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Contextualizing Eric Thames’ April

Thames’ transition from the KBO to MLB has been as smooth as possible. His April has been pretty good, but just how good, historically?

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St Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

If you’ve watched or paid any attention to any baseball news over the past month, you’ve probably heard or seen Eric Thames do this:

Or maybe you’ve seen him do this:

Or perhaps something like this:

In case you didn’t notice, Thames has hit a lot of home runs this month. Ten to be exact, which leads all of baseball for the month of April. Thames also ranks fourth in all of baseball in both wRC+ and WAR. Needless to say, Eric Thames is having himself a pretty good month.

That isn’t bad considering that for the past three years, Thames was playing in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). That was before he was signed by the Brewers to a three-year deal for reportedly $16 million guaranteed, with a $7.5-million-dollar team option for a fourth year. At the time, the move was a bit of a head-scratcher, considering that the Brewers hadn’t spent a lot of money during the offseason and that they are currently rebuilding. Thames would be going into his age 30 season, and while he had put up god tier numbers in KBO with a .347/.448/.714 slash, those numbers were expected to drop considerably, especially when you consider how other KBO players’ numbers have dropped since coming to the MLB.

His surprisingly easy transition is one of the reasons some people (including some Cubs “weenies”) are asking how he is accomplishing this performance, hinting that Thames is actually using PEDs. But there are other factors at play here; Thames was recently tested by MLB and came through clean, and it’s not like the KBO doesn’t have any sort of PED testing of their own. Which is why the PED speculations thus far are foolish and unfounded.

There are a number of reasons why Thames is having this sort of performance. Maybe, you know, he made adjustments in his three years away from the States. Baseball players, they do that from time to time, and sometimes it has big impacts on their games. Don’t believe me? Just ask Josh Donaldson.

Either way, it’s undeniable that Thames is one of the best stories in all of baseball thus far. We’ll have to obviously see whether this sort of production can continue, but for the time being, I wanted to put his performance in April into context.

Every month of April, it seems as though a player jumps out above the rest to surprise everyone. This year, it’s Eric Thames, and just to get a little perspective on how great his April has been, I examined how his batting in April ranks in Brewers history. (I stopped at 1974 because that’s how far back wRC+ data goes).

In terms of hitting alone, Thames is currently having the best April in Brewers history. Now, this sort of production throughout an entire season is obviously unrealistic, but the fact that Thames is able to have this kind of production at all, even for just a month, says something about his abilities as a baseball player. Hitting for this much power is not easy, and it probably means that the days of Thames being a below-average hitter are over.

It is also incredible just how much better Thames is hitting compared to his fellow teammates. Ryan Braun and recently acquired Travis Shaw are both having good Aprils of their own, but seem like mere mortals next to a god when compared to Thames’ performance.

That said, simply comparing Thames to his teammates does Thames a disservice. Therefore, I examined how Thames’ hitting in April compared to every qualified player dating back to 1974.

Eric Thames ranks 24th in wRC+ in April, out of 7,719 players who have played, from 1974 to 2017. (That’s in the top 0.3 percent.)

In 1981, Ken Singleton had the greatest month of April, hitting-wise, since 1974. It wasn’t Singleton’s best hitting season, but he did finish with a 139 wRC+ at the end of the year. What kept him from having a more productive season was his defense, where Singleton struggled throughout his career.

The second-best wRC+ in April was by (surprise!) Barry Bonds. He had a 323 wRC+ in April and finished the year with a merely pedestrian 233 wRC+. To put that into perspective, consider that Eric Thames ranks 24th in wRC+ in April since 1974, has the highest April wRC+ in Brewers history, and his wRC+ currently stands at 235. Barry Bonds did that for an entire season.

It’s still an open question as to whether Thames will be an adequate fielder and base runner, but it’s clear that the adjustments Thames made in the KBO have paid off. Hitting for this kind of power isn’t a fluke, and while Thames is sure to regress somewhat, he’s clearly going to be a dangerous hitter going forward.