Bellinger, Judge, and Thames: A Quick and Dirty Breakdown

Welcome back to Baseball and Brews, buds. Today’s article was inspired by one of my leaguemates who dropped Eric Thames, and further inspired by my fellow owners who allowed him to clear waivers (myself included). Crazy, right? More on that below. I’ll be taking a look at three of 2017’s biggest fantasy names that weren’t expected to be big fantasy names when the season started: Cody Bellinger, Aaron Judge, and Eric Thames. Today’s article delves into their numbers to help owners and prospective traders to gauge their value, and what you should expect from them ROS. As always, I’ll end with a craft beer review and recommendation.

(and keep an eye out for Part 3 of Slumping Studs this week!)

 

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Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty

Eric Thames, OF/1B (MIL)

I was going to go in alphabetical order, but I kinda feel like I need to explain how this guy cleared waivers in my league (I promise we’re not all idiots). Like Thames, my jaw was dropped on Monday. How does a guy with 20 HR, 50 R, and 40 RBI get dropped? To be honest, I lost track of Thames for a while there. I try to stay immersed (or at least knee-deep) in the baseball world at all times, but it can be tough to keep players on my radar that aren’t on my team. So as I incredulously stared at my screen, wondering if “Schoop There It Is” had made a drunken mistake by dropping this guy, my finger hovered over the waiver claim button. But before I pressed it, I took a peek at Thames’s stats.

On the surface, he’s an elite power hitter. The .250 AVG leaves a lot to be desired, but when you’re racking up the counting stats you earn some leeway in the batting average department. A quick look at Thames’s last 10 days will show that he’s collected just two hits and two RBI over 33 ABs. That’s good for a .060 average. Ouch. But this ugly streak started with a bang, as Thames homered in four consecutive games from June 14th-June 17th. Impressive.

What’s less impressive is looking at his monthly breakdown. We all know about his absurd April where he slashed an inhuman .345/.466/.810 with 11 HR and a 1.276 OPS. His production dipped drastically in May to .221/.375/.416 with just 3 HR. With June coming to a close this week, he’s slashed .170/.277/.420 with 6 HR.

The average and OBP are crashing and burning, dropping dramatically each month. His .245 season AVG is only being bolstered by his aforementioned April stats, and you can’t help but wonder which is the real Eric Thames: the guy who single-handedly won April or the guy who can’t hit the Mendoza line in June?

Right now, he’s looking like a 2016 version of Chris Carter; huge power potential, but little else. Much ado was made about Thames’s adjustments he made in the KBO league and the work he put in to get back to the MLB, and for every article expounding his virtues there was a counterpoint being made about regression and unsustainability. The truth appears to be somewhat in between.

The stats that matter: Thames is a power hitter who relies on pulling the ball. Looking at his April, May, and June breakdowns, a few important numbers emerge:

-In April, Thames pulled the ball a whopping 59% of the time (15% Center, 26% Opposite), while crushing the ball at an unsustainable 49.2% Hard Hit rate with 45.8% of his Fly Balls turning into Home Runs (45.8% FB/HR). His strikeout percentage was a palatable 22.3% with an elite 17.5% BB rate. He was seeing the ball well and getting out in front of it.

As I said, those numbers are unsustainable, but it still shows us that Thames is best when he’s pulling the ball to right field. The lefty slugger relies on getting out in front of pitches and using his strength to make hard contact for hits.

-In May, Thames’s Hard Hit Percentage dropped to 40% (still elite) but his Pull Percentage plummeted over 20 points down to 38% (58% in April). His K percentage (22.9%) and BB percentage (16.7%) basically stayed the same, but he stopped pulling the ball, and his average and power numbers both suffered greatly.

-In June, it’s only gotten worse. As his average and OBP continued to freefall, so did his Pull Percentage, Hard Hit Percentage, and K/BB rate. Thames struck out at a whopping 34.7% rate in June, while seeing his BB rate fall to 12.9%. His Hard Hit Percentage dipped to 35.9% (49% in April, 40% in May) and his Pull Percentage was also at a season-low of 32.1%.

