What Would You Pay Eric Thames Now?

Over the last few years, we’ve been called TroutGraphs more than a few times, because we write about Mike Trout a lot. Well, TroutGraphs might officially be taking a year off, because 2017 appears to be the year of ThamesGraphs. Yes, after we put his name in the headline of three posts and a podcast last week, I’m writing about him again today. Sorry, rest of baseball. We’ll get back to you all eventually.

Yesterday, Thames did Thames things, launching two more home runs and drawing two more walks, reaching base four of the five times he came to the plate. His season line is now at .373/.481/.910, and he’s now one home run away from having as many long balls this year as the Red Sox. At +1.8 WAR, Thames has already produced the entire season’s worth of value for which we projected him before the season started, and the consensus was that our projections were wildly optimistic. Apparently they weren’t optimistic enough.

But the fact remains that, as amazing as Thames has been, we’re still talking about a 19-game sample right now, and not-great-players go on great offensive runs for a month at a time with some regularity. Using our Splits Leaderboards, I found 268 different player months since 2002 during which a player posted at least a 200 wRC+ in at least 80 plate appearances, or about three players per month, every year. Sure, there’s a lot of Barry Bonds and David Ortiz months in there, but there’s also Randy Winn (246 wRC+ in September of 2005), J.T. Snow (241 in August 2004), David Freese (229 in July 2012), Delmon Young (224, July 2010), and Ty Wigginton (209, August 2008).

Winn is a perfect example of how dramatic a change a player can appear to have undergone in one month, relative to what he was previously, and how that doesn’t always stick. In the first five months of 2015, Winn hit .273/.333/.409, launching a total of nine home runs in 550 plate appearances. In September, he hit .439/.469/.862, with 11 home runs in 133 plate appearances. In 2006, following his monster September, he ran an 84 wRC+, the worst mark of his career as a regular to that point, and he hit 11 home runs the entire season.

Of course, power from Thames isn’t a big surprise. He hit for power before he went to the KBO, hit for power in the KBO, and is now hitting for power in MLB. This isn’t a Winn-like fluke. Eric Thames can crush baseballs. But part of the reason that the Brewers were able to sign him for just $15 million over three years is that teams didn’t have confidence in his track record. We don’t have a long list of guys coming over from the KBO and continuing to hit well here, and the last time Thames faced MLB pitching, he ran an 82 wRC+. Teams pay for something as close to certainty as they can get, and even brief stints of greatness in the big leagues aren’t always rewarded with big paychecks.

Take Rich Hill, for instance. His September performance in 2015 was the pitching equivalent to what Thames has done these last three weeks. In four starts down the stretch, Hill put up a 37/56/61 ERA-/FIP-/xFIP- line, with Kershaw-esque walk and strikeout rates. For 29 innings, he looked like the best pitcher alive, but a few months before that, he’d been pitching in independent ball. So when he hit the open market with a spotty track record and one great month of MLB dominance, he signed for all of $6 million on a one-year contract with the A’s.

There were obviously health concerns with Hill, as well, but if teams really bought into his rejuvenation after one amazing month, he would have gotten more than $6 million. You don’t have to throw many innings at that level to be worth bench-player money. Twenty-nine great innings simply weren’t enough to convince teams that he was something other than what they thought he was previously, when he was available to sign with any team as a minor-league free agent.

So, that brings me to the question that is sitting in the headline of this post: how much has Eric Thames changed his market value since he took $5 million per year from the Brewers? If his April of 2017 had occurred in September of 2016, so it was the last month of performance teams saw before they had to bid on his services over the winter, what kind of contract would he have gotten instead?

Obviously, this is an unknowable hypothetical, but the market just valued Thames in roughly the same way it valued Brandon Moss (2/$12.0M) and Steve Pearce (2/$12.5M), and a little less than it valued Luis Valbuena (2/$15.0M). Thames was priced near the level of a corner platoon bat expected to produce about +1 WAR. Now, our rest-of-season projections have him as roughly a +3 WAR player over a full season, making him comparable to someone like Chris Davis when he hit free agency two years ago. Davis got $161 million over seven years.

Obviously, Thames would get more now than he got over the winter. How much more, though? I don’t think he’d get Davis’s deal, not after just one good month that involved hitting a bunch of home runs against the Reds. And the market just rejected basically every slugging first baseman to hit free agency over the winter, so it’s not clear that teams are willing to pay premiums for this skillset like they used to.

But does a 19-game run of greatness double what you’d have paid him a few months ago? Triple it? How quickly does a performance like this change what we thought? And is it a more dramatic change in this case because our confidence in the original Thames’s forecasts was lower than if he’d been playing in MLB the last few years?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. This isn’t a post where I argue for a particular point of view. I’m curious to know what you guys think, so I’m going to steal one of Jeff’s shticks and end with a poll. Because our baselines are all different, and I’m more interested in measuring the magnitude of the change than simply the amount he’d make, we’ll start with a poll about how significantly your offer would differ from what it would have been over the winter. And then we’ll see how much you’d pay in AAV, assuming he still was seeking just the three guaranteed years that he got from the Brewers.

What is three great weeks worth? I’m looking forward to finding out what you guys think.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Sonny L
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Sonny L

Would anyone give him the Encarnacion deal? I think I would.

Los
Member
Los

I was thinking something along those lines but more in the 3/52 or 4/60 range so a little less than the Encarnacion deal.

sadtrombone
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Member
sadtrombone

If you multiply the Thames dollar value by 4, you’ve basically got the EE deal. Same length: 3 years plus a club option year.
The comparison is good in other ways too, because they’re both power hitters at first base. EE has a better track record stateside but he’s also 4 years older and has less positional versatility. Even if Thames returns to earth soon he still might provide better value over the life of the contract.

Sonny L
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Member
Sonny L

Agree, the age difference means something.

I imagine any big(ish) market team with mediocre production from 1B would offer something in the EE range to get in the conversation. Boston, Philly, Tex, Houston & Seattle off the top of my head seem like good fits.

matt
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matt

I’d give him 4/190 with a team option

soddingjunkmail
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soddingjunkmail

That gives him $45M in surplus value, which looks like it doesn’t get him into the top 50 in Dave’s trade value list.

Somehow, I think you’d be able to find an irrationally exuberant GM that would trade one of Dave’s top 50 for him.

Graves
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Graves

Are we sure ‘Ric Thames is human? He has to be either a robot and/or an alien. I for one am just glad he’s here and glad I have my popcorn.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

So if he’s a robot, does that mean that the Cardinals hacked his OS last weekend?

sadtrombone
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Member
sadtrombone

The Brewers needed to download a firmware update but had a bad internet connection at the hotel and ballpark.

Monsignor Martinez
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Monsignor Martinez

He’s ‘Ric Thames, bitch!!!