While serving mainly as the Milwaukee Brewers’ backup first baseman, Eric Thames has put up somewhat respectable numbers. Is it time to start giving him more starts in place of Jesus Aguilar?
Eric Thames gave Brewer fans hope for a series tie on Sunday when he banged a three-run homer in the eighth inning off of the Dodgers’ normally dominant closer Kenley Jansen to tie the game 5-5. The Milwaukee Brewers would go on to lose the game, but that home run begs a question: does Thames have more playing time in his near future?
How’s Jesus Aguilar performed this year?
After a breakout season that saw Jesus Aguilar earn a spot in the All Star Game and Home Run Derby, the 28-year-old entered the season with a firm grip on the starting first baseman job and that’s exactly how things have shaken out. Aguilar has been the team’s primary starter at first base as he has started 18 of the team’s 23 games, while Thames has started the other five games at first with an additional start at designated hitter.
Unfortunately Aguilar has been in quite the slump so far to start the season. After another 0-for-4 performance on Sunday where he also stranded four runners on base, Aguilar now has a lowly slash line of .136/.237/.167 with 17 strikeouts and just nine walks in 20 games. After hitting 35 home runs and collecting 108 RBIs during last year’s breakout campaign, he has just five RBIs and hasn’t hit a home run yet in 2019.
What’s the case for Thames?
Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell has stated that he’s willing to let Aguilar work through his struggles. But looking at the numbers, Thames should receive more playing time in the near future.
Thames’ stats this year have been relatively solid. After Sunday’s pinch hit appearance, the slugger raised his own slash line to .270/.300/.595. His K/BB ratio leaves a ton to be desired with 17 strikeouts to just one walk, but he has been much more effective as a run producer with four home runs and 11 RBIs so far this year.
The difference in quality of contact further supports why Thames being in the lineup more could provide a boost to the offense. Going into Sunday’s game, Thames was connecting with pitches at a 45% hard contact rate and just a 5% soft contact rate according to FanGraphs. Aguilar, on the other hand, has had just 39.1% hard contact and 21.7% soft contact. So when given the chance, Thames is putting the ball on the bat much more solidly.
The answer to the playing time balance could be to just switch to a straight up platoon. Aguilar’s career splits versus left-handed pitchers as opposed to right-handed pitchers are relatively similar while Thames’ are more varied. Thames has a solid .252/.332/.485 slash line against righties as opposed to a less than stellar .203/.262/.395 against lefties.
Thames’ numbers aren’t exactly putting him All Star Game consideration. But given the teams woes in the middle of the order with Aguilar, Travis Shaw and Ryan Braun, any amount of added offense would be a sight for sore eyes among Brewers fans.
Counsell may just prefer to continue to have Aguilar work through his early season struggles. But if the Brewer manager wants production out of the middle of his lineup, it may be time to work in more of Thames sooner rather than later.