Mighty Mighty Marcus Thames

Joba the Starter seemingly an afterthought
Winning games and gaining no ground
(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Everyone loves a nice feel good story, and that’s exactly what Marcus Thames is. He and his four siblings ran the household at a young age after his mother was paralyzed in a car accident, and after his junior year of high school Thames joined the National Guard to earn extra money for his family. Nicknamed Slick by his mother because he used to suck his thumb as a child, Marcus managed to overcome the hardship of his adolescence to become a big league baseball player that homered on the first pitch he ever saw, off a future Hall of Famer no less. It’s the kind of stuff they base movies on.

Thames’ season has been pretty storybook for the Yanks this year. His “welcome to the Yankees” moment, so to speak, was the walk-off homer off Jonathan Papelbon back in May. Another walk-off hit against the Blue Jays in July built up his good will, though his defense in the corner outfield spots tested the limits of the fans’ patience. A 2-for-23 stretch before a disabled list stint in June appeared to put his job in jeopardy, and quite a few people thought he would/should be designated for assignment after the Yanks acquired Austin Kearns and Lance Berkman at the trade deadline. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Free from the rigors of outfield defense, Thames has been a man on a mission this month while playing almost exclusively designated hitter. He started the month with four hits in eight plate appearances before stepping in for Mark Teixeira as the three-hole hitter during a two game series against the first place Rangers. Lefties C.J. Wilson and Cliff Lee started the two games, exactly the demographic Thames was brought in to face. He picked up five hits in the two game set including an eighth inning solo homer and a game-winning single in the ninth inning of the second game. Marcus’ latest masterpiece includes six homers in his last five starts, putting his season wOBA at .410.

Like I said, Thames was brought in strictly to pound lefthanded pitching, but he’s gone above and beyond the call of duty. He’s posted a .419 wOBA against southpaws but has nearly matched it with a .400 wOBA against righthanders. It’s his best single season performance against pitchers of the same side since he wOBA’s .378 off righties in 2006, the year he helped the Tigers to the World Series. In a year where almost every offseason acquisition – Nick Johnson, Javy Vazquez, Randy Winn, Curtis Granderson, Chan Ho Park – has failed to meet expectations, Thames stands out as the one great move.

The inevitable question will arise about Thames’ future with the Yanks, which of course is something we can’t answer until the season is over and we see how things play out. The answer right now is an unequivocal yes, but as always we have to remember to keep things in perspective. At .318/.398/.556, he is currently sporting career highs in all of the triple-slash categories, and it’s really not all that close either. It’s practically impossible for Thames to repeat that next year, and if he drops back down to .249/.315/.496 (his career average) as a 34-year-old next year, how useful is he to this team?

That’s a debate for another time, but right now Thames has been worth every penny of his $900,000 contract (there’s another $900,000 in performance bonuses in there, and I’m sure he’s met a few of those already). Every great team needs to get big time production from an unexpected sources throughout the season, and for this year’s Yankees, it’s Marcus Thames. Mr. Thames to you.

Joba the Starter seemingly an afterthought
Winning games and gaining no ground
  • Ross in Jersey

    More importantly, what do the Yankees do when Berkman gets back? Thames is too hot to bench right now, but they didn’t spend 4 million on Berkman to ride the bench when he’s perfectly healthy. Do they extend Berkman’s rehab to get Thames some extra time? Play Berkman only against righties? Give Tex a day or two off to let his thumb get healthy and play Puma at first? Or *gulp* sit down Gardner and play Thames in left?

    It’ll be interesting to see how it’s handled.

    • http://twitter.com/AnthonyMartins Anthony

      He’s going to be a pinch hitter off the bench when he gets back Giradi says.

      • http://twitter.com/AnthonyMartins Anthony

        At Least until Thames cools down…if he ever does.

        • Ross in Jersey

          When did he say that? The only quote about Thames/Berkman I found from Girardi was on Lohud:

          “The key thing for us is getting people back healthy. That’s really important. I have some decisions to make, but the best thing would be for me to have to make some hard decisions.”

          • http://twitter.com/AnthonyMartins Anthony

            He said you can’t bench someone when there hitting this hot on the joe giradi show.

    • http://www.lessthismorethat.com/author/ddarrell Jamal G.

