josh S. said...

Makes sense thome.

Steve Sax said...

@NicJ, I don't know about the segway, but I do know that he doesn't appear like he can't hit now anyway.

First base isn't all that demanding; you can play even if you don't bend at the knees (see: Eric Karros).

Neeebs said...

It just ain't going to happen.
And I'm an optimist.

Nic j said...

I think it was more of the standing for extended periods of time that hurts his back. Anyways, I'm sure Matt Stairs wasn't lighting it up last years soul crushing HR at the ravine.

Nic j said...

*before last years.

rbnlaw said...

Thome will get in the groove ala Matt Stairs, you'll see.


Whoa. Sudden rush of optimism. Making me dizzy.
Must sit down.

koufax said...

In 2008 Matt Stairs had a total of 5 hits for the Phillies. However, of those five hits 1 was a double and 2 were home runs; he had 5 RBI and 4 runs scored.

I dont think we need Thome to play in the field. He just needs to get a few more at bats, rest his heel and be clutch when his few at bats in the playoffs come around. Is that too much to ask?

Mr. Customer said...

It was most likely unintentional, but I'm going to start using "San Diego Pirates" to piss of friends and family unfortunate enough to be Padres Fans.

Neeebs said...

But is he worth a roster spot in the NL Playoffs?

Neeebs said...

@Mr. C:

Don't insult the Pirates. Can't you call them the San Diego Royals instead?

Dusty Baker said...

Maybe the foot/heel issue is causing the whiffing issue, as well.

It must suck for him because if, say, Martin strikes out, he might have to be mad and think about it for another 25 minutes or two innings or whatever, but Thome has to think about that K for maybe another 48 hours.

Mr. Customer said...

@Neeebs,

Sorry, Sax is the muse, I'm just the medium.

Steve Sax said...

whoops, let me fix that san diego comment...

Steve Sax said...

There, how's that?

LLCoolL said...

Watching Thome hit last night, I don't think he could even make the walk from the dugout to 1st base 9 times. He hit a weak grounder to first that was bobbled and still was thrown out by 30 feet. I think even Panda would've been safe on that one. Maybe he should be doing yoga instead.

Mr. Customer said...

@Sax,

Damage done. I'm totally going to use that.

KempKershaw said...

Of course he's worth a roster spot, regardless of how he's playing. Just make sure he gets an at-bat in each remaining game.

The other option is Juan Pierre as a DH.

So yeah, Thome it is.

Ken said...

Ironically, he was the one that people thought was going to make the biggest impact.

So far, Belliard, Sherill, Garland, and Padilla have all produced to an insane degree, yet Thome is struggling to even walk.

I'm just thinking that somehow Thome is going to have a Kirk Gibson moment, and lightning is going to strike twice.

KempKershaw said...

Ken- The others should have a bigger impact because they get more playing time.

By the way, I like your new blog layout. I've been trying to post that on your blog, but every time I click "Post A Comment" nothing happens.

Fred's Brim said...

wow Saxy, you're feeling confident!

"we're going to coast to victories each night" - don't jinx us or anything!

Steve Sax said...

@Fred: Perhaps my confidence was misplaced...