Eric Thames is in the MVP conversation. He may not be leading the charge, but he’s definitely among consideration. In the National League, the strongest man alive (probably) ranks sixth in WAR (1.8), fourth in wRC+ (183) and is tied for second with 13 home runs. He’s also a big reason as to why the Brewers are over .500 and in first place of the NL Central — which is just as astounding as Kim Kardashian’s level of fame. So yes, he’s right up there with Bryce Harper for MVP votes.
The critics, pundits and idiots — hi, John Lackey — choose to believe Thames is on performance-enhancing drugs, because, of course, that’s the only explanation for Lackey not being good. But that’s a silly statement, and one that’s been denied time and time again by the numerous negative samples Thames has produced for Major League Baseball thus far. We won’t spend anymore time on these lunatics.
The truth is that Thames is refusing to swing at bad pitches and is crushing the good ones. It’s really as simple as that. He’s always had power. But now that his eye at the plate is superior, so is his performance. And there’s a new statistic that leads us to believe his performance is the real deal.
A few weeks ago, Statcast rolled out new stat called xwOBA or expected weighted on-base average. I’ll let the folks at Statcast give you the definition.
Expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) is formulated using exit velocity and launch angle, two metrics measured by Statcast.
In the same way that each batted ball is assigned a Hit Probability, every batted ball has been given a single, double, triple and home run probability based on the results of comparable batted balls — in terms of exit velocity and launch angle — since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015
To sum up, xwOBA is what a player’s wOBA is expected to be based on exit velocity and launch angle. Simple enough. For example, Freddie Freeman has the highest xwOBA in MLB with a mark of .463 (minimum of 100 plate appearances), while his actual wOBA is .491, which is behind only Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. Freeman has been absolutely demolishing the ball and both his xwOBA and wOBA portray that.
This is where Thames comes in.
Thames has a .396 xwOBA — the 23rd-highest mark in baseball. That’s better than Justin Upton, Robinson Cano and Manny Machado. His actual wOBA, however, is .464. That’s a pretty large difference, and at this point you may be confused about the title of this post. If he’s outperforming expectations, why do I believe he’s still for real?
Well, because Freddie Freeman isn’t going to finish with a .491 wOBA. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if his final wOBA fell beneath .400. Last season, only six players finished with a wOBA of .400 or higher, and one of them was the greatest player on earth. In 2015, only five players completed that feat. In other words, it’s not easy to do. If Thames finishes with his xwOBA of .396, that’ll probably be among the top 10. Kris Bryant had a .396 wOBA in 2016, and he won MVP.
RW23 projected Thames for 31 home runs and a .360 wOBA. Odds are he exceeds both. I don’t know if he’ll still be in the MVP conversation in August or September, but it’s May, and he’s still smack dab in the middle of it, and according to his xwOBA, he’s for real. Thames will come down to earth, and he won’t hit 11 home runs every month. But his performance isn’t Chris Shelton-esque (if you don’t remember him, look him up). He made real changes in Korea and has translated those changes to MLB.
But it must be the steroids, right?