With the first month of the baseball season in the rear-view mirror, we’re approaching the point where we can start to recognize trends that might be real.
The term ‘small sample size’ was bandied about in plenty of April conversations, but using that qualifier may no longer be necessary quite as much. Case in point: Former Toronto Blue Jay Eric Thames. He’s been a consistent power threat through the entire opening month and with more than 100 plate appearances under his belt, observers can safely say he’s returned to North America a vastly improved hitter from the last go ’round.
In the second instalment of our 2017 Ex-Files, here’s a look at how Thames and some other former Blue Jays are faring.
Eric Thames, Milwaukee Brewers
11 HR | .326/.446/.761 | 1.4 WAR
Thames completely revamped his mental and physical approach to hitting during his time in South Korea and so far has Brewers brass looking like it pulled off a master stroke. The 30-year-old signed a three-year, $16-million deal with Milwaukee in the off-season and is immediately providing value, with his 11 home runs ranking second in MLB. Not everything in his comeback story has been rosy though, as the Chicago Cubs lobbed veiled steroids accusations at Thames and he was reportedly tested for performance-enhancing drugs three times in a 10-day span.
Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland Indians
4 HR | .198/.333/.333 | -0.1 WAR
Encarnacion is still finding his way with the Tribe, as evidenced by the fact that he’s striking out at a significantly higher rate than ever before. He’s walked the parrot four times already, though, and will look to add to his home run total on Monday when he returns to his old stomping grounds with the Indians, who visit Toronto for a three-game set.
David Price, Boston Red Sox
The high-priced left-hander has yet to pitch in a game due to left elbow troubles, but is reportedly progressing. He recently faced hitters in a simulated game and is ramping up intensity in his throwing program, yet there’s no timetable for a return. When the Red Sox visited Toronto in April there was an in-game camera shot of Price looking sad while sitting by himself in the visitors’ dugout and the Boston media has taken note of his unhappiness.
“Price has shown a different personality this season,” Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote recently. “He doesn’t seem happy. That could be because of frustration over his injury. Not long ago he took to Twitter to explain how he did in a bullpen session rather than spend three minutes with the media to explain it … He’s certainly not as outgoing as he was when he first got here last season.”
Brett Cecil, St. Louis Cardinals
4.22 ERA | 10.2 innings | 12 strikeouts | 5 walks | 91.0 mph average fastball
Cecil joined the Cardinals on a four-year, $30.5-million contract in the off-season and has looked good thus far, barring a few ugly appearances. All five of his earned runs came in just two outings, and he’s now on a run of 11 consecutive appearances without an earned run. The Blue Jays got to face their former teammate during a recent trip to Busch Stadium, where Jose Bautista delivered an RBI single to left field.
Jose Reyes, New York Mets
3 HR | .186/.273/.340 | -0.3 WAR
Reyes has received regular playing time with the Mets, primarily starting at third base. He hasn’t looked good with the glove, committing five errors, and has been dismal offensively. The injury-ravaged Mets seem committed to playing the 33-year-old, but recently moved him to the bottom of the batting order. “Jose definitely brings a dimension we don’t have: He brings speed,” hitting coach Kevin Long told the New York Post at the end of April. “When he’s on base, it brings a different dimension to our ballclub and it’s one that we sorely need.”
Michael Saunders, Philadelphia Phillies
2 HR | .253/.286/.391 | -0.1 WAR
Saunders has made the switch to right field this season, after predominantly manning left for the Blue Jays last year. The Victoria, B.C., native signed a one-year, $9-million deal with the Phillies in the winter and has so far lacked the power he showed in 2016. After registering 24 dingers and an .815 OPS last campaign, Saunders has just two long balls to go along with a below-average .677 OPS.
R.A. Dickey, Atlanta Braves
3.94 ERA | 29.2 innings | 19 strikeouts | 13 walks
The knuckleballer frustrated Blue Jays fans in the opening month of each season during his time in Toronto, posting a 4.50 ERA in April 2013, followed by marks of 5.09, 5.23 and 6.75 in the years that followed. The move down south appears to have helped his trick pitch, though, with Dickey posting a 3.80 ERA this April. Also, returning to the National League has given the 42-year-old a chance to flash his skills with the bat, as he tallied two hits and four RBIs over his first 10 at-bats.
Adam Lind, Washington Nationals
2 HR | .345/.406/.655 | 0.3 WAR
Nationals manager Dusty Baker has been strict in his deployment of Lind, only using the lefty slugger against right-handed pitching. It’s worked to great success, with Lind hitting two homers and posting a 1.061 OPS in 29 at-bats. His playing time has been limited by fellow first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, whose surprising career renaissance has driven Washington’s powerful offence.
Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
3.29 ERA | 27.1 innings | 32 strikeouts | 2 walks | 98.2 mph average fastball
Sure he never played a major-league game for Toronto, but he still makes this list because Blue Jays fans remain obsessed with the prized arm that was included in the trade that brought Dickey to Toronto. The man known as Thor was removed from his latest start in the second inning and after (finally) getting an MRI, it was revealed that he had a partial tear of his right lat muscle. It’s terrible news for the Mets as well as Syndergaard, who’s now out indefinitely.
Brett Lawrie, Free Agent
The Canadian infielder’s still a free agent one month into the season and is still posting interesting videos to his Instagram account. Last month we showed you Lawrie in his boxers doing his best impression of AC/DC guitarist Angus Young. Now, we share his latest feat: Attempting to solve a Rubik’s Cube, a struggle he documented with several Instagram stories.