Eric Thames Is Taking Baseball by Storm
Eric Thames is the talk of baseball.
You probably didn't expect to read those words two weeks into the 2017 MLB season.
Yet, here he is, smashing balls out of the park in much the same way he did in Korea, where he hit a combined 124 home runs over the last three seasons.
But that was Korea. This is the majors. Surely, Thames, who had not played in a Major League Baseball game since 2012, wouldn't continue to do the same against the very best pitchers in the world, right?
On Monday, Thames hit an opposite-field blast against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, his fifth straight game with a dinger.
ICYMI: The #Brewers didn't need a heater in the dugout last night. They had @EricThames. pic.twitter.com/Nu73UILQJt
â€” Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) April 18, 2017
So far in 15 games, Thames is batting .405 while leading all of baseball in wOBA (.604), slugging percentage (1.000), homers (7), ISO (.595) and OPS (1.479).
The 30-year-old left-hander is making it look easy in his first MLB action in five years when, at 25 years old, he hit a meager .232/.273/.399 in 86 games with 9 homers and an wOBA of .290 in 2012 with the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays.
The Milwaukee Brewers took a chance that his Korean power would carry over when they signed him to a three-year, $16 million deal this off-season, and that deal looking brilliant at the moment.
Thames is making a little bit of history along the way.
With a HR last night, Eric Thames tied Jeromy Burnitz for the longest HR streak in #Brewers history https://t.co/T57DeY3eEB pic.twitter.com/soCTwQYpEl
â€” Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) April 18, 2017
He also became the first player since Nelson Cruz to get off to this kind of homer streak.
.@EricThames is the first player to homer in five straight April games since @ncboomstick23 in 2015 â€¦ pic.twitter.com/mAFCwBMjD1
â€” MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) April 18, 2017
There are a few signs that this start is legitimate, too.
He has already slugged two homers off left-handed pitching and is hitting a robust .500/.571/.1.500 against southpaws (albeit in 7 plate appearances) in the early going. Not bad for a left-handed hitter, although it is a super small sample size, as is everything this time of year. Thames owns a 54.8% hard-hit rate and 45.2% fly-ball rate, which is exactly how you put up monster power numbers. His 22.9% strikeout rate isn't too bad while his 10.4% walk rate is very nice.
Thames also has not been reliant on his cozy home stadium of Miller Park to launch his bombs as all but one of his seven homers have come on the road. And as the video above showed, his power isn't strictly pull-related. Of course, he can pull the ball with power, jacking this one to right-center last weekend.
Entering play on Tuesday, Thames leads all of baseball in fWAR (1.2), and he is second in baseball in home-run-per-fly-ball percentage (HR/FB), with 50.0% of all his fly balls leaving the yard. The league leader in HR/FB rate last season with Ryan Braun with a 28.8% clip, so there's obviously some regression coming his way, and pitchers will get a book on Thames soon.
But for now, he is one of the best stories in 2017, and there are enough sustainable things going on here that it looks like he'll be a legitimate power bat for Milwaukee, even if he doesn't maintain this Earth-shattering pace.