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HOFer Thome a model for Miggy rebound?

Tigers first baseman looking to follow similar trajectory after '17 struggles
MLB.com @AndrewSimonMLB

Last week, Jim Thome joined the elite ranks of first-ballot Hall of Famers, receiving nearly 90 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

But 12 years earlier, his eventual spot in Cooperstown was far from secure. Thome, with 430 career home runs to that point, was coming off an ineffective, injury-plagued season at age 34 -- a point at which it's hardly unusual for players to decline rapidly. With the emergence of Ryan Howard at first base, the Phillies shipped Thome to the White Sox, and his future looked uncertain. 

Last week, Jim Thome joined the elite ranks of first-ballot Hall of Famers, receiving nearly 90 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

But 12 years earlier, his eventual spot in Cooperstown was far from secure. Thome, with 430 career home runs to that point, was coming off an ineffective, injury-plagued season at age 34 -- a point at which it's hardly unusual for players to decline rapidly. With the emergence of Ryan Howard at first base, the Phillies shipped Thome to the White Sox, and his future looked uncertain. 

There are some parallels here to another accomplished first baseman, Miguel Cabrera.

Now, Cabrera might already be a Hall of Famer, as his 68.8 Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement (WAR) mark is just shy of Thome's final tally (72.9). And the Tigers almost certainly won't be trading Cabrera, given the six years and $184 million remaining on his contract.

Video: DET@TB: Cabrera clubs 451-foot homer on his birthday

Still, the similarities between the two are striking. In tandem with the Statcast™ numbers showing that Cabrera still makes high-quality contact, they offer another favorable data point as Detroit hopes for a Miggy rebound in 2018.

Thome through age 33 (2004): .410 OBP, .569 SLG, 423 HR, 152 OPS+
Cabrera through age 33 (2016): .399 OBP, .562 SLG, 446 HR, 155 OPS+

Thome at age 34 (2005): .360 OBP, .352 SLG, 85 OPS+ in 242 PA
Cabrera at age 34 (2017): .329 OBP, .399 SLG, 92 OPS+ in 529 PA

Thome's 2004 season was cut short by injuries that kept him out for the final three months. Cabrera had a short stint on the disabled list late last April due to a right groin strain, and while he played the rest of the season, he did so while enduring herniated disks in his back.

In other words, both players were compromised physically.

And while it remains to be seen how well Cabrera recovers -- back problems for a player who turns 35 in April are no small thing -- Thome found a second wind after the Phillies dealt him to the White Sox.

Video: Cabrera looks to have a strong 2018

In his first two seasons with Chicago, the burly slugger hit .282/.414/.581 with 77 home runs, 8.6 WAR and a 153 OPS+ that ranked seventh in the Majors (minimum 1,000 plate appearances), just behind Cabrera. Thome hung on for five more years with six teams after that, playing through age 41 and maintaining a stellar 132 OPS+ over that time span. He added another 9 WAR and 105 homers, finishing with 612 and cementing his Hall of Fame case.

In that way, Thome provides perhaps a best-case scenario for Cabrera, whose fall in 2017 was precipitous.

Even just from 2014-16, Cabrera's 157 OPS+ ranked third among 117 players who batted at least 1,500 times, trailing only Mike Trout and Joey Votto. Last season, his mark of 92 tied for 118th out of 144 qualified hitters, and his total value was below replacement level.

Now, one of the greatest hitters of a generation must find a way to bounce back, as Cabrera looks to make his journey to his 500th homer (38 away) and 3,000th hit (364 away) more of a sprint than a slog.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera