Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Under the Radar

He is one of the game’s top home run hitters. He knocks balls over the fence at a greater rate per plate appearance than Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez. In fact, among active players with 1,000 career plate appearances, only Ryan Howard surpasses him in this category. Who is that player? Would you believe Marcus Thames?

Thames has drilled 37.2 career home runs per 600 plate appearances. That trails only Howard (42.3) among active players. Pujols (36.6), Rodriguez (36.6) and Jim Thome (35.8) round out the top five.

Thames gets little media attention because he has never received enough playing time to post a 30-homer season. This year, after missing a month and a half, he had launched 7 long balls in 119 plate appearances (through July 6). That projects to 35.3 home runs per 600 plate appearances, not far off his career figure.

While Thames’ limitations keep him from playing more often, baseball’s statistical conventions hurt him as well. When it comes to hits, baseball uses a percentage stat (batting average). However, home run power always gets expressed as a whole number. There’s no reason we can’t show it as a percentage or rate, besides the fact that years of conditioning have trained us to do otherwise.

Such a change also helps hitters like Luke Scott. His 16 home runs tied for 26th in the Major Leagues. But he ranked ninth with 39.2 homers per 600 plate appearances.

While the media won’t start expressing home runs this way any time soon, such rankings can help agents immensely in arbitration and free agency.