Monday, March 19, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Eric Thames is Gonna Have to Win Our Affections

Who: Eric Thames, No. 14. Batter, and since tradition dictates, also sorta an outfielder. Hits left, throws right. 6’1, 205 LBS. 25 years old.

Provenance: Santa Clara, California. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 amateur draft by Toronto out of Pepperdine University.

Contract Status: Thames has 0.115 seasons of MLB service, which means that he’s here for a long time, and he’s quite inexpensive.

2011 Stats: .262 AVG, .313 OBP, .456 SLG, .769 OPS in 95 games and 362 ABs. 24 doubles, 12 homers, 58 runs scored. Isolated power number of .193. 0.9 WAR (Fangraph-ically speaking.)

Looking Back: The battle for the left field job started in earnest in March. March of last year, that is.

Eric Thames came to Jays camp in 2011 as a depth player who had put up decent numbers in New Hampshire in the previous year (27 homers, 104 RBI, 896 OPS). There were asterisks attached to that, given that Thames was old for the level, and the ballpark apparently favours left-handed hitters. Nevertheless, the Jays gave Thames plenty of opportunity to get at bats with the big club in Florida, with a notion that he might be able to step in. Maybe. In a pinch.

Thames made the most of the opportunity last year, earning raves from the organization, and earning himself an unexpected call-up in May of last season. The initial reaction to him seemed to focus more on his follicular achievements than on his play of the field, and while he didn’t exactly blow the doors off their hinges in his first weeks with the team (9-for-42 with two doubles and 13 strikeouts, mostly in DH duty), he was squaring up balls and hitting them hard, even when they went for outs. Which is more than anyone was saying about Travis Snider at that point.

When the Jays eventually allowed Thames out of the batter’s box to play the field on a regular basis, it wasn’t a particularly pretty sight to behold. Though partial seasons of Ultimate Zone Rating are difficult to parse – especially for left fielders, for some reason – Thames sat in the bottom five of that metric among LFs with more than 400 innings played, posting a -6.6. It’s not that Thames is bereft of athleticism, as he made a few highlight reel grabs when running in for balls. But his ability to judge fly balls or to track down anything hit behind him is not nearly up to snuff.

To play that sort of a weak glove in the field every day, one would hope for a bat that posts something more than a .313 OBP with a lot of loud outs as a consolation prize.

Looking Forward: We get asked the “Thames vs. Snider” question often enough that we’ve gone through several iterations of our answers. (We’re workshopping it. Go with us on this one.)

Our sympathies generally rest with Snider because he is younger, a better fielder, a better baserunner, more familiar and because we suspect that his progress has been delayed by his early call-up to the majors. Ultimately, we figure that if either one of the two plays well enough to earn their way onto the opening day roster, we’ll be satisfied with the process.

But our suspicion at this point – based on tea leaf analysis and not much else -- is that the Jays are inclined to move forward with Thames’ bat in the lineup and that they’ll park Snider back in Las Vegas to earn his way back onto the roster. (As for Ben Francisco’s presence in this whole equation? We’re stumped as well.) Thames remains the more controllable of the two players, in spite of being 15 months older than Snider, and thus far, he’s been the better of the two players offensively. If we let our eyes get coldly analytical about this, it makes sense that Thames get the nod.

Our preference might have been that the Jays find a suitor for Thames’ services, and if that were in any way the intention, it would make sense to give him his reps in MLB so as to maximize the return. But somehow, seeing Thames’ bulging biceps and affected glower staring out at us from the Blue Jays’ website, we’re guessing that this team is banking on him being around.

2012 Expectations: Thames is going to have to lose the job in order not to come north with the team. Keeping the job will be a whole other task, but we could see Thames building on last year’s power numbers, and hitting more than 20 homers, and posting an OPS in the high .700’s or low .800’s.

Strikeouts will be an issue, and if he does manage to win the job in left, we hope the Jays’ brain trust is smart enough not to put all of those whiffs directly in front of José Bautista in the lineup. And as much as we’ve heard all of the dandy things about his arm strength, Thames will still need to track balls down in the outfield rather than waiting for the ball to stop rolling so that he can pick it up.

If Thames is going to be our everyday outfielder, we certainly hope he’s worthy of the role.


bshelly said...

i really don't get why the jays' brain trust loves this guy so much. don't get me wrong, he plays hard and is a great interview.... and would probably make a great 4th outfielder (which the jays already have 2 other guys to fill the role on the 25 man roster). Love Thames the guy, like Thames the player - don't love him in the starting 9.

Peter DeMarco said...

I find Eric Thames' pedigree gets an unfair evaluation, especially when compared to Snider. People need to remember:

"His (Eric Thames) draft position was deceptive: he was considered a borderline first round talent in the weeks before the draft, due to above-average power and a clean swing. Unfortunately, Thames tore a quadriceps muscle and went into draft day with an uncertain health status, hurting his stock dramatically."

In spite of this I can understand why Thames has his critics (low OBP, high strike outs, poor defense, etc.), however what I don't understand is the love for Travis Snider, or the belief that he is a better option than Thames.

You may want to believe that Snider should be an elite player who's talent has been stunted, but I'm not buying it. As Alan Ashby said this morning, and I'm paraphrasing, 'you can never bring up elite prospects too early'. It's not like Snider has been rotting on the bench, this is a guy that has had at least 420 plate appearances in each of the last three seasons, and the only thing he has shown is a refusal to make adjustments at the plate. His strikeout percentage is awful, and refuses to take many walks to make up for it. I don't think I have ever seen a player miss a ball when swinging by such a large margins so consistently, and in spite of his 4 spring home runs, nothing has changed this spring as against inferior pitching he has 12 strike outs in just 32 at bats with only 3 bb's.

