Thursday, April 27, 2017

How Does 2017 Eric Thames Remind Us of Peak Josh Hamilton?

While watching Eric Thames commit arson in Colorado, Cincinnati, Toronto, and Chicago in the first few weeks of the season, I felt like I had seen something like this before. Thames's re-emergence after spending a few years out of the league calls to mind baseball's most amazing comeback story from last decade -- that of Josh Hamilton.

The Rangers released Hamilton a few days ago, which probably represents the end of the line for the aging slugger after it was discovered that he'll need another knee surgery. It's definitely jumping the gun, but I've found myself comparing him to Thames, who's quickly becoming as feared as Hamilton once was.

Before I explain the similarities, be warned that this is just for fun. Small sample size alert and all that. Thames might have holes in his game that opponents will soon begin to exploit, whereas Hamilton won an MVP award and made five straight All-Star teams. Still, it's fun to compare their stories, and it feels appropriate to appreciate both guys right now.

Comeback Stories
Hamilton famously overcame drug and alcohol addiction to torture American League pitchers after joining the Rangers in 2008. Thames's tribulations were a bit different, but he couldn't cut it in his first stint in the majors. Instead, he headed to Baseball Siberia, a.k.a. Korea, and resurrected his value to MLB teams. At 30, he's a little older than Hamilton was when he had his breakout at 27, but let's hope we get to watch a similarly dominant mid-career stretch from Thames. I know it's a longshot, but we can wish upon a Zimmer.

That Sweet Swing
Thames's menacing left-handed swing, the ability to hit with incredible power to the opposite field, and even the elbow armor all channel visions of Hamilton. Hamilton's stance was a little more upright and closed, but the similarities still start there. Both players feature just a bit of a bat-wag in the lead-up to the pitcher's delivery but neither has much of a leg-kick. The GIFs below show Hamilton and Thames pulling homers:

Hamilton (via sports.vice.com)
Thames (via mlb.com)
My favorite part of both swings is the violence with which the hips fly open, to the point where the player's right foot is at almost out of the batter's box by the end of the follow-through. It's like each guy finishes his swing by doing the last jump-step of the Macarena or something.

Early Hot Streak
In '08, Hamilton cranked 14 home runs in April and May. This year, Thames has made himself the story of the young season by blasting 11 home runs in April to set a Brewers record with three games still left left in the month.* After this incredible opening act to the year, we better get a chance to see Thames try to pull a Hamilton at intermission, the Home Run Derby.

*Provided that Thames's hamstring issue in Wednesday's win over the Reds was in fact as minor as has been reported.

Nickname
As has been well-reported, Korean fans referred to Thames as "God." Hamilton, meanwhile, flashed a style and prospect pedigree that earned him the moniker "The Natural." It was a little subtler but just as fitting.

Unfounded PED Accusations
Oh, people, they're a-whisperin'. In the interest of enjoying Thames, though, I'm gonna move on from making baseless accusations. Besides, the dude's already passed two drug tests.

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Of course, there are key differences between Hamilton's rise to prominence and Thames's terrific first month. Hamilton had the prospect pedigree of a No. 1 overall pick, so we always knew the tools were there. Thames, meanwhile, was a seventh-rounder who failed over many more plate appearances than he's recently used to succeed. Hamilton was also a more complete player, manning more difficult positions and running the bases well during his prime.

Still, between Thames's pretty lefty swing and his sudden rise from baseball purgatory, it's hard not to make the comparison. Hamilton's recent injury gives us a chance to appreciate the terrific run he had, but also to shake our heads at how quickly it ended. Brewers fans would do well to remember that while they look on in wonder as they watch Eric Thames.

All stats are current through April 28.




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