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Thursday, April 20, 2017

How is free swinger Eric Thames crushing his second act?

The problem? He swung at everything. And it almost cost him everything. But he’s back and emerging as the biggest surprise of the 2017 season. How did he climb back for this second act that most players never get?

“Plate discipline,” Thames said, simply. “I learned in Korea that they won’t challenge you as much as they do in the minor leagues and [majors]. And maintaining the strike zone and swinging at strikes, that’s like the ultimate goal for everybody.”

Thames signed with the NC Dinos of the South Korean League, then spent the next three seasons putting up Ruthian numbers on the other side of the globe. All told, he hit .349/.451/.721 with 124 homers, 382 RBIs and 64 steals in Korea, but Thames wasn’t just dominating lesser competition; he was working on his game, making it more pliable for a return to the States. Part of it was metrics. Or at least one metric: Thames started to track the number of pitches he chased out of the zone, and mixed that with a little self-motivating tool.

“Starting in Korea, every time I chase, I put a dollar in the pot and I donate it at the end of the year,” Thames said. “It’s a challenge. I was a guy that swung at everything, so many balls out of the zone early on in my career. It’s a big thing. That’s why I couldn’t handle it in Seattle. It’s why I got sent down.”

He’s been really impressive to watch so far.  I also like how this article is framed around comparing this approach with Tim Anderson.

Optimistic Moses Taylor, optimist Posted: April 20, 2017 at 01:20 PM | 24 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: brewers, eric thames, korean baseball, ted williams

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   1. Zonk Tormundbane Posted: April 20, 2017 at 02:30 PM (#5439067)
Based on him terrorizing the Cubs last couple days, I knew he was looking pretty good but daaayyyummmm...

Thames is hitting 405/500/905 -- with 7 HRs and even 8 BBs (plus a HBP) in 58 PAs thus far.

He leads all of baseball in hits, HRs, and SLG.

I have to admit that I was a skeptic, but this certainly looks like a fine job by Milwaukee in the early going.
   2. Brian C Posted: April 20, 2017 at 03:02 PM (#5439098)
Most of my relatives are Brewers fans. They're not real statheady, but I think it was still pretty well understood that Chris Carter had just about the worst season a guy can have while hitting 40 homers. Still, letting him go was a bit of a head-scratcher for them.

Enter Thames, "some guy from Korea". I think it's fair to say that there was some skepticism, even if the handwringing over Carter was minimal. So while I doubt Thames can keep up a superstar-caliber performance, I'm happy for them that he seems to be working out OK. Gives Brewers fans a reason to think their still-new front office knows what they're doing.
   3. Rickey! the first of his name Posted: April 20, 2017 at 03:36 PM (#5439145)
Clearly MLB is still pitching him with his old book. They'll adjust, but this is a good story.
   4. PreservedFish Posted: April 20, 2017 at 04:02 PM (#5439180)
Clearly MLB is still pitching him with his old book.


This seems facile to me.
   5. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: April 20, 2017 at 04:31 PM (#5439203)
It may be facile, but also plausible to me. The Reds and Cubs will see him another dozen times, so we'll see how the book is rewritten on Thames.

As a not real statheady Brewers fan, I wouldn't say i was skeptical, as I didn't want to see them pay for Chris Carter just for the oohs and aahs of 40 HRs, 3 yrs/$15 is really inexpensive, compared to paying Carter. I guess this is what people call 'taking a flyer'.
   6. Satan Says Posted: April 20, 2017 at 04:41 PM (#5439214)
3 yrs/$15 is really inexpensive, compared to paying Carter.

The Yankees are paying Carter 1/$3.5. Not that I wouldn't rather have Thames.

   7. Dog on the sidewalk Posted: April 20, 2017 at 04:45 PM (#5439219)
Two weeks into his Brewers career, Thames has provided enough value to more or less justify his entire 3-year contract.