My diagnosis: It seems that pitchers have begun to adjust to Thames, and that he’s struggling to make the adjustment back. The power is still there, as evidenced by his elite Hard Hit Percentage, but he is struggling to make contact. He’s walking less, striking out more, and his O-Swing and Swinging Strike rates have increased by more than 50% since April: 19% O-Swing (Apr)/29% O-Swing (Jun) and 9% Swng-Strk (Apr)/15% Swng-Strk (Jun).

Simply put? He’s flailing at the plate, not seeing the ball well, and thus not making contact. When he does make contact, he’s not able to get out in front of the ball, leading to his reduced Pull Percentage (again, 58% Apr, just 32% May), which is killing his AVG and power numbers. When Thames pulls the ball, he’s hit 11 of his 20 HR, and hits .446.

My prognosis: Thames will continue to mash, but will likely look more like teammate Keon Broxton than his April-self. The power hasn’t gone anywhere, but his hitter’s eye is getting worse. He needs to right the ship and make some serious adjustments to catch his bat back up to the pitches he’s seeing. He’s a hard worker, and I think he will make the adjustment. Don’t expect him to repeat his April stats, but June should represent the low point of his season. I would guess he hits another 20+ HR over the remainder of the season, and ends with a slashline right around what it is now: .250ish/.350ish/.500ish.

The number to give you hope is this: BABIP. In April, Thames had a .360 BABIP (49% Hard Hit). That’s very good, but it’s not unheard of, especially for hard-hitting power guys like Thames. In May, his BABIP dropped to .269 (40% Hard Hit), and again in June to .191 (36% Hard Hit). I don’t give a lot of guarantees, but I can guarantee you that Thames will not end the season with a .191 BABIP. His Hard Hit Percentage may have dropped along with the BABIP, but he still posted an elite 36% Hard Hit in June, and the BABIP is far lower than it should be. Expect positive regression to come.

I’ll put my money where my mouth is and I’m going to grab him off of waivers right now, though it makes me sad to drop a resurgent Fatt Adams for him. Look to buy Thames low (but don’t pay anywhere near his April value) while frustrated owners like “Schoop There It Is” get tired of Thames whiffing (sorry Jeff, but thanks for Thames). He’ll continue to whiff a lot, but he’ll also crush homers and get on base.

Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF (LAD)

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Don’t stare too long or you’ll start to wonder how his body twists like that….seriously, that can’t be healthy.     Photo Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Cody Bellinger is a 21-year-old Dodger (soon to turn 22, in July) who burst onto the scene in April and forced LA to keep him around. He’s batting .273 with 44 R, 24 HR, and 56 RBI to go along with 5 steals, all in just 59 games. The young slugger trails only Aaron Judge for the Major League lead in Home Runs, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Bellinger is pounding the ball like it owes him money: posting an absurd 49.3% Hard Hit Percentage and a .395 ISO. The scary part is that his BABIP sits at just .286, indicating that he might actually see his average rise. Unlike Thames, Bellinger is trending up. Cody’s Pull Percentage and Hard Hit Percentage have increased every month of the season, as his K rate and BB rate have also risen to season-bests in June.

There’s not much else to say about Bellinger other than that he’s a damn good player. Nothing in his peripherals is screaming regression: his BABIP has been stable and sustainable all season, his Hard Hit Percentage and Pull Percentages have risen each month as he adjusts to Major League pitching, and his speed/power combo help him leg out plenty of doubles. His ISO should drop (.395 is just absurd), and his defense could be better (who cares), but that’s the only real blemish on the slugger’s record aside from his 29% K rate on the season.

Like every player, he’ll eventually hit a slump. That will be the first true test for the 21-year-old California kid. How will his mental makeup be affected by a slump? Will pitchers adjust to him like they have to Thames? Can he make adjustments of his own? Time will tell, but for now, sit back and enjoy the ride. He’s elite.

