April finally gets a win. The Milwaukee Brewers announced that Eric Thames was put on the 10-day disabled list, ending his hot start to the 2018 season.
What this loss means
Losing a hitter that is second in the National League in home runs is quite obviously never good. The amazing part of that statement is that Thames doesn’t even have enough at-bats to qualify for the hitting crown.
The unfortunate truth of his injury is he will miss six more April games, along with one against the Cincinnati Reds to finish the month off. Being a rational human being, I only assume he would’ve ended the month leading the league with 20 home runs. Alas, fans everywhere will miss out.
Understanding that the first baseman owns the month of April, he actually put up preposterous statistics that many write-off because of his drop off last year. Looking at Thames’ numbers would make anyone who faces him cringe. He currently owns a .375 isolated power along with a strikeout rate that is six percentage points below last years. He also put up a 46.8 percent hard contact rate along with a .225 BABIP.
What does all of this mean? His batting average and on-base percentage are as unlucky as they come. His drop in strikeout rate and extremely unfortunate batting average on balls in play (it should be at his career average of .300) point to a slash line far above the .250/.351/.625. Factoring in his absurd hard contact rates and tendency away from ground balls, his power was legitimate and should continue.
There’s absolutely no reason to think this player would fall off a cliff. The logic behind Thames suddenly becoming a below average hitter in six days, because last year he didn’t produce as well after April, is ridiculous. Unfortunately, nobody will be able to see what could’ve been.
Thames will miss around two months (based off similar injuries), and, sadly, April will have come and gone by then. As for the Milwaukee Brewers, this opening at first base will provide some interesting opportunities.
The two main options are Ryan Braun and Jesus Aguilar. Expect to see Aguilar take most of the reps following Thames’ injury. Braun doesn’t slot in much at first even though that was the talk of the offseason. His lack of appearances at first, along with Aguilar’s recent emergence, may signal the end of the experiment a mere month into the season.
It’s an unfortunate development as that would’ve opened up the organization to playing Domingo Santana and Braun, along with their other two stud outfielders. However, Santana’s performance thus far is worrisome and Jesus Aguilar deserves a chance to prove himself in an everyday role.
The 27 year old Brewer only has 39 plate appearances to his name this season. He put up a slash line of .429/.487/.629 in that minimal amount of time. He also has only struck out at a 12.8 percent clip, far below his 30 percent rate the year before. The drop in strikeout rate may point to his maturity at the plate as his patience improved. Yet it’s such a small sample size that making any judgement on this is absurd.
Going back to last year, Aguilar put up a decent season in only around 300 plate appearances. His 16 home runs and 45 percent hard contact rate project him to hit over 30 if given full time, a solid source of power in the middle of that lineup. Yes, his .331 on-base percentage in 2017 is above average and his wRC+ of 112 is fine. However, his 30 percent strikeout rate and fortunate .337 BABIP show those numbers may be the peak given his luck. In reality, Aguilar is more of a minus getting on base judging from his 2017 season.
Aguilar’s success in a starting role is all dependent on if he can continue the changes made in the offseason. If his patience sticks and he can carry over those power numbers, the Milwaukee Brewers may not miss much. However, that’s a lot to expect from a 27 year old that is never been touted as an exceptional prospect. Throw in his healthy diet of left handers this year and fans shouldn’t expect the success to continue like this.
Expect Aguilar to get the majority of starts at first base. But if an everyday role overwhelms him, Braun at first or a Ji-Man Choi appearance may be closer than we think.