And I'm only mentioning this because I know everyone loves to hear about others' fantasy teams, but I'm feeling pretty good about taking him in round 18 of my 12 team league's 19 round draft.
   8. LA Podcasting Hombre of Anaheim Posted: April 20, 2017 at 04:57 PM (#5439230)
It may be facile, but also plausible to me. The Reds and Cubs will see him another dozen times, so we'll see how the book is rewritten on Thames.
I think it's more likely that there's no book on Thames at all. He had less than 700 meh plate appearances in two partial seasons, five years ago, in the other league. It's more likely that teams are just going off of the few looks they got in spring training and the few weeks of swings thus far, and at the moment the league's book on him has just started to be written.
   9. Dog on the sidewalk Posted: April 20, 2017 at 04:58 PM (#5439232)
So while I doubt Thames can keep up a superstar-caliber performance, I'm happy for them that he seems to be working out OK. Gives Brewers fans a reason to think their still-new front office knows what they're doing.

I think rather than credit the Brewers' FO (though they do deserve credit), we should be questioning why there was no team willing to offer Thames better than a 3-year deal at a utility players' salary. The publicly available projection systems all thought he was worth a lot more than that. I imagine Byung Ho Park's MLB debut scared some teams given their similar high K/high power statistical profile, but still. Even if their own in-house systems were more skeptical of him, no one was willing to offer 1/10 or something to a guy who several respected systems projected to an ~.850 OPS?
   10. Optimistic Moses Taylor, optimist Posted: April 20, 2017 at 05:16 PM (#5439245)
Even if their own in-house systems were more skeptical of him, no one was willing to offer 1/10 or something to a guy who several respected systems projected to an ~.850 OPS?

Whether fair or not, I bet the ~700PA before Korea, and the relative rating of Korea's competition, meant a whole lot more to most teams.
   11. Brian C Posted: April 20, 2017 at 05:25 PM (#5439253)
Yeah, I don't think that's much of a mystery. Regardless of what the "respected systems" say, it was hardly a sure thing that he'd be worth a roster spot, much less succeed as an everyday player.

And hey, he still might not in the long run. He wouldn't be the first guy to start hot and then quickly fade into oblivion.
   12. Dog on the sidewalk Posted: April 20, 2017 at 05:43 PM (#5439259)
I understand all that which is why I wondered why no one was willing to take a gamble for 1/10 or something like it, rather than the 3/40 or whatever that the projections would suggest.
   13. Walt Davis Posted: April 20, 2017 at 05:44 PM (#5439260)
It was also a flooded market for borderline sluggers most of whom were having a tough time finding a job because not that many teams were looking for 1B/DH anyway. Granted, even with just a couple of weeks of 20/20 hindsight, Toronto should have done 3/$18 for Thames rather than 3/$33 for Morales or 1/$18 for Bautista. He probably would have been a lot more fun to watch in Fenway than Moreland too.

We all know he's not going to hit 400, he's not going to hit HRs on 1/3 of his flyballs, etc. What's impressive so far is that the K-rate is under 20%. Chris Carter walks 12% of the time and hits HRs on 19% of his FBs and even hits LDs at an above-average rate -- it's the 33% K-rate that keeps Carter from being a star.

Thames certainly seems to have the power. If he keeps the Ks where they are, he could be David Ortiz; if they go up to 25% then he's Trumbo (with some chance at Kris Bryant); if it pushed 30%, he's Carter. No need to bring up small sample size here but I will note that neither Thames' 408 BA nor his 500 OBP leads the league.
   14. Bote Man Posted: April 20, 2017 at 06:55 PM (#5439306)
and at the moment the league's book on him has just started to be written.

Or it was written in invisible ink (The Clear is invisible, right?)
   15. Optimistic Moses Taylor, optimist Posted: April 20, 2017 at 07:05 PM (#5439309)
"Well, the bottom line is (Thames) has hit the ball and we gotta figure out a way to get around (it)," Bosio said on "The Mully and Hanley Show," according to Patrick Redford of Deadspin.

"All that other stuff, I'll let other people worry about. But he's doing stuff that I haven't seen done for a long time. You start thinking about Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez when he went to the Dodgers, Barry Bonds. You're talking about some of the greatest players to ever play this game. So, yeah, it's probably a 'head-scratcher' because nobody knows who this guy is. And when he was here before, his body has changed. But, like I said, I'll leave that to everyone else and we're just gonna try to worry about how to pitch him better and get him out."

Bosio's comments came after he was asked if Starling Marte's recent 80-game PED suspension meant that cheating was still the norm in the game.

Cubs right-hander John Lackey, who surrendered a solo home run to Thames in his last start, seemed to echo Bosio's thoughts on Thames' hot start.

