Travis Shaw's Great Start Is Getting Overshadowed By Eric Thames
Remember "Harvey's Wallbangers?" Well, it was a long time ago -- 1982 to be exact.
That was the year the Milwaukee Brewers, playing in the American League at the time, utterly destroyed baseball for an entire season by launching an MLB-best 216 home runs, a prodigious offensive assault upon the AL that took them all the way to Game 7 of the '82 World Series, where they would eventually lose to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Gorman Thomas hit 39 dingers that year. Ben Ogilvie had 34. Cecil Cooper bashed 32 balls out of the yard, AL MVP Robin Yount added 29, and Ted Simmons had 23. Not to mention a 5.6 fWAR season from Paul Molitor in which he had 19 dingers, 41 steals, and 136 runs scored.
This year's Brew Crew is off to a similar start. Through 17 games, Milwaukee leads baseball in homers with 32. The New York Mets are the next closest with 25. That would put the Brewers on a pace to smash 305 bombs this year, a number they obviously won't reach.
The most surprising member of this new group of Brewer bashers is, of course, Eric Thames, who is the talk of baseball. He recently hit five home runs in five games, as I wrote about this week, and has continued his slugging ways, now with a total of eight home runs, which leads the National League. His 1.6 fWAR also leads all qualified Major Leaguers.
Thames is a phenomenal story, having played the last three seasons in Korea. But there's another Brewer who is off to a surprisingly hot start, third baseman Travis Shaw.
After a subpar year with the Boston Red Sox last season during which he hit just .242/.306/.421 with 16 homers, 71 RBI, a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 87, and an fWAR of 1.5, he is on fire to start this 2017 season, with a slash line of .254/.309/.635 and a wRC+ of 149.
He already has five home runs on the season, including this shot against the Cardinals, that is tied for the hardest and longest home run of the season so far.
The @Brewers have hit a lot of homers this year.
And @travis_shaw21's 113.8-mph rip is the hardest one yet. https://t.co/gcDEs9Uuey pic.twitter.com/E7IpKRrCbx
— #Statcast (@statcast) April 21, 2017
That blast traveled 458 feet, which is a long way that certainly seemed a lot longer than that. His 5 home runs are only 2 fewer than the amount accumulated by his former team, the Red Sox, as a whole (7), and his fWAR of 0.7 is already half of what he amassed in 145 games last season in Boston.
Here are some numbers comparing his 2016 season to his admittedly small sample size this year.
And there are indications his other numbers, like his batting average and on-base percentage, may start to improve as well.
It's been kind of a weird season for Shaw so far.
Of his 15 hits this season, only 2 of them have been singles. And as you can see, he's hitting fewer balls in the air than he did last year and killing a whole lot more worms this season than last.
If his ground ball and fly ball rates start to normalize, his power numbers could jump even more.
Of course, it's always wise to be skeptical of a journeyman player who sees a big jump in his numbers during the first month of the season.
But for now, Shaw and his Brewers teammates are absolutely raking and making life very uncomfortable for National League pitchers so far in 2017.