The Judge, OF (NYY)

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Judge (6’7″) with teammate Ronald Torreyes (5’8″)……Torreyes looks kinda scared, doesn’t he? (I would be too)

I’ll admit that I’ve been itching to write about Aaron Judge this season. I grabbed him for his callup last year and was thoroughly disappointed as he flailed at the plate, striking out 42 times in 84 At-Bats while hitting just 4 Home Runs. I watched him in Spring Training this year and he looked like a different player (but hey, so did Greg Bird). The thing that struck me the most was his vastly improved batter’s eye: he was still striking out at a 23% clip, but that was a vast improvement over his dreadful 2016 stint and his minor league numbers. His Spring Training walk-rate also improved to nearly 10%. More than that though, he was passing the eye-test. Judge did not look lost at the plate. He did not look like a rookie hitter. He looked good.

Now that being said, I didn’t draft him. No one in my league did. But I grabbed him off of waivers in early April and I never looked back. This year Judge has been better than anyone in baseball. The 25-year-old slugger is pacing the league in Home Runs (26), Runs scored (68), OBP (.447), SLG (.697), and OPS (1.144). And oh yeah, he’s only trailing D-Backs sluggers Jake Lamb and Goldy for the RBI lead (60), and his .333 AVG puts him 4th in the Majors behind Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Murphy, and Buster Posey. You might have noticed that the players who’ve managed to eclipse Judge in AVG and RBI are all National Leaguers, so Judge currently leads the AL Triple Crown race in all categories. Wow. Did I mention that he’s 6/8 on steals this year, too?

Ok, those numbers are nice and all, but is Judge’s output sustainable? That’s the real question.

Diving into the numbers, we see a lot of good signs. For one thing, Judge has been absurdly consistent in his prodigious production (say that five times fast). He’s no Eric Thames using a breakout month to bolster his season stats: Judge hit .303 in April with 10 bombs, .347 in May with 7 HR, and .344 in June with 9 HR. His most impressive stat, if you ask me, is his walk total: 51 BB through 72 games. Holy smokes! And he’s only getting better, taking 13 BB in April, 15 in May, and a whopping 23 free passes in June.

The walks (and batter’s eye) are the key to Judge’s success, and why I believe it’s sustainable. Remember how I started by talking about his Spring Training adjustments? He’s continuing to pass the eye-test in the regular season, with the stats to back it up. The biggest adjustment to Judge’s game has been his ability to lay off bad pitches and make more contact on good ones.

Let’s take a look at his O-Swing Percentage (percent of pitches a player swings at that are outside the strike zone), his Z-Swing Percentage (percent of pitches a player swings at inside the strike zone), and his Swinging Strike Percentage (percent of swings that miss the ball completely) versus his 2016 self, and Paul Goldschmidt (currently behind Judge for lead in OBP) and Cody Bellinger. You want your O-Swing and Swinging Strike numbers to be low and your Z-Swing to be high.

Player O-Swing Percentage Z-Swing Percentage Swinging Strike Percentage
Aaron Judge (2016) 33.6% 63.4% 18.1%
Aaron Judge (2017) 24.5% (-9.1%) 66.4% (+1%) 12.8% (-5.3%)
Paul Goldschmidt 23.5% 67.0% 9.6%
Cody Bellinger 27.2% 66.7% 14.0%

The big tell is the dramatic drops in Judge’s swing-and-miss rate as well as laying off of “bad” pitches outside of the strike zone. He’s far more disciplined at the plate, and it’s showing in his numbers, which stack up nicely with other elite hitters such as Goldy (established vet with track record of excellence) and Bellinger. His swinging strike percentage is still higher than you’d like to see it, but it’s trending in the right direction.

