Tag Archives: Eric Thames

Does Eric Thames deserve the “Mr. April” nickname?

There have been countless marvelous nicknames handed out in baseball history. Of all the major sports, baseball is a step above the rest when it comes to imaginative monikers. There’s The Great Bambino, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Hammerin’ Hank and Mr. October. There’s also The Big Hurt, The Big Unit and Kung Fu Panda, along with numerous other creative titles. In Milwaukee, we currently call Travis Shaw “The Mayor of Ding Dong City”, and we used to swoon over El Caballo (Carlos Lee) back in his playing days. And now, after another powerful April, we’ve given out another nickname to Eric Thames.

Over the past two seasons, the Brewers first baseman has 18 home runs in the month of April. He crushed 11 in April 2017 during his return to Major League Baseball, and as of April 22, he has seven over-the-wall hits in 2018. It’s not a stretch to say he’s been nothing short of phenomenal during the season’s opening month, but does he really deserve the “Mr. April” nickname that so many people — myself included — have called him? Let’s find out.

Before the 2017 season, the last time Thames played professionally in the states was in 2013, when he spent time in the Orioles’ and Mariners’ minor-league systems. He had just 684 major-league plate appearances in his career up to that point, and he eventually decided to take his talents to Korea. Therefore, because Thames’ body of work is so small, it would be unfair to compare him to players with much larger sample sizes. Like Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, for example. Bonds is the owner of the award for most home runs during the season’s first month in MLB history with 117, and Pujols is a close second with 107. Thames has 20 April home runs. To his credit, though. Bonds and Pujols have more plate appearances in April alone than Thames does across his entire career. So, for the sake of this argument, I’m just going to be looking at the last two seasons. It’s not perfect, but who cares?

Let’s first start by looking at Thames’ performance the last two Aprils. (Note: When I say April, I’m including March, as well).

PA Avg OBP wOBA wRC+ HR
172 .299 .414 .468 194 18

Those numbers are impressive. Really impressive, actually. Thames has created 94 percent more runs than league average in the month of April, and has hit just as many home runs as Joe Mauer has in the last two full seasons combined. Granted, Mauer isn’t necessarily considered a power hitter, but you get the point.

Thames has been fantastic in April. I’ve established that numerous times in this article already, and I’m only 383 words in. We still haven’t gotten to the main question, though; does Thames deserve the Mr. April nickname? If he hasn’t been the best hitter in that month over the last two seasons, he shouldn’t be blessed with that moniker. I don’t think anyone could disagree with that. I realize that two years is an incredibly small sample size, especially when handing out a nickname, but let’s just have some fun with it.

The three categories I’ve chosen to evaluate are home runs, isolated power percentage and OPS. I would prefer to use wRC+ and wOBA, but Baseball Reference’s Play Index fails to list those as options, so isolated power and OPS are the next best things. If Thames is leading the way in all three of those offensive categories, then I will admit he absolutely deserves the nickname.

Here are the home run leaders in April since the beginning of 2017:

Rank Name HR
1 Eric Thames 18
2 Bryce Harper 17
3 Aaron Judge 16
4 Mike Trout 15
5 Khris Davis 15
6 Charlie Blackmon 14
7 Ryan Zimmerman 14
8 Joey Gallo 13
9 Ryan Braun 12
10 Mike Moustakas 12

Thames wins this one. Bryce Harper and the powerful Aaron Judge are right on his heels, though, and both could easily surpass him before this month’s up. Now, let’s look at the isolated power numbers (minimum 100 plate appearances).

Rank Name ISO
1 Eric Thames .441
2 Bryce Haprer .382
3 Aaron Judge .374
4 Mike Trout .350
5 Ryan Zimmerman .350
6 Scott Schebler .340
7 Charlie Blackmon .327
8 Miguel Sano .326
9 Nelson Cruz .323
10 Matt Kemp .321

The top four are the exact same as the home-run list, but there’s a few new names toward the bottom of the list, with Matt Kemp being the most surprising. Thames is once again on top of the leaderboard, and is well on his way to officially taking the Mr. April crown.

