Eric Thames is the talk of baseball after his preposterous start to the season — Thames is hitting .426/.491/1.000 with seven homers and six doubles through 53 plate appearances with the Brewers — the former KBO superstar spoke to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale about his transformation at the plate. Thames, 30, explains to Nightengale that going to Korea forced him to better his plate discipline; while pitchers there will often top out at 91 mph, the barrage of breaking pitches with which Thames was faced necessitated that he improve his pitch recognition and lay off pitches outside the zone. Thames jokes to Nightengale that in his first stint in American ball, he’d swing at anything within three feet of the batter’s box, but he’s become eminently more selective. Thames’ new approach drew praise from Dodgers VP Alex Anthopoulos, who was GM of the Blue Jays when Toronto let go of Thames, and from Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who called Thames’ swing “lethal,” Nightengale writes.
Brewers GM David Stearns tells Nightengale that Thames was on their radar for quite some time, and Nightengale reports that their first attempt to sign him came in the 2015-16 offseason when he still had time left on his contract with KBO’s NC Dinos. Skeptics of Thames may be interested to learn that he has already been tested for PEDs early this season, in addition to the test he took at the onset of Spring Training.
A bit more on Thames and on the NL Central…
- On the subject of Thames’ selectivity at the plate, Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan breaks down the Brewers slugger’s newfound plate discipline at length. As Sullivan explains, Thames was well below the 25th percentile among Major Leaguers in terms of chasing out of zone pitches and was below the 50th percentile when it came to swinging at pitches in the zone during his first run in the bigs. Essentially, he was a free swinger that lacked the strike zone recognition to put himself in favorable counts and find pitches to drive. Now, Thames possesses one of baseball’s lowest chase rates and one of the best O-swing minus Z-swing percentages (that is to say, the percentage of pitches he chases minus the percentage of in-zone pitches at which he swings).
- It may be a small sample of work, but Trevor Rosenthal’s early command has impressed the Cardinals to the point where he’s quickly becoming a late-inning option once again, writes MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch. Rosenthal has yet to reach a three-ball count with any of the 10 men he’s faced, and his velocity is up noticeably from the 2016 season as well, per Statcast. Manager Mike Matheny tells Langosch that with several of the team’s setup options struggling, Rosenthal “is in the conversation” for a top setup gig following his early work. Rosenthal tossed a 100.6 mph fastball on Monday and is averaging 98.7 mph on his heater, according to Statcast.
- Bronson Arroyo earned his first Major League win in 1,038 days against the Orioles yesterday, though he told reporters after the game that he’s still a bit uncertain about how well-equipped he is to continue on as a big league starter (video link via the Cincinnati Enquirer). Arroyo said that after 75 to 80 pitches, his arm is now feeling like it used to at 100 to 105 pitches, though it’s of course still early in his comeback season. C. Trent Rosecrans of the Enquirer provides more quotes from Arroyo and Reds manager Bryan Price than are available in that video. “I want to give this team the best opportunity to win the most ballgames and that’s just the way it has to be,” says Arroyo. “…if I’m feeling tired after 75, 80 pitches all the time, there might be a time where some of the young guys step into my role and I have to be the long guy in the ’pen or something like that.” Arroyo’s candor shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of confidence, though, and Price voiced plenty of faith in the 40-year-old veteran’s ability to continue to build arm strength as the season wears on.