Mark said...

It's worth pointing out that outside of Snider's horrific 2011, he's been exactly as productive as Thames. A 102 OPS+ vs 104 for Thames. When you factor in Snider's superior defence, it's a no brainer that Snider, analytically speaking, has had more success than Thames.

It's also worth pointing out the Jays have given Snider more at bats out of the #9 spot than anywhere else, which isn't exactly giving him a fair shot. Meanwhile Thames got most of his at bats hitting second in front of Bautista. Wonder who is going to see better pitches to hit?

I like Thames. I think he's a solid prospect. But Snider's been better to this point, and he has more upside, and there's no reason to put Thames ahead of him unless you have no understanding of small sample size.

Course, that being said, it would make a million times more sense to DFA/Waive Fransisco, move EE to the bench where he can platoon at 1B/DH vs LHP, and have Snider playing LF and Thames playing DH. Good as EE was for a few months, lets not forget that he's had a 787 OPS for 2 straight years, and as a DH that shouldn't guarantee him a starting role over 2 guys who should play a key role for the future of this club.

Peter DeMarco said...

A few more things:
- Snider is not a good defensive outfielder, I don't know where this misconception came from.
- Hitting near the bottom of the order hasn't hurt Brett Lawrie
- If Thames wasn't on the Blue Jays, I still wouldn't be happy about Snider starting the season as their every day LFer. It's not about Thames vs. Snider, it's about Snider should be changing his approach in the minors.

Anonymous said...

Snider got reps in CF last year and didn't look terribly out of place. He has consistently improved his defence year after year, starting with his arm a couple seasons back and improving his jumps and routes last year. It's readily apparent he is the far superior defender compared to Thames

sporkless said...

I'm kinda not sold on the whole "they both have to play every day, so one of them must go to Vegas" line. You COULD drop Francisco like yesterday's news, and they both could get 75%-80% of starts, which has got to be a better learning experience than getting 100% of starts at Vegas.

(I'm thinking Rasmus, Thames, Snider, Encarnacion, and Lind could share 4/5 starting time, until one of them gets hurt or is terrible.)

I think the bit that bugs me about the Blue Jays' line on this situation is that it feels like 2012 is still an "asset management" year instead of a "win games" year.

Tao of Stieb said...

If you choose between "asset management" and "win games", you'll probably never have to worry about the latter.

(What I'm trying to say is that you always need to manage your assets. Even when you are poised to contend.)

And as for parking EE on the bench: He's a better hitter than Snider or Thames. He should be in the lineup. Snider and Thames will both be lucky to post a .787 OPS this year.

@trevr84 said...

If we need to break it down into a Twilight-esque TeamSnider or TeamThames, I will take TeamThames on this one.

I think that Thames can only improve, he has certainly shown glimpses of brilliance in the box, and when he is on his game, he can absolutely crush the ball. He is generally a more athletic player, look at his biceps this year (swoon). His defence in the field, albeit it mediocre right now, will only stand to improve with consistent play in The Show.

Snider, however, seems to prefer spending time informing the world what lunchboxhero45 has in the fuel tank. It would be nice to see the same consistency in his swing as he has in his appetite. For a guy that has been up and down to the minors so many times, you think something would have clicked by now to get him to stay up in the Bigs.

Maybe I am just frustrated by the expecations that the fan base had placed on Snider, and the consistent inability that he has shown to perform at this level, but as far as this season goes,
put me on TeamThames.


Mark said...

Sorry champ, but Snider's an above average defensive LF. It's right their in the metrics, and it's blatantly clear that he's superior to Thames with his arm and range.

Hitting 7th didn't hurt Lawrie, true. But giving Snider 298 at bats out of the ninth spot isn't exactly showing confidence in him either. And it's a lot easier hitting 2nd in front of Bautista than any other spot. So let's not pretend that Thames hasn't had a fair advantage that was never afforded to Snider. And in 2008-2010 you can't really argue that Snider didn't deserve to hit higher than he did.

Oh, and Tao, Encarnacion isn't really a better hitter than Thames or Snider. From 08-10 Snider (ie before Snider's offence inexplicably collapsed) posted a 764 OPS. In 2011 Thames posted a 769 OPS. In 2010 and 2011, Encarnacion posted an identical 787 OPS. His career OPS is 789. When we're comparing a guy who's likely to post a 789 OPS to two players with significant upside who have already shown they can maintain a 760 OPS, it's clear that Encarnacion really isn't a superior option. Especially when you notice last year he had a 767 OPS vs RHP.

Think as little of Snider or Thames as you want, but even they should be able to match or exceed that.

There's no difference between any of those players. Except that we know what Encarnacion is at his best, and his best is slightly better Snider and Thames' career numbers. At least not enough to give Encarnacion a guaranteed spot over Thames or Snider.

At this point the most important thing for this organization is to give Snider and Thames as many at bats at the major league level, so that we don't head into 2013 going "What can Snider/Thames do this year?".

Mark said...

Ugh I meant there not their. :(.

George said...

IMO, Snider hasn't shown us everything he has yet. If I'm the Jays, I send Travis to Lost Wages with a list of things to work on, and ride Thames in the meantime. I feel that Eric is getting close to a finished product (which isn't that bad), but if he can put it together, Travis could put up Delgado-like numbers.

Anonymous said...

Snider hasnt produced much of anything in years - and Thames cant catch the ball.

Thames also needs to hit in front of Bautista or else he will hit .210 with alot of K's and no OBP.

Blue Jays - once again - picked the wrong horses.

Tools of Ignorance said...

THANK you.

I gotta question your evaluations, Peter.