Below are my biggest takeaways from Week 3 of the MLB Season:
- Eric Thames is For Real:
Perhaps the biggest story of the 2017 thus far has been the prodigious offensive output of Eric Thames. By now, you have probably heard the story. After being a fringe-average major leaguer in parts of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Thames made the decision to play overseas in Korea where he quickly established himself as one of the most dominant hitters in KBO history, earning him the nickname “God” in Korea. This prompted the Brewers to sign Thames to a 3 year, 16 million dollar contract in the offseason, effectively pencilling Thames in as their regular first baseman. While many were skeptical of how well Thames performance in Korea would transfer to the MLB, he has proved all his skeptics wrong and has done so quickly. Through the first three weeks of the MLB season, Thames has not only produced a higher WAR relevant to his salary, he has quickly demonstrated that he may be one of the league’s best hitters for years to come. To illustrate just how incredible his start to the season has been consider this side-by-side comparison:
Barry Bonds (2001) – 10 HRs, 13 BB, .504 ISO
Eric Thames (2017) – 11 HRs, 16 BBs, .534 ISO
In case you didn’t know, Bonds set an MLB record with 73 home runs that season while routinely being pitched around. To be clear, Thames will not threaten the single season HR record and is bound to come down to Earth at some point, but when we look at the reasons why he has been so dominant, it is easy to see why he looks like he is here to stay. Thames Z-Contact rate is 85.6% so far this season, meaning he is not swinging and missing at almost any pitch in the zone. If you couple that statistic with the fact that Thames also has the third lowest O-Swing% in the league at 16.8% and we get a picture of a hitter who made a deliberate change in approach while abroad to be more disciplined at the plate. In case you needed another stat to prove Thames’ staying power, he also has a Hard Hit% of 50%. Eric Thames has the build of a middle linebacker, intimidating tattoos, and one of the best beards in baseball. He is the perfect power hitter and he is a name that you are soon going to be familiar with.
2) The National League Wild Card Race is Going to be Crazy:
Before Starling Marte decided to inject himself with a highly detectable, outdated steroid and Madison Bumgarner decided to spend his off day riding dirtbikes, the Pirates and Giants looked like the top NL Wild Card contenders. However, after slow starts by both teams, and the aforementioned loss of each teams star player, the NL Wild Card is looking wide open. However, the Pirates and Giants are not the only teams that have disappointed in the early going. As it currently stands, both the Cardinals and Mets are several games below .500 and have plenty of reason for concern.
In the Cardinals case, their offense ranks last in the NL with a anemic 84 wRC+ while their bullpen carries a similarly lackluster 5.46 ERA, good for third worst in the NL. Meanwhile, the Mets have suffered a litany of injuries to their starting rotation, and with their most indispensable offensive contributor Yoenis Cespedes being forced to leave the game during Thursday night’s game, their offense may soon lose its biggest weapon. The Rockies and Diamondbacks are using their prolific offenses to propel them to the top of the NL West.
As I discussed last week, I think the Rockies are for real as they possess electric young arms in both their starting rotation and bullpen and boast one of the most lethal offensive attacks in the league.
As for the Diamondbacks, I am less optimistic about their chances at securing a Wild Card spot. While they rank first in the MLB in runs, their team BABIP is .351, which is 33 points higher than the next closest team. From a pitching standpoint, their 5.09 bullpen ERA is worrisome, especially considering their second best relief pitcher this year has been Jorge De La Rosa.
Lastly, the Marlins look like they could make a run at a wild card spot down the stretch on the back of a very young and talented core of position players and an elite collection of bullpen arms. They do not have a strong farm system to trade from, but if they somehow manage to swing a trade for another starting pitcher, they could easily emerge as a wild card team.
All in all, there many been some unfamiliar teams playing in the NL Wild Card game in October, which would be a breath of fresh air considering the only teams to make the playoffs in the National League the last three seasons are the Cubs, Pirates, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, Nationals, and Mets.
3) A’s Reach Agreement to Stay in Oakland:
Rob Manfred comments earlier this week about Las Vegas being future site for an MLB team must have sent a chill down the spines of Oakland sports fans after their beloved Raiders just moved to the Sin City roughly a week ago. However, their fears were alleviated later in the week when it was announced that the Athletics had found a suitable location for relocation in Oakland. While all along it was understood that either the Raiders or A’s would have to leave Oakland when they both signed a 10 year stadium deal to remain in O.Co. Coliseum, the A’s ensured they would not be leaving Oakland when they hired “ballpark guru” Dave Kaval as their new president last November.
When Kaval took the reigns as Oakland’s president, he made it immediately clear that the first item of the to-do list was to find a new stadium in Oakland. Kaval made sure to open a very open dialogue between the A’s management and the fans to make sure he understood what kind of future location A’s fans would be most interested in. Kaval also understood what was at stake for the city of Oakland considering the Raiders and Warriors were both moving in the coming years.
“The other teams (Raiders and Warriors) look like they might be leaving. We might be the only team left. I think it’s critical that we carry that banner of Oakland both now and in the future.”
As a rapidly developing city, Kaval understood that keeping baseball in Oakland would be in the city’s best interest. While stadium deals often times cripple cities financially, his vision for a ballpark-village type environment similar to the one built in Atlanta these last few years could have the potential to catalyze economic growth in the city as a whole. Not much has been said about how the stadium will be funded so far, but we now know that baseball will be staying in Oakland, and president Dave Kaval is a huge reason why.