In a time that is well past the “steroid” era, Chicago Cubs Pitching coach made some interesting comments recently about Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Eric Thames. Thames is a journeyman who played 2 MLB seasons in 2011-2012. He was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2008 MLB draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, traded to the Mariners in 2012, and almost 1 year later traded to the Orioles. He never saw the field for the Orioles, was placed on waivers, claimed by Houston and released by the Astros 3 months later. In 181 MLB games, Thames was a .250 hitter with 21 home runs and 62 RBI’s. At that point Thames still had the desire to play baseball and found a “home” in the Korean Baseball Organization.
Thames, whose nickname in Korea was “God”, played 3 seasons for the NC Dinos and found his power. He was a career .349 hitter and mashed 124 home runs. In the 2015 season, Thames won the MVP award and Gold Glove (First Base), and became the first member in KBO history in the 40-40 club and hit for the cycle twice. Thames was signed by the Brewers prior to this season on a 3 year deal worth $15 million with a 4th year player option.
This season Thames is crushing the ball at an amazing pace which has raised some eyebrows. He is leading the league with a .415 batting average and 8 home runs in 15 games this season. Recently, Bosio statements are in a round about way accusing Thames of using PEDs, here are his comments:
“Well, the bottom line is [Thames] has hit the ball and we gotta figure out a way to get around [it]. All that other stuff, I’ll let other people worry about. But he’s doing stuff that I haven’t seen done for a long time.”
“You start thinking about Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez when he went to the Dodgers, Barry Bonds … You’re talking about some of the greatest players to ever play this game. So, yeah, it’s probably a ‘head-scratcher’ because nobody knows who this guy is. And when he was here before, his body has changed. But, like I said, I’ll leave that to everyone else and we’re just gonna try to worry about how to pitch him better and get him out.”
Of course I have thought the same thing, but I don’t necessarily believe its fair to put him in the same category as Bonds or any other suspected or admitted PED user. Unfortunately for Thames the stigma is, if your successful your cheating or doing something illegal. In Thames case, plate discipline is one reason he is hitting the ball so well. He isn’t swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, in 2011 and 2012 he was swinging at pitches outside the strike zone at a 36% clip, this season he is only swinging at pitches outside the strike zone around 20% of the time. This puts him in the top tier of the league for that stat. This correlates into the great start for him and the extension of his successful play in Korea.
Are Bosio’s comments warranted? Of course. We had this issue in the past with PED’s and still have players trying to cheat the system(Starling Marte). I do however think its unfair to judge someone who has had success in another professional league overseas and not give them the benefit of the doubt. If he continues hitting the ball well and is cheating we will find out and if no wrongdoing is found fans and those in baseball will still be scratching their heads.