Twins Sign Jim Thome to Bench Role; Is That The Right Decision?

 

The Minnesota Twins signed Jim Thome to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million dollars with another $700k in possible incentives. Thome, 39, is a steal at $2.2 million dollars to an American League team in need of some power; 564 home runs worth. Despite his advanced age, Thome is still crushing the ball. His average ISO for the past three seasons is .259. Even with some age-related regression, he is still likely to post and ISO over .220 and a slugging percentage in the .475 neighborhood. Give him enough at-bats and you can pencil in a 1.5-2 WAR season for about a million dollars per win.

Unfortunately for us Thome supporters, Twins GM Bill Smith is already on record as saying "Jim Thome is a bat off the bench." This raises two questions: 1) Why? and 2) Could no other AL team use Thome's bat in the DH spot for ~$2 million dollars?

Right now the Twins plan to employ their outfielders and DH role as such: Delmon Young in left field, Denard Span in center field, Michael Cuddyer in right field and Jason Kubel as the DH. I completely understand the want and need to plan Span, Cuddyer and Kubel everyday. They are all above average hitters and therefore should be everyday players. However, are you really going to play Delmon Young and his .319 career wOBA (.312 last season) in left field over Kubel and put Thome's career .406 wOBA (.367 last season) on the bench? Especially against right-handed pitching? The dude owns a career .294/.429/.614 slash line against righties.

I am a Rays fan so I know all about the Hall Of Fame potential that Delmon Young possesses or once possessed at this point. That said, Young has racked up over 1,800 plate appearances and is still a below average hitter. Since joining the Twins organization, he has been worth -1.7 WAR. Of course, I'm not so short-sighted that I say give up on him completely, but if you acquire a 2 WAR player (on a one-year deal) at a bargain rate, it's probably best to make sure his bat is in the lineup over the guy who's worth is -$6.6 million dollars over the past two seasons.

Thome at DH means Jason Kubel would have to play left field. This is a bad thing, but so is playing Delmon Young in left field everyday. He has played over 2,100 in left field for Minnesota these past two seasons and has a UZR/150 of -18.9. Kubel defensive shortcomings are equally bad, and in over 1,800 total innings in the outfield his UZR/150 is -18.1. Either way you are likely to have a butcher in left, so why not go with the bat of the real future hall of famer (who is still the better hitter) over the one who once had hall of fame potential?

Maybe this will all playout on the field anyway. Only CHONE projects Delmon Young to be an above average hitter with a .346 wOBA. If that happens, it would be a career high for Delmon. Thome on the other hand has no wOBA projections under .350. The same CHONE system projects him at .351. By the way, a .351 wOBA would be a career low for Thome in a season which he has at least 300 PAs. One would think that if history repeats itself, Thome's bat will mash it's way into the lineup at some point of the season; hopefully for Twins fans that's sooner than later.

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