Written by: Justin Choi
Follow him on Twitter: @justinochoi
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter: @ProspectsWorldW
As you know, Eric Thames of NC Dinos’ past absolutely destroyed the KBO back in 2015 with a never-ending barrage of extra-base hits. I wrote about his wrath in another blog post, but here’s a summary of his achievements:
- .381/.498/.790 triple slash
- .530 wOBA (a KBO record)
- 40-40 season (a KBO first)
After King Thames came and went, it seemed like every foreign hitter had the potential of putting up video game numbers. A few of them had unbelievable first one or two months, the fans and the media got giddy, then of course, regression came and brought them back to Earth. Nobody has been as dominant.
In 2020, there is one foreign player per team with a chance to become the next Eric Thames. (I’ve excluded Taylor Motter of the Kiwoom Heroes because he has been put on waivers). Here they are below:
- Jose Miguel Fernandez (Doosan Bears)
- Jamie Romak (SK Wyverns)
- Aaron Altherr (Samsung Lions)
- Mel Rojas Jr. (KT Wiz)
- Preston Tucker (KIA Tigers)
- Tyler Saladino (Samsung Lions)
- Jared Hoying (Hanwha Eagles)
- Dixon Machado (Lotte Giants)
Looking at this list had me wondering – which player has the most likely chance of breaking out like Eric Thames? My guess is that whoever’s batted ball profile is most similar to that of Thames has the greater chance. You can’t just automatically be like Thames; you have to emulate him, too.
So how do we define Eric Thames as a hitter? First off, he’s a lefty. As a power hitter, he makes sure that a majority of his batted balls reach the outfield. As most other hitters do, he inflicts the most damage when he pulls the ball, but he’s also surprisingly adept at going the opposite away.
All these qualities can be summarized in a table. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve limited my scope to his 2015 season:
Now what I want to is narrow down the list of foreign hitters until I end up with ONE hitter who most resembles Eric Thames. The easiest part of that process is eliminating the right-handed hitters – Romak, Altherr, Tucker, and Hoying. And after deliberation, I decided to cross out the switch-hitting Mel Rojas Jr. because Statiz doesn’t offer splits based on handedness. That’s a shame, because his 217 wRC+ leads the league. Here’s who we’re left with:
- Roberto Ramos
- Jose Miguel Fernandez
- Preston Tucker
- Jared Hoying
The next player out is Jose Miguel Fernandez – although he hits balls towards the outfield a significant chunk of the time (66.3%, an increase from 53.9% last year), he’s hit zero home runs the opposite way so far, and Thames had eight. Contact is Fernandez’s game, not power.
Tucker, despite his impressive .291 ISO (Isolated Power), hits balls to the infield 42.2% of the time, which isn’t what this contest is looking for. At 39.7%, Jared Hoying is doing slightly better, but at the same time he’s bogged down in a slump swamp (a 61 wRC+ – yikes!).
That leaves us with the sole winner of our little Thames Hit-alike contest: Roberto Ramos. To commemorate his victory, let’s compare his batted ball numbers with that of Thames:
Overall, Ramos is a more exaggerated version of Thames. He hits more fly balls, and when he does, usually pulls them. This is good. Between 2017 and 2019, balls hit at an exit velocity of 95 mph+ at a launch angle between of 23 to 37 degrees – the ideal range – had a whopping 1.776 wOBA when pulled.
In contrast, straightaway and opposite fly balls that met the same requirements fizzled out at 0.831 wOBA and 1.011 wOBA respectively. Oh, and you may have noticed that Ramos hits less balls straightaway than Thames does. Whether he’s intending it or not, Ramos is optimizing an already stellar batted ball profile!
Roberto Ramos currently leads the league with 12 home runs, and even with my basic research, it’s easy to see why. He ticks off all the sabermetric boxes for a productive power hitter. And at just 25 years of age, he still has plenty of room for growth. If you had to bet on who will hit 40 home runs this KBO season, on who will have a Thamesian breakout… bet on Ramos. You won’t regret it.