It’s not all sunshine and dongs for Judge, however: his strikeouts are creeping up. He posted a 26.7% K rate in April, 29.7% in May, and 29.9% in June. Nothing dramatic, and his walks increased with his strikeouts, but still not ideal. Judge must continue to stay disciplined at the plate and improve his batter’s eye, but he’s already shown himself capable of making those adjustments. At just 25 years old and with less than a full year of MLB service, this rookie projects to continue his success.

Some Judge detractors will point to his .425 BABIP and call that unsustainable, as no player has ever recorded a full season of BABIP of .400 since the metric was invented. Equally unique to Judge, however, is his eye-popping 48.3% Hard Hit Percentage. Now, guys like Giancarlo Stanton (49.7% Hard Hit in 2015), Mark Trumbo (39.3% in 2016 and Bryce Harper (40.9% in 2015) might be close in how often they hit the ball hard. What none of them compare to is just how freaking hard Judge is hitting the ball.

This season, Judge leads all Major Leaguers with an absurd 96.65 MPH Average Exit Velocity. That means when Judge hits the ball, it’s coming off of his bat at almost 97 MPH on average, or at elite-level fastball speed. The MLB average for Average Exit Velocity is 87.79 MPH. That Giancarlo Stanton guy that everyone likes to bring up? He’s recorded a 92.27 MPH average exit velo this year. Still amazingly elite, but that’s a 4+ MPH disparity. Judge also has 5 out of 6 of the hardest hit balls this season, including the top four spots.

The summary on that? Ain’t nobody in the world crushing the ball like Judge.

Now, Judge is not a .333 hitter. Regression will be coming to his batting average. He did record a .333 AVG in his first season of A-ball, but his best year in AAA was 2016, which saw him hit at a .270 clip. That being said, his peripherals support the numbers we’re seeing. He’s more disciplined than ever. He’s making adjustments at the plate, and he’s doing it well. He’s staying consistent. And most of all, he’s a goddamn 6’7″, 275 lb. monster who crushes the ball harder than anyone else on the planet. Seriously, do not underestimate how strong he is. He passes the eye-test with flying colors; he’s launched two line drive home runs this year, his base hits are regularly smoked past defenders and bouncing off of the outfield walls.

Don’t expect much regression from Judge. The scary thing is that could get even better.

The Beer

Did you make it through my article? Your reward comes in liquid form with today’s review of Denmark-based brewery Mikkeller ApS and their delectable Oatmeal Stout: Beer Geek Dessert.

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I’m not exactly a “insert famous photographer here,” but the important thing is that you can see the label. Kinda looks like a donut from the Simpsons, doesn’t it?

This roasty Imperial Oatmeal Stout clocks in at an impressive 11% ABV, so don’t have more than one (you shouldn’t be having two desserts anyway).

It pours a deep, viscous black with a small head of thick, brown foam that leaves nice lacing on the glass. It has low to moderate carbonation, and maintains carbonation throughout the drinking. I get notes of bitter coffee, vanilla, chocolate, caramel, and sweet fruit, maybe apple.

The taste is as thick and creamy as the beer. It’s smooth, with strong notes of chocolate, vanilla, caramel, coffee, and a bit of licorice (I hate licorice, but I found it to be quite nice in Beer Geek Dessert). It really is like a dessert. The mouthfeel is smooth and thick, and the low carbonation makes it easy to drink. I really enjoyed drinking this one slowly though: the flavors are complex and varied, and you get a lot of different goodness as you go through the glass.

All in all, a great beer to keep an eye out for in your local bottle shop!

Cheers!

twitter: @Baseball_Brews

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Bellinger, Judge, and Thames: A Quick and Dirty Breakdown

  1. Pingback: The Home Run Derby: How it Works, How it Started, and How it Shakes Out in 2017 | Baseball and Brews

  2. Pingback: Buy or Sell, Add or Drop: Hot Takes and Analysis after the Trade Deadline | Baseball and Brews

  3. Pingback: Judging the Judge: Which is the Real Aaron? | Baseball and Brews

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