Monday, November 28, 2011

The Eternal Internal Conflict over Eric Thames (and What It Means, If Anything...)

There is no player over whom we've agonized more this offseason than Eric Thames. In fact, we've likely pondered the sophomore outfielder more than all other Jays combined since the season's end. It's somewhat maddening.

We've actually begun writing this piece and set it aside a half-dozen times, because we never felt like it was that worthy of being written in the first place. Or we had never quite sold ourselves on the notion that we were expressing ourselves correctly when trying to figure out why we're so fixated on him.

It's taken some time, but we ascribe our exceeding interest in Thames to four things:

1) His position relative in the pileup of players who might get playing time in left field this season: The Blue Jays are going to have to find room for Thames, Edwin Encarnacion, Travis Snider, and Rajai Davis to get at bats this season between the DH and LF. Were we to come into this equation after a year's coma, sorting out who slots in where would be fairly simple, with EE getting the DH at bats, Rajai getting pinch running duty, Thames taking the everyday at bats and Snider plying his trade in Las Vegas or elsewhere.

Of course, we've a five-year history with Travis, and we keep finding the reasons why he makes sense for the future of the franchise. Add to that the fact that Rajai has probably produced more than either of the youngsters, and our dubious view of Thames' defense, and somehow, it still seems muddled.

2) The discrepancy between the general perception and our perception of him: This has more to do with the casual manner in which Thames has been dismissed as a lousy outfielder with a poor OBP who doesn't merit a slot in the lineup of a team that fancies itself as a contender for a Wild Card spot in 2012. (More on that below.) We hope we're not creating a straw man to scorch, but our sense is that Thames doesn't have a widespread base of support amongst the Blue Jays blogging cognoscenti. But when we watch that quick bat go screaming through the hitting zone, and when we see Thames square up the ball and hit it as hard as anyone outside of Bautista, it seems to us though he has the most important tool in his arsenal, and some remaining headroom before he reaches his ceiling.

Thames' .333 weighted on base average was the fourth best among Jays with more than 200 at bats last year, trailing José Bautista by nautical miles, but also trailing Yunel Escobar (.345) and Edwin Encarnacion (.344) by a somewhat slim margin. His isolated power of .193 was third-best, behind Bautista and J.P. Arencibia, and ahead of Escobar, Encarnacion and Lind.

In fact, it is hardly a stretch to state that Thames is the fourth best bat on this team as it stands today. The .313 OBP is not great by any means, but it bears mentioning that Texas corner outfielder Nelson Cruz actually posted a .312 OBP, and we're pretty certain that there would be joy throughout the land if he were to suddenly find his way into the Jays' lineup next season.

3) The Blue Jays no longer have the luxury of lollygagging around waiting to see if some of this potential turns into something tangibly valuable: Further to what we stated above, the Eternal Building Process seems to have been cut short in the minds of many fans over the past few weeks, and there is a greater urgency for 2012 to be a year in which the Jays move to the next level. So to go through a season of bumps and feeling out contenders for a regular spot in the lineup seems antithetical to those ambitions. Taking several months to figure out who fits where and how is not on the agenda for most fans this spring.

4) What about Travis? To chose to go forward with Eric Thames seems like a repudiation of the rosy-cheeked carnivore. If they both break camp with the big club, the Jays will be left to choose between the two left-handed bats on a daily basis. And while injuries will happen and a five-man outfield would still result in 300-plus plate appearances for each, it still seems as though a choice will have to be made between them.

Snider is better base-stealer and a better defensive option, is almost two years younger and his 82-game 2010 campaign (.255/.304/.463, .331 wOBA, 14 HR, 1.2 fWAR in 319 PAs) compares pretty favourably to Thames' 2011 (.262/.313/.456, .333 wOBA, 12 HRs, 0.9 fWAR in 394 PAs). The big distinction between the two at this point, we suppose, is their strikeout rates. Thames posted a not-great 22.3% K-rate to go with a subpar 5.8% walk rate last season, while Snider put up a team-worst (200 PA minimum) 27.7% K-rate and a 5.4% walk rate.