Here are the top 10 April OPS leaders over the last two years (minimum 100 plate appearances):

Rank Name OPS
1 Bryce Harper 1.217
2 Eric Thames 1.173
3 Aaron Judge 1.135
4 Freddie Freeman 1.124
5 Mike Trout 1.118
6 Eugenio Suarez 1.032
7 Ryan Zimmerman 1.029
8 Mitch Haniger 1.019
9 Nelson Cruz 1.000
10 Matt Kemp 0.996

An upset! Due to an incredible start to the season, Harper takes down Thames with a slightly better OPS.

However, even though I said Thames could only be nicknamed Mr. April if he leads in all three categories, I’m still going to give it to him. Because the fact is, he deserves it. In addition to Thames’ above accolades, he also ranks sixth in on-base percentage, third in total bases and fourth in runs created. In terms of offensive production and providing value with the bat, no one has been better than Thames in April since he made his triumphant return from Korea.

This isn’t the best way to determine the top hitter in a given month, and there’s obviously many more stats I could’ve dived into to further my research, but at the very minimum, it shows that calling Thames “Mr. April” actually makes a whole ton of sense. If he can put together three or four more Aprils of this magnitude, maybe the nickname will stick for years to come.

Until then, though, every time Thames comes to the plate as this month winds down, it’s a safe bet he’ll find success. After all, they don’t call him Mr. April for nothing.

***All stats are as of April 21, 2018

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Let’s revisit my 2017 bold predictions

The annual Winter Meetings are in full swing, and while we wait for the Milwaukee Brewers to make some moves, I thought it’d be an appropriate time to check out how my bold predictions from last March fared. But don’t you worry. Once David Stearns — also known as The Wizard — starts wheeling and dealing, The First Out At Third will have all of it covered.

I made five bold predictions last season, and here’s how they turned out.

1. Eric Thames will lead the Brewers in home runs

Thames made his return to the major leagues and America after spending three years playing ball in Korea. He showed massive power out there, which is why I thought he was more than capable of hitting bombs at a high rate for the Brewers. Thames tied Travis Shaw for the team lead with 31 home runs, so we’re off to a great start.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: 1.000 (1-for-1)

2. Domingo Santana will be Milwaukee’s best hitter

I’ve always been high on Santana, which is why I predicted he’d finish with the highest wRC+ on the club. And guess what?

Rank Player wRC+
1 Domingo Santana 126
2 Eric Thames 124
3 Travis Shaw 119
4 Jesus Aguilar 112
5 Ryan Braun 110

Of the 10 Brewers’ hitters who saw at least 300 plate appearances, Santana led the way by producing 26 percent more runs than league average, and just barely beat out Thames for the team high. The 25-year-old outfielder has been subject of recent trade talks, but it’s going to take more than an arm and a leg to pry him from Milwaukee.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: 1.000 (2-for-2)

3. Kirk Nieuwenhuis will not make the Opening Day roster

The 2017 season began on April 3. Nieuwenhuis was designated for assignment on April 21. So while he technically made the Opening Day roster, he was let go just 18 days later. He was able to overachieve in 2016 (1.0 WAR), and while the Brewers gave him another shot the following season, they just had too many up-and-coming young outfielders to keep him on the roster. Nieuwenhuis posted a .245 wOBA and 43 wRC+ over 31 plate appearances before Milwaukee kicked him to the curb. I guess I’ll give myself a loss on this one, but man was it close.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: .666 (2-for-3)

4. Jacob Barnes will take over the closer’s role at some point

If you remember, Neftali Feliz began the season as Milwaukee’s closer. Boy, did that work out great. He owned a 6.00 ERA and 7.12 FIP before he was released on June 19. Corey Knebel was the clear-cut option to slide into Feliz’s role and take over, but I thought Barnes would be better suited for the ninth inning. I was wrong. Knebel dominated throughout the year (40.8 K%), while Barnes went through ups and downs, though he did lock down two saves. Still, another swing and a miss.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: .500 (2-for-4)

