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Appreciating the all-around hitting skills of Eric Thames

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More than just a lefty slugger, Eric Thames looks like a skilled hitter in every aspect.

Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Eric Thames is the best player in baseball right now.

That may sound like hyperbole, but given his production over the first two weeks of the season, it’s tough to make an argument for anyone else. Thames has appeared in 12 of Milwaukee’s first 14 games to start the season, taking 48 turns at the plate. In that time, here’s how he’s hit, along with his ranking among all qualified hitters:

Batting Average: .405 (3)
On-Base Percentage: .479 (7)
Slugging Percentage: 1.000 (1)
OPS: 1.479 (1)
wRC+: 287 (1)
Home Runs: 7 (1)
Isolated Power: .595 (1)
Hard-hit Rate: 54.8% (7)
fWAR: 1.2 (1)

The repatriated slugger has smacked the snot out of the ball in the early days of his return from a 3-year stint in the Korean Baseball Organization. One would be hard-pressed to find a weakness in his current approach at the plate. He is crushing fastballs:

And he’s launching breaking balls:

He’s driving outside pitches the other way:

Not even same-handed pitching poses much of a threat.

Thames isn’t just just pull-happy up at the plate, selling out for power in order to try and muscle balls over the right field fence. Thus far he is proving to be a very adept hitter; one who gets good extension through the hitting zone, can cover all parts of the plate, use the whole field, and handle same-handed pitchers. If a ball is in the zone or on the outer half, there’s a good chance that Thames is going to drive it.

Eric Thames zone profile.
Brooks Baseball
Eric Thames spray chart.

When the Brewers signed Eric Thames, there was some initial concern about how he’d be able to handle major league heat after several seasons of seeing mostly mid-80s fastballs from Korean hurlers. As it turns out, it appears in the early going that those worries were overblown. Thames has seen over 140 fastballs and sinkers already this year with an average velocity of roughly 93 MPH. He’s hitting .429 against opposing pitchers’ four-seamers with an 1.143 slugging percentage and .273 with a .636 slugging percentage against the sinkers he’s seen. The hard stuff has given him little trouble.

Not that off-speed has been much of a problem, either. Thames is hitting an even .300 against changeups (though he is whiffing at a 20% clip against them); he’s hit curveballs at a .333 rate with an 1.333 slugging percentage; and he’s got a .286 average against cutters. The only pitch that seems to be giving Thames any difficulty is a slider, which he currently has only a .167 average against along with a 20% whiff rate. If Thames is Superman, so far the low-and-away slider has been his only Kryptonite.

It’s still early in on in the season, but so far Eric Thames has looked like the real deal offensively against MLB arms. He’s walking at a strong clip (10.4%) and isn’t striking out excessively (22.9%). Thames is a powerful hitter with the physique of a body-builder, who makes hard contact almost every time he swings the bat. He’s proving that the 124 home runs he hit in Korea were no fluke, tying the Brewers’ all-time mark last night by hitting a home run in his fifth consecutive game (which was also achieved by Jeromy Burnitz back in 1997). In fact, his current ISO would shatter the single-season record, currently at .536 and set by Barry Bonds during his record-setting 2001.

Realistically, of course, there’s no way that Thames can keep up this level of production for the whole season. We haven’t seen a .400 hitter in the MLB in over 75 years, and though Thames can hit dingers with the best of them, an 81-home run pace is going to be tough to sustain. Pitchers are no doubt pouring though videos of Thames, looking for any adjustments that can be made to cool off the red-hot batter. But perhaps some of use were too quick to dismiss the projections like Steamer (.272/.350/.515) and Davenport (.285/.358/.533) that tried to give us hints over the winter that Thames is, in fact, really good. Playing in a left-handed hitter’s haven like Miller Park will only help, as well.

The resurgent Brewers are off to an 8-6 start thanks in large part to the one-man wrecking crew that is Eric Thames. With the long-bearded masher serving along with Ryan Braun as the anchors of an offense that’s currently ranked 2nd in the National League with 65 runs scored though 14 games, maybe this could be a team that’s primed to be a surprise competitor for a Wild Card spot. Who knows? Just like, who could’ve known we’d see this Eric Thames through the first two weeks of the season?

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball