Okay I can’t just sit by anymore, I am jumping on the Eric Thames bandwagon. Thames is already leading the Majors in home runs this year since coming over from South Korea.
I know I know, we are only two weeks into the season Gary. But something about this guy tells me this isn’t some giant fluke (he isn’t going to finish the season at his current pace with 100+ homeruns, but this guy is legit).
A little background on Thames for you readers who have never heard of him: after some rough stints in the MLB with the Blue Jays and Mariners, Thames took his talents over to South Korea to play in the KBO league for 3 years.
After averaging 40+ homeruns in the KBO from 2014-2016, the Milwaukee Brewers decided to sign Thames to a 3-year contract for $16.5 million. They did this instead of re-signing their 1B and reigning NL homerun champion Chris Carter, who was coming off a 41-homerun season in the show (much harder pitching than the KBO, we’d like to think).
The Brewers had their fair share of critics: how could you let the NL homerun champion walk for a guy playing in Korea?
Seems to me like the Brewers had their fair share of answers.
Jeff Sullivan wrote about his dramatically improved plate discipline, which you can read here.
I want to add one more thing to Dave and Jeff’s already great work: Thames isn’t just more selective while making great contact at pitches in the strike zone, he’s also pulling the ball much more often at the same time.
Sound familiar? We have already looked into Justin Turner doing the same thing earlier this year and how it ultimately it led to a lot of money for the Dodger third baseman.
Looking at the top 8 hitters in the MLB currently in Pull % as of this writing (the percentage of time a hitter pulls the baseball), we find our friend Eric Thames at # 6 with a pull % of 60.5%.
Has Thames always been this pull happy? Well I can’t speak for what he was doing in Korea, but he certainly wasn’t before leaving the US. Below is his pull % for the 3 years that we have data.
|2017 (to April 20th)||60.50%|
To dive a little deeper into the mechanical side of things, I’ll let Joey Hawkins take the wheel.
So, with these improved offensive metrics, we can sit here say he may have made a change to his mentality and approach, but we really don’t know.
One could assume he went the Josh Donaldson or JD Martinez route and overhauled his swing, but you can see in the clip below he doesn’t look drastically different from earlier in his career and his time in Korea:
Studying his swing and looking at his setup and bat-path, a couple things stand out to me.
In the clip from his time with the Blue Jays you can see he has preset his back foot and shin angle. I obviously don’t have a reason as to why he does this but if you move on to his clips in Korea his foot isn’t shifted like it used to be.
Now we posted a side view clip on our Instagram page and Jason Esposito (Esposito Baseball Systems) also pointed out how Thames “stays over the back hip”.
It really stands out in his swings with the Brewers this year that he’s in his back hip in a loaded position and throughout his swing he maintains his posture “over his hip” as Jason pointed out.
From his own perspective, Thames was quoted in an interview with Buster Olney talking about taking less batting practice while in Korea and focusing more on visualizing at his locker.
This isn’t to say Thames isn’t doing anything different at all with his swing, just that the changes are subtler than the other swing changers who have drastically changed their abilities with the bat.
To try and explain his monstrous start to the 2017 season, it’s safe to say Thames is benefitting from a better approach: he has better plate discipline and is tapping into his power more by pulling more pitches he can drive.