Of all the options that Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell has, why would he choose Eric Thames? Counsell can turn to Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard, or even Domingo Santana. What makes Thames a fit in the lead off spot?
Milwaukee Brewers slugger Eric Thames has suffered a power outage in the second half of the season. Since his 11-homer barrage in April, Thames has struggled to generate anything close to the same power. He has 23 home runs on the season, with only four since the All-Star Break.
Oddly enough, Thames has started four games atop the Brewers lineup. He has exactly three hits and one walk in 18 plate appearances with one run scored and one RBI. It’s a super small sample size, but Thames hasn’t set the world on fire as a lead off man.
Why Would Thames Lead Off?
Despite the lack of power, Eric Thames still gets on base. Thames only has one month with a sub-10.0% walk rate. While the power production has fluctuated, Thames has maintained his batter’s eye throughout the season.
He owns a .360 on-base percentage for the season. That puts him behind only Eric Sogard, Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, and Travis Shaw. Of the five top OBP producers on the Milwaukee Brewers, Thames actually makes the most sense to hit at the top of the order.
Sogard just finished a July that saw him get hurt and only get on-base at a .138 clip. Sogard has bounced back in August, but clearly isn’t the on-base machine he was in May and June.
Shaw, Braun, and Santana need to hit in the middle of the order for the offense to produce runs. Thames can generate power, but he’s only driven in 51 runs in 108 games played.
There is another reason that Eric Thames makes sense at the top of the order. He sees a ton of pitches. In 447 plate appearances this year, Thames has averaged 4.17 pitches per appearance. That’s enough for fourth in the National League among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. On average, Thames sees more pitches per at bat than Paul Goldschmidt does.
Lead off hitters carry a responsibility to make the starting pitcher show everything he has in the first at bat of the game. It gives the rest of the offense a better idea of the strike zone, and what kind of stuff the starter has. Simply by seeing more pitches, Thames gives the Milwaukee Brewers an advantage that they wouldn’t get with hitters like Jonathan Villar.