Though we think there are few who can claim to be bigger fans of Travis Snider than us - we spent years giving him nicknames and praising him in spite of his output - it seems to us that if you were to take your affections out of the equation, the choice for the starting left field job seems pretty evident. We're just not sure that we're comfortable with the answer.


Gil Fisher said...

We shouldn`t have both Thames and Snider on the active roster going into next season. We have to trade one. Sell high on Thames or low on Snider.

While I`m more confident in Thames having a better year, I`d sell high, because it`s ceiling we`re interested in these days and Thames` is Lind-light.

Trade Thames (see if we can`t keep the facial hair though). Play Snider everyday and upgrade next year if necessary. It`s left field after all.

GSJays said...

I think there's a few things you overlooked in your comparison.

The comparison of Snider to Thames is Snider at 22 with a manager who hated his guts and benched him every time he made an error or went 0-4 versus a Thames at 25 who got fully supported by his manager....Huge difference.

Snider is a significantly better defender than Thames..Snider is quicker, gets better jumps on balls, has a better arm and better outfield instincts..True some things Thames can improve but instincts aren't taught-you either have them or you don't.Snider, in a pinch, can play center or right making him much more flexible-Thames can't.

Snider has more raw power than Thames which we forget since we really haven't seen it since pre-wrist injury in 2010. Take a look at Snider's April/May numbers to see the real potential and remember sometimes it takes longer to recover from a wrist injury than others. Even Tony LaCava stated that.

Anonymous said...

Thames put up his numbers batting 2nd in front of Jose. I imagine Travis would have #'s at least as strong if he was hitting 2nd.

Snider's upside is so high that I think they would be crazy to leave him in Vegas. Not much for him to prove there. Snider needs to stop the silly over aggressive approach the Jays seem to advocate. He needs to swing at good pitches, not any pitch, as he has been.

Trading Thames wouldn't bring enough back. Let Thames be a bat off the bench to start the season and trade Snider if he doesn't perform.

Peter DeMarco said...

I think Thames will surprise a lot of Jays fans who are criminally underestimating him.

I know it's blaspheme, but he just might have better offensive numbers than Brett Lawrie in 2012.

Tao of Stieb said...

Blasphemy! Gordie Dougie Nation will strike you down!

Anonymous said...

I've been doing the exact same thing between Thames and Snider. But what if you consider putting EE at first, and then debate who's the odd man out between Thames, Snider and Lind when you go to fill LF and 1B.

Peter DeMarco said...

EE shouldn't play over Lind at 1st base, that doesn't make any sense to me.

In my opinion the pecking order of playing time should be:

- Lind
- Thames
- Snider
- Encarnacion

If I thought that the Jays were going to compete in 2012, I'd move Encarnacion up over Snider.

Tao of Stieb said...

This is going to sound airy fairy, but I have such a hard time looking at Thames' swing and thinking about keeping him on the bench.

Norh said...

"The comparison of Snider to Thames is Snider at 22 with a manager who hated his guts and benched him every time he made an error or went 0-4 versus a Thames at 25 who got fully supported by his manager....Huge difference."

This can't be overstated. It's mind boggling that the Blue Jays STILL don't know what they have in Travis Snider because they absolutely refuse to give him a legitimate shot as an everyday MLB player. Was it so important to waste 600+ PA on Rivera/Patterson in 2011 (and don't get me started on Cito's handling of Travis before then)?!

Tao of Stieb said...

I think we've all gotten a little too far out in front of the "Cito hated Travis" story. He was quick with the hook, and Snider didn't exactly rise above it.

And to start last season, Snider was the starting left fielder, and looked terrible for the first month. And by the time he got back in the lineup, Thames had already established himself as a better option.

I hope that there's enough at bats for them all, and I'd like to see Travis get 500 ABs this year and post an .800 OPS. I'm just not sure that I see it happening.

Shane Leavitt said...

Yes, the curious decisions that have been made with Snider's playing time, plus that wrist injury have made evaluating him so difficult. His potential was so high, and a possible elite Blue Jays club needs another hitter like that so badly, I think you have to give Snider every opportunity and AB you can, over Thames. If Snider blossoms somewhere else, it will be tragic and ugly.

Gil Fisher said...

