I’m not entirely surprised by Eric Thames‘ hot 2017 start. He really was good three years in a row in South Korea’s KBO, finishing 3rd, 1st and 2nd in OPS those years.
Thames obviously isn’t going to keep hitting in MLB better than he hit in the KBO. The National League’s pitchers don’t have a book on Thames yet, and they’re finding out that even after three years in KBO, Thames can still hit MLB heat. They will eventually figure out what they have to throw him and set him up for, and then it will be Thames’ turn to make adjustments.
In the video I’ve seen of Thames’ home runs so far this year his swing is very short, fast to the ball yet not rushed. He’s strong enough he doesn’t need to wind up to generate bat speed. It’s a very comfortable, confident swing.
Thames is being duly tested for PEDs, but he shows nothing but confidence about the results. Obviously, PEDs could be a reason of Thames’ dramatic improvement.
However, Thames was younger and more talented than most of the players who head to East Asia for major league money. He also went to an extreme hitters’ league that’s only a little better than AAA, which would be a great place for a hitter to develop confidence in his abilities. It’s a lot easier to develop major league hitters in Denver than it is in either Seattle or San Diego.
Thames’ story is that while KBO pitchers don’t throw as hard, typically topping out at 91 or 92 mph, they throw a lot more breaking balls than MLB pitchers. He says he had to become better at plate discipline than he’d been in America in order to lay off breaking balls out of the strike zone.
It certainly is apparent that after walking only 52 times in his 769 plate appearances in his major league seasons in 2012-2013 and 58 times in 514 plate appearances in his first KBO season, Thames has drawn 191 walks in 1,209 plate appearances since the start of the 2015 season.
Obviously, getting better at laying off bad pitches is a recipe for being able to put more good swings on the ball. It also isn’t particularly unusual for a player with power to begin with to still be improving his power hitting through his age 30 season.
Thames has also said that he might not have made that improvement if he hadn’t made the jump to South Korea, stating words to the effect that if he’d stayed in the States, he might have not made the changes because it would have been easier to just keep doing what he had been doing.
I’d like to see more players in the future jump to Japan’s NPB or South Korea’s KBO and then back to MLB if they foreign performance merits it. It is, in fact, becoming more common, although it’s also limited by the fact that the vast majority of the 4-A players who go to NPB or KBO simply aren’t going to blossom like an Eric Thames or Colby Lewis.