The Tale of the Tape series doesn’t get less orthodox than this. In one corner, you have Philly’s Tommy Joseph, a conventional young masher with loads of potential ready for his first full season. In the other, you have a guy who hasn’t played in the majors since 2012 and couldn’t do squat when he did… but Eric Thames went to South Korea in 2014 and played for three years like he was bitten by Babe Ruth reincarnated as a (fat) radioactive spider. Thames returns to America a changed man, but can it win him this totally arbitrary matchup? Let’s find out!
Pre-Far East Thames hit a modest .250 over two seasons for the Blue Jays and Mariners, but his ceiling is a bit higher now. Over three seasons in South Korea, he hit .341, .381, and .317, which ought to translate to something higher than .250 even if, as Grant Brisbee wrote in his pleasantly baffled analysis of the Thames signing, translating performance from the KBO is getting harder with every passing player to cross the Pacific. (Think of the stark differences between Jung-Ho Kang’s fruitful on-field MLB career and Byung-Ho Park’s fallow one, to start.) While it’s obviously possible Thames regresses back to his previous American numbers, it’s not likely, and Joseph, for all his power, has a .253 lifetime average across all levels of the minors. He hit .257 last year in Philly, and he doesn’t figure to turn into Placido Polanco anytime soon. Advantage: Thames
Thames’ convincing Joey Votto impression in the KBO understandably led to hefty walk totals. Pursuant to everything in the batting average section, while there’s a huge question mark as to where Thames will wind up on the on-base spectrum, it will almost certainly blow away his career .296 MLB average. He’s actually always had a decent eye, while Joseph has a .305 OBP across over seven years in the minors. In time, Joseph’s power could leverage him some more walks, but this year, I wouldn’t expect him to take a huge jump. Even if he does, Thames could be hard to catch. Advantage: Thames
Here’s where things get interesting. Thames averaged 41 homers over his three KBO years, with slugging percentages that would satisfy pretty much anyone but turn-of-the-century Barry Bonds. We can safely expect those numbers—the lowest of which was .676—to decline. Meanwhile, after Joseph finally supplanted Ryan Howard as the Phillies first baseman, he went bombs away… not unlike Howard himself did as a rookie, lol. To say the very least, 21 HR in 347 PA as a rookie is pretty darn impressive. With a full season looming, look for dongers aplenty in South Philly, with 30 being a rock-solid floor given a full season of ABs. Advantage: Joseph
Thames inexplicably stole 40 bases in Korea in 2015, following a 2014 where he swiped 11 bags, in line with his U.S. yearly career totals. Last year, it was 13, and I’d expect about the same in Milwaukee. Anything even close to that should easily gives Thames the advantage over Joseph (3 career bags in 7 years) for steals. Combine that with Thames’ OBP advantage, and the proxy for speed/baserunning ability should easily net him the runs crown as well. Advantage: Thames
With both the Brewers and Phillies solidly in rebuilding mode, RBI chances don’t figure to be relatively plentiful for either guy. That said, the Brewers’ lineup is better now (and, for what it’s worth, should continue to be better in the future) and whatever disparity opens up between Joseph and Thames’ home run totals should be more than covered by Thames’ higher batting average and more opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position. Joseph’s 21 homers last year netted him a whopping 47 RBI, which is not great, and the ratios might not get much better. This could all change if Ryan Braun leaves Milwaukee, but until he does, the choice here is clear. Advantage: Thames
Some of early career struggles can be partially traced to a broken hand he suffered in the Baltimore Orioles’ organization in 2013—but it was this injury that spurred his move overseas, and it’s one from which I think we can safely deem him fully healed. Joseph suffered a wrist injury in 2014 and underwent season-ending surgery, and last year’s performance shows that he, too, is likely fully healed. If there’s a deciding factor here, it’s that Joseph seems like less of a rough-and-tumble player than Thames, in that he’ll go exactly where his bat takes him and no further. He won’t sprain a thumb stealing second, at any rate. It’s a specious and possibly irrelevant distinction, but it’ll have to do. Advantage: Joseph
If Thames produced even 75 percent of his marginal KBO production, he’d be a bona fide stud: it would put .300/.400/.500 in play. He was just that good in Korea, and it’s easy to see stars when you’re dealing with numbers like that. Still, there is a chance, however slight, that Joseph breaks out for 40 homers and gets his batting average to the .270 mark. If he did that and Thames fizzled out, Joseph could put up a better year, and in a dynasty league, Joseph’s upside is probably higher. But this is re-draft column, and the choice in 2017 clearly plays in Wisconsin. Advantage: Thames
The tape has spoken pretty definitively on this one. You know what you’re getting with Joseph, and it’s not a terrible package. It’s a good one with some nice upside, but Thames is better now, on a better team, with a nice chance to put up numbers not just in power categories, but across the board. Whatever the chances are Thames stalls out entirely back, there’s just too much to like to leave him on the board.
And the winner is… Eric Thames.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now