At the time, I was supportive of the decision to send Snider down to the minors last year. In hindsight, it was an awful decision.

Peter DeMarco said...

I don't buy that Travis hasn't excelled because he wasn't given enough playing time. I think he has had plenty of at bats and long enough stretches as the starter.

If he is a major league player he will show it one way or another, and if he has to be babied to be successfull, he will never be successfull.

Shane Leavitt said...

Regarding the:

"I don't buy that Travis hasn't excelled because he wasn't given enough playing time. I think he has had plenty of at bats and long enough stretches as the starter

It's taken other great sluggers time to establish themselves. Not everyone figures it out, without ever stumbling. Just saying, how bout a guy like Brian Giles (whom Snider has been compared). I believe it took him a while before he was the stud hitter he became.

Ivan said...

Loved the article Tao - Honestly this scenerio keeps playing out in my head it makes me dizzy and confused thinking about it. Travis has the higher ceiling...and Thames appears to be a known quantity...but is AA a betting man?

BJ Fledgling said...

My conspiracy theory is that it's second base for Thames. Kelly Johnson has done the LF/2B dance before.

More likely, I figure one of the two is trade bait, and I presume Eric's value is higher right now.

Steve02 said...

Good article. I don't buy that Snider hasn't been given chances either. MLB playing time is earned, not a right. His swing had some serious holes this past year and he was clearly chasing. He's also been injured quite a lot for a young player. Not to blame him on that, but it's not a good thing, either. That said, he's still plenty young enough to figure things out and be a solid power hitter yet - I don't think anyone is arguing against that.

Sometimes, it seems like people want to forget about Thames just because of Snider's ceiling. Thames clearly showed some potential in his rookie season. Potential to be at least an average MLB LFer, IMHO (and is that so bad?). I don't think that's something we'd want to waste.

Tao of Stieb said...

There's no way that Thames can learn to play 2B. If he's tripping over himself in the outfield, he'll be a disaster in the middle of the diamond.

Footwork is key for infielders, and I don't get the sense that Thames has good reactions or lateral movement.

(In my own mind, I'm a crusty old scout.)

Shane Leavitt said...

I don't buy that Snider hasn't been given chances either. MLB playing time is earned, not a right

Well, if you don't give Snider (or any young player) AB's you're not going to see anything develop. And no ones forgeting what Thames has done (which in '11 was basically nothing more than Snider did pre-wrist injury) it's that Snider has far superiour potential, and you have to give that a chance to get out. Or perhaps you'd rather Snider bloom in Kansas City or Tampa Bay after he gets misused here.

Anonymous said...

If you deal either Thames or Snider now, you will likely be selling low on both. Snider because of the lack of results and Thames because he does not have enough proven track record (400 at bats is a drop in the bucket).

I think AA will keep both and let them duke it out in the Spring. Even if Travis goes down to AAA,he's still only 23!

We are no where near the point where all the peices of the puzzle are clearly laid out. Unless AA gets overwhelmed with an offer I think that 2012 will be about figuring out what we "truly" have at 1B, CF, 3b and LF.
From a offensive perspective only RF and SS are set

Gil Fisher said...

That "known quantity" that Thames has is kinda average for LF offense, and kinda below average for LF defence. I'm not sure why anyone would be overly invested in him. (except, as noted, for the rather awesome facial hair)

I'm not overly invested in Snider either. But I don't think there's any need to sell low.

Anonymous said...

im in the minority here but i'll take thames over snider. the guy rakes, has a great attitude, and his defence will get better. MANSWING > LUNCHBOX

Gil Fisher said...

I'm not sure how he "rakes". His body of work in college, minors and less than a season of pro looks like an Adam Lind ceiling. He can have a reasonably long ML career, but he definitely looks replacable.

Gil Fisher said...

*unless of course you mean he uses a rake (grass or leaf? or landscaping??)to groom his massively awesome and sprawling facial hair.

Peter DeMarco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter DeMarco said...

"It's taken other great sluggers time to establish themselves. Not everyone figures it out, without ever stumbling. Just saying, how bout a guy like Brian Giles (whom Snider has been compared). I believe it took him a while before he was the stud hitter he became."

