I don’t use the term “creeper” as a pejorative in this weekly post (after all, I’m highlighting players I think will give your teams a boost), but it still kind of feels wrong to put our subject and “creeper” in the same sentence. Let’s ameliorate, shall we?
One of the nicest (and largest) guys in baseball, week 14’s Creeper is Jim Thome. Traded over the weekend to the Orioles by the Phillies, he figures to see regular playing time against right-handed pitching at the DH position. He’s owned in 2.5% of ESPN leagues and 7% of Yahoo leagues. The Orioles are scheduled for 7 games – all on the road – in week 14, with 6 of them against RHP. Thome and his new team begin the week with a 4 game set against the Mariners in Safeco Field, and close the week with a 3 game set against the Angels in Angel Stadium. While both are pitchers parks, with Safeco suppressing offense by 5% and Angel Stadium suppressing offense by 2%, Safeco is pretty close to neutral for left-handed power, rating a tick below average (95 HR park factor). Angel Stadium is a bit more difficult on lefties, with a lefty HR park factor of 87. Normally, this would be cause for concern, but this is Jim Thome we’re talking about. In 2010, playing his home games in cavernous Target Field, Thome had a home HR/FB rate of 38.5%. He’s also never averaged fewer than 400 feet per home run in any season. To condense this paragraph into a single sentence, dude could probably hit one out of Yellowstone; I wouldn’t worry about stadium effects harming Thome.
Amazingly, Thome is still much the same player he’s always been. In 2002, his chase rate was 14.9%. In 2012, it’s 15.7%. His contact rate in 2012 is 71.6%, in the same range as his 68.8% mark in 2002. His 2002 HR/FB rate of 35.4% was approached as recently as 2010, when he produced a 33.8% clip for the Twins. His 2.50 GB/FB ratio constitutes a massive spike from career and recent norms (flyball hitter earlier in his career, slight groundball hitter in recent years), but this has been composed while largely pinch-hitting for the Phillies. It’s something to monitor this week and moving forward, but with his plate discipline and bat speed numbers staying consistent, it is likely that he will begin to regularly loft the ball with more playing time. Thome is likely to sit against LHP for a couple reasons: one, his OPS since 2002 against lefties is 261 points lower than his OPS against righties (.773 vs 1.034), and two, he’s 41 years old, sitting against lefties gives him regular days off. The Orioles also have Mark Reynolds to DH against left-handed pitching. The only lefty on the docket this week is C.J. Wilson, and Thome is almost assuredly a lock to sit that one out.
Of the 6 RHP slated to face the Orioles in the coming week, several look to be exploitable matchups. Hisashi Iwakuma is making his first start for the Mariners tonight, and he brings his mediocre 1.53 K/BB and plain bad 1.78 HR/9 rates to the rotation. Starting game 3 of the Seattle series is Hector Noesi, and in addition to carrying 1.65 K/BB and 1.87 HR/9 rates, most of his damage has come from left-handed bats, against whom he has a 6.10 FIP. Unlike Iwakuma, Noesi is a flyball pitcher, and lefties are putting 51.3% of batted balls in the air. Coupled with a 13.8% HR/FB rate, that spells good news for Thome. Garrett Richards will be taking the bump for the Angels to open their weekend series with Baltimore, and even after being pounded for 10 runs by the Blue Jays on Saturday, he’s done a pretty good job of keeping the ball in the park, allowing just over half a home run per 9 innings pitched. His control has been poor, however; he’s given up nearly 5 walks per 9. The last exploitable matchup for Thome will come on Sunday against Dan Haren, whose 2012 difficulties have been most evident in allowing 1.49 HR per 9 innings to lefties. Felix Hernandez doesn’t have a platoon split, and since 2010, Jered Weaver has actually been significantly tougher on opposite handed batters than he has same-handed batters – in each of the last 3 seasons, he’s had a FIP at least 0.80 runs lower against lefties than against batters from the right side of the plate. I wouldn’t be surprised if Thome gets another day off against one of those two.
With four friendly matchups and a return to regular playing time, Jim Thome is a great add for power at the U position this week. He’s fun to root for, and his next homerun will move him past Sammy Sosa for sole possession of 7th on the all-time HR list, with 610. Let’s hope he gets to 612 by the time week 15 rolls around.