5. Ryan Braun doesn’t get traded

Though this doesn’t seem bold now, I assure you it was bold at the time. Braun was reportedly very close to being shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Yasiel Puig in August of 2016, and while that didn’t happen, the Brewers seemed keen on moving on from him and his contract. After the Brewers and Dodgers failed to come to an agreement, I thought it’d be almost impossible for the team to trade Braun. That’s even more true now. The 34-year-old slugger finished with his lowest WAR (1.5) since 2015 and his lowest wRC+ (110) of his career in 2017. I think he’s destined to be a Brewer for life.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: .600 (3-for-5)

One stat that explains why Eric Thames is for real

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?

Bold predictions for the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers

I’ve never published bold predictions on here before. In large part I’ve focused on providing analysis and staying away from clickbait articles, especially when my site was in its infancy. But this year I wanted to try it. Plus, when the season wraps up, you can all laugh at me and tell me how stupid I am. That’s what the internet’s for, right?

Here are my five bold predictions for the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers:

1. Eric Thames will lead the Brewers in home runs

Thames is coming back to the major leagues after a three-year hiatus in Korea where he played like Barry Bonds. He launched 147 home runs in the KBO league and earned a three-year, $16 million deal from the Brewers, which could ultimately be the steal of the offseason.

RW23 thinks he’ll finish with 31 home runs this season, besting Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana for the lead. With the power he showed in Korea and his perceived plate discipline improvement, it comes as little surprise that other projection models are spitting out similar numbers.

2. Domingo Santana will be Milwaukee’s best hitter

I’ve been driving Domingo’s bandwagon since he was acquired from Houston, and I went more in depth about my love for him in an article a few weeks ago. But to sum up, I think he’ll produce the highest wRC+ on the Brewers.

Santana hits the ball hard (he had one of the highest increases in exit velocity from 2015 to 2016), which should lead to more home runs and better production in 2017. His plate discipline is tremendous, but he’ll flourish even more if he becomes just a little more aggressive. He took too many called strikes in 2016 and will need to take the bat off his shoulder if my prediction has a chance to come through. He has a real chance to be an All-Star.

3. Kirk Nieuwenhuis will not make the Opening Day roster

This maybe shouldn’t be classified as a “bold” prediction, but I’m putting it on here nonetheless. The Brewers have a plethora of young, highly regarded outfielders who will eventually need playing time. Therefore, Nieuwenhuis could be the odd-man out, despite hitting 13 home runs in limited playing time a season ago.

Nieuwenhuis is a useful bat off the bench, but at this point of his career, he is what he is. He’s produced just one season as an above-average hitter and will never get on base at a consistent clip. I believe Michael Reed — who has more upside — will take his spot on the 25-man roster, as Nieuwenhuis is owed just $900,000 this season. Cutting him loose will be easy.

4. Jacob Barnes will take over the closer’s role at some point

Barnes is really good. Like really, really good. RW23 absolutely adores him, and with his high strikeout rate and exceptional command that he showed throughout the minors and last year during his rookie debut, I think he’ll eventually supplant Neftali Feliz as closer, who will struggle a bit for the Brewers. He struck out 24 percent of batters faced and allowed just one home run in 26.2 innings last season, along with a 2.70 ERA and an even better 2.36 FIP.

If Feliz doesn’t adapt well in Milwaukee, Corey Knebel might get the first shot to replace him, but Barnes has the stuff to be a lockdown late-inning guy.

5. Ryan Braun doesn’t get traded

I thought for sure he’d be gone by now. After a 133 wRC+ season, Braun’s value is the highest its been since 2012, and I was convinced David Stearns would take advantage of that. But spring training games have started, and Braun remains a Brewer. I now believe he’ll remain one for the duration of the season.

However, I do think he’ll be traded this winter, especially if he produces at a high level again. But if he were to take a step back, Stearns may be kicking himself for not finding a trade partner sooner.