"You watch film on recent stuff and try to figure out a way, you know, to get him out. But I mean, really even the homer hit the other way, I mean, you don't see that happen here very often," Lackey said, according to Chris Cwik of Yahoo Sports, adding with a wink: "That's kinda one of those things that makes you scratch your head."


Well that's not exactly a good look for them, but we all know lackey is a horse's ass.
   16. Jose is an Absurd Doubles Machine Posted: April 20, 2017 at 07:38 PM (#5439320)
Am I misremembering or was one of the theories regarding Fielder that Japan by virtue of being more of an off speed pitch league helped him learn to hit those pitches? I haven't seen Thames and I don't know if there has been a change in Japan's pitching approach but a 25 year old guy who strikes out a lot spending 3 years learning to hit the curveball and coming back and having success doesn't seem outrageous.

As Rickey says it will be interesting to see what happens when teams start to adjust but I wouldn't be surprised if he turns out to be a much improved player.
   17. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: April 21, 2017 at 09:34 AM (#5439626)
https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/bob-nightengale/2017/04/18/eric-thames-brewers-korea-god-home-runs/100592868/#


“One of the benefits of going to Korea was that he saw a ton off off-speed breaking stuff, a ton of junk, and he was able to lay off a lot of those off-speed pitches that break out of the zone.

“He really transformed as a hitter.”

   18. ReggieThomasLives Posted: April 21, 2017 at 10:18 AM (#5439673)
I think it's more likely that there's no book on Thames at all. He had less than 700 meh plate appearances in two partial seasons, five years ago, in the other league. It's more likely that teams are just going off of the few looks they got in spring training and the few weeks of swings thus far, and at the moment the league's book on him has just started to be written.


I find this hard to believe, or what do bench and pitcher or coaches really do then? They don't write down and save observations? They don't review old tape?
   19. The Good Face Posted: April 21, 2017 at 10:29 AM (#5439683)
I find this hard to believe, or what do bench and pitcher or coaches really do then? They don't write down and save observations? They don't review old tape?


They probably don't spend many cycles on how to pitch to a borderline MLB player who had ~700 meh PAs 5 years ago. Now that he's hitting a ton they'll presumably do all those things.
   20. Greg Pope Posted: April 21, 2017 at 10:40 AM (#5439689)
They probably don't spend many cycles on how to pitch to a borderline MLB player who had ~700 meh PAs 5 years ago. Now that he's hitting a ton they'll presumably do all those things.

My guess is that they treated him like a minor leaguer. "Throw him fastballs until he shows that he can hit them. If he can, then throw him breaking balls until he shows that he can lay off of them."

And now that they've got 3 weeks of film, they'll actually try.
   21. 6 - 4 - 3 Posted: April 21, 2017 at 02:29 PM (#5439850)
Am I misremembering or was one of the theories regarding Fielder that Japan by virtue of being more of an off speed pitch league helped him learn to hit those pitches? I haven't seen Thames and I don't know if there has been a change in Japan's pitching approach but a 25 year old guy who strikes out a lot spending 3 years learning to hit the curveball and coming back and having success doesn't seem outrageous.

That's my recollection at well.

It very well may be that for a small subset of AAAA hitters, going overseas for a few years is optimal for their development. Billy Ashley is another guy who seems to fit the profile as someone who could have benefited from spending a few years in Japan (not that he did, but the kind of failed prospect who might have benefited from it in the way that Fielder and perhaps Thames have).
   22. Sleepy's not going to blame himself Posted: April 21, 2017 at 02:59 PM (#5439862)
It very well may be that for a small subset of AAAA hitters, going overseas for a few years is optimal for their development.
Randal Grichuk might also benefit from a trip like this.
   23. LA Podcasting Hombre of Anaheim Posted: April 21, 2017 at 04:14 PM (#5439912)
Or it was written in invisible ink (The Clear is invisible, right?)
Bote is John Lackey's account name.
   24. 6 - 4 - 3 Posted: April 21, 2017 at 04:52 PM (#5439934)
Randal Grichuk might also benefit from a trip like this.

Perhaps. But he was well above replacement level in 2015-16. I was thinking more in terms of AAAA guys who probably wouldn't have MLB careers (e.g., Fielder was 0.3 bWAR in 1985-88; Thames was -0.6 bWAR in 2011-12).

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