The Milwaukee Brewers were thinking outside the box when they signed Eric Thames, the Steamer projection system seems to think this was a wise move.
The signing of Eric Thames is one of the most interesting things the Milwaukee Brewers have done in the off-season thus far. He is an unknown commodity going into the 2017 season. There are very few (if any) comparable players who have done what he has done. After a brief stint in the Majors, he tore up the Korean Baseball Organization for the last 3 years. He put up absolute video game numbers. If you want a full analysis of what he accomplished you can find it here and here. His career KBO slash line over 3 years was a gaudy .348/.450/.720.
The big question is how this will translate to Major League Baseball. Nobody really knows. But luckily there are very smart people who venture guesses based on complicated statistical models. These models are probably much better than the conjecture put forth here. The projection system Steamer went live with numbers for Eric Thames today. The standard caveats apply, no projection system is perfect, predicting the future is very hard, so on, and so forth.
For the most part Steamer likes what they see in Thames. I would be ecstatic if he produced these numbers. Steamer projects a slash line of .272/.350/.515, that is good for a 124 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR. Add on 29 home runs, 13 stolen bases, and a 9.6% walk rate and you have a serious player. A historical (yet very imperfect) comparison, would be Prince Fielder in 2010, who had 2.7 fWAR. Wow! A year like this would produce surplus value in year 1 of the 3 year, 16 million dollar contract (with a club option).
The only place Steamer does not like Thames, is his defense (fielding and positional adjustment combined above average, -10.0). This is about on par with what he did in his two major league seasons in 2011-2012, though he did play the outfield during that time. The Brewers have stated he will be spending most of his time at first base, as he did in Korea. He did win a Gold Glove award at first in the KBO. So perhaps Steamer may be underestimating his defensive prowess here.
So what to make of this? As with everything, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. I am higher on Thames than most, and I do think his bat should be above average at the Major League level. But I also think his defense will be better than expected. It is possible he could meet these expectations, but I would also urge caution. Thames has not seen big league pitching since 2012, I am sure there will be an adjustment period.
As I stated above, projections are not perfect. They are particularly difficult when there are very few historical comparisons to look at. However, projections like this can not be entirely ignored either. One thing is for certain. If Eric Thames can produce anywhere near this level, David Stearns will have unearthed another hidden gem.
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