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Eric Thames is on fire. Since the season started, the Milwaukee Brewers first baseman has been hitting like crazy, striking fear into the hearts of pitchers who may not have even remembered him from his last stint in the majors back in 2013. But the question everyone is asking, including Major League Baseball (which has already tested him for PEDs once this season), is why, and how, this is happening.
You can watch Thames try to continue his hot start when the Brewers take on the St. Louis Cardinals, and that just so happens to be Saturday’s Free Game of the Day on Yahoo Sports. The matchup, which can be streamed on our MLB page, the Free Game of the Day tab or right here in this very post, will begin at 7:10 p.m. ET. Local blackouts apply per MLB’s rules.
Thames returned to the MLB this year after three years playing in Korea with the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), and it looks like the time away did him a ton of good. The KBO is a hitter’s league, and while he eventually feasted on its pitching, it didn’t come immediately. Thames told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale what adjustments he needed to make.
In Korea, he learned discipline. Korean pitchers routinely throw no harder than 88 to 91 mph but will make your head spin with an array of split-fingered pitches and breaking balls. If you don’t adjust, your next job might be selling cheeseburgers.
“I had to really bear down in the strike zone and learn how to have plate discipline,” Thames says. “I would have to carry that here because they throw harder and the strike zone is bigger.”
But when he made those adjustments in Korea, his bat began to shine. He never finished a season with an average below .300 in the KBO, and his 2015 season was his most exceptional. He hit .381/.497/.790 with 47 home runs over 142 games that year, and he was a KBO All-Star, the home run leader, the batting champ, and he ended that season by winning the gold glove and the MVP award.
As Thames said, he had to bring those adjustments he made with him when he returned to the majors. Since the season began, he’s hit eight home runs, which leads all of baseball, and boasts a slugging percentage of .897, which is also the best in baseball. His .379 batting average and .463 on-base percentage puts him sixth out of all MLB players. Five of Thames’ home runs have come in his last seven games, which is simply insane.
To say that this is unexpected would be the understatement of the year. The Brewers signed Thames to a three-year contract in November and no one expected this. But it’s important to remember that we’re still in small sample size territory. Thames has played 16 games and racked up 67 plate appearances. If he continues as the Brewers starting first baseman, he’s got about 140 games and 580 more plate appearances ahead of him. There’s a lot of time in there for a player to cool off to the point of completely freezing.
No matter what members of the Chicago Cubs might think about how and why Thames’ breakout has happened, Thames’ hot start will end. He will cool down. But just how much is the question. It’s been 16 games, and he’s barely started to slow down. He had his first full hitless game on Friday, going 0-for-4 against Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals. But there’s really no telling how Thames will do from here. He’s clearly changed his game since he last played in the majors, but the biggest question is whether or not it will last. We’ll all just have to wait and see.
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