I agree 100% with you and this doesn't go against what I said. I think either Travis Snider is just not ready yet, OR will never be a good hitter. It has nothing to do with how many chances he has had or if he was given enough playing time.

jerkstore said...

If thames is here next year, I think he should play his way off the team and snider should be required to play back onto the team. Send Snider to the minors and get him performing the way he should be. The same way they demanded Lawrie improve his pitch selection. The last thing i want to see is Snider get off to a slow start and have to look over his shoulder everyday.

Obviously Snider has the higher ceiling. It doesn't matter who is to blame for his development getting off the rails. it is the jays responsibility to try their hardest to get something out of this asset and rebuild his value.

Shane Leavitt said...

It doesn't matter who is to blame for his development getting off the rails. it is the jays responsibility to try their hardest to get something out of this asset and rebuild his value.

For sure. And hopefully, it'll be with Toronto after it's been rebuilt.

Steve said...

Thames put up his #'s batting 2nd in front of JBau.
Snider was hitting in front of Jayson Nix.

I think Snider is going to be better in the long run than Thames.

If the Jays want to start the season with Thames, I would hope they move Snider before they ruin what trade value he still has.

Fingers Crossed.

Psmith said...

I know I am late to the conversation however where they hit does not fly for me. Thames Had a Range Factor in 9 innings of 1.96 where as Snider had a Range Factor 2, which does not put him hands and feet over Thames. Re, batting order, to me if you are batting later in the line up you have a better obp, then avg because a team is more likely to walk you. 202 plate appearances Snyder had 11 walks about 1 every 18.3 at bats. Thames had 23 in 394 one every 17.3 showing a bit more plate discipline. Snyder in 202 56 strike outs, Thames 88 in 394. Snyder, thus 3.6 at bats for Snyder a strike out where as 4.5 for Thames.

Re, the ceiling a player has, in 2001 Baseball America Rated Pujols 42, that same year they rated Corey Patterson #2 who would you rather have?

Steve said...

If you bat in front of Bautista, you will see more pitches worth swinging at than if you bat in the bottom 3rd of the Jays order.

Feel free to like Thames more than Snider, but I think apples to apples may tell more of this story.

Psmith said...

No Comment on how Corey Patterson was once a five tool prospect rated the second best prospect in baseball? I also argued against the notion that Snider is that much better defensively, and showed that Snider had less walks and more strikeouts, even though if I was a pitcher I would be more willing to walk the batter in front of Jason Nix than the batter in front of Bautista, thus Snider strike out walk ratio should have been lower but it was not.

I have a feeling the jays have taken a step back is because they are worried Snider might not live up to his potential. Remember Eric Hinske showed flashes of being dominant to but was never able to put it together. Just because he was drafted in the first round does not mean he will be a superstar, Bautista was drafted, in 20th, and Pujols in the 13th, in baseball draft picks are a crap shoot, have a better chance to succeed with higher rounds but not always. Corey Patterson was the 3rd overall pick in 1998, but jays fans were glad to see him leave.

Anonymous said...

Great Article & comments, too!

My Question is: Who gives us the best chance of winning?

My answer to that would be: Thames


Numbers are one thing, But they don't tell the whole story when it comes to winning.

Bottom of the Ninth, two men out, runner on 2nd. I want Thames up there over Snider.

Character is a big un-measurable. & the Winning Attitude, Mindset, & Ability to perform in those critical make or break situations, are the difference.

Hitting in the big games, with the game on the line --- Edgar Renteria, Jim Leyritz, Vlady G., Albert Pujols. Give me those type of players, any day. The season is long, very long. Consistent performance is great. But every team needs players that perform in the clutch.

Unfortunately, I don't see Lind as this type of player. He might fill up some stats from time to time, or get hot. I just don't think he has the Joey Bats, or Brett Lawrie, edge to him, that drives players (and teams) to succeed. He's too complacent & un-movitvated. Hopefully something can shift within him.

Joey Bats has it. He's a winner. Big time hitter in Big time situations. So is David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, David Wright, Dustin Pedroia. Eric Thames just might be of the same ilk.


Thanks for the intelligent & thought-provoking convo!