      More importantly, what do the Yankees do when Berkman gets back? Thames is too hot to bench right now …

      I had this discussion earlier in the morning with Andy from No, You’re A Towel. Thames should not play over Berkman versus RHP. Streaks, whether they are hot or cold, offer nothing in terms of predictive value. Thames’ 78 plate appearances this year should not lead to his career .236/.297/.480/ vital line in 1,096 PA’s vs. RHP being in the lineup over Berkman’s .306/.422/.589.

      Berkman has posted a .425 wOBA against RHP since 2008 (1,225 PA’s). Is he declining? Yes. Is he still demonstrably better vs. RHP than Marcus Thames? Yes.

      Joe Torre benched Orlando Hudson in favor of Ronnie Belliard during the Dodgers’ stretch run last year because the latter was hot. Joe Girardi is a better manager than Torre.

      • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

        All of this.

      • Ross in Jersey

        Yeah, conventional wisdom would say to use Thames against LHP and Berkman against RHP. Don’t know if Thames being hot and Berkman coming off an injury (and a generally bad season) will play into that, though.

      • http://twitter.com/j_yankees j_Yankees

        Agree. Though with Berkman coming off an injury i think Thames will get a start or 2 vs RHP to finish off this hot streak.

  • http://twitter.com/AnthonyMartins Anthony

    He has really stepped up in A-rod’s absence.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      It’s ARod’s Teammate Rallying Ability. He learned it from Dustin Pedroia, the master.

  • http://twitter.com/stophamm3rtime Dela G

    Tim Tebow wears Marcus Thames Pajamas

    • Apollo22237

      That was good.

  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime-Jesus & Maquinito FTW

    Happy Thames are here again…

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    Look at Marcus tossing that bat like Matt Bush tosses high school freshmen.


    Bitch, don’t be trying that shit with me. I’m Marcus F#$%ing Thames. Respect my gangsta.”

  • http://twitter.com/j_yankees j_Yankees

    but…but…Jamie Hoffmann and Colin Curtis have the youth and the energy.

  • Gonzo

    No mention of Thames’ high Babip in relation to his career Babip? Love the signing, love the player, but I am ok if another team wants to overpay for this year’s performance. I am all for signing him next year if it’s cheap though.

    • Ross in Jersey

      Obviously it’s impossible to keep up his current production, but as a guy brought in to mash LHP, he’s been all you could ask for. Cashman isn’t one to overpay for role players, so I think it’s safe to say he won’t be back next year unless he comes cheap.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      I wonder who would outbid us for Thames, though.

      Bench players always want to go elsewhere and get more money and more playing time, but Thames is a DH-only. What AL team is going to give Marcus Thames a starting DH job based on this one career year that’s BABIP fueled? I don’t see a huge clamor for his services. This isn’t Eric Hinske who can serve as a 4th OF or Jerry Hairston with excellent defensive versatility. It’s just a righty bench bat, nothing more. I think we can get him back cheap.

      • Gonzo

        It only takes one GM.

        • whozat

          Yeah, but Omar Minaya’s out of money. And besides, he needs to spend everything he has to get Manny in LF to cover up the Jason Bay debacle!

          • Total Dominication

            Manny’s has stated he’s going to the AL to play DH and preserve his legs.

            • thurdonpaul

              i wouldnt believe to much of what Manny says.

          • Nigel Bangs

            There’s always Kenny Williams.

            • https://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

              He’ll be too busy signing Manny Ramirez to a 3 year, 60MM deal.

    • Accent Shallow

      No mention of Thames’ high Babip in relation to his career Babip?

      BABIP is more of a skill for hitters than it is for pitchers. Maybe his current BABIP is not sustainable, but as long as he’s hitting the ball hard, he’ll be fine.

      (Will he hit the ball hard next season, when he’s 34? Who knows.)

  • http://twitter.com/j_yankees j_Yankees

    i’m not going to get in a bidding war for Marcus Thames if an AL-team wants to give him starting DH money.

    But bringing him back next year would be real nice. With the DH spot in question i think there can still be ABs there for Thames vs LHPers.

    Even when he comes back to earth he’ll still provide you value as a bat off the bench, a good club house guy and good numbers vs Lefties. Basically everything the Yankees signed him for BEFORE this career season.

    • https://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

      i’m not going to get in a bidding war for Marcus Thames if an AL-team wants to give him starting DH money.

      This could be a problem, except it wouldn’t happen. Thames is having an outlier of a season in his thirties. Teams will see this season as just that, an outlier. He won’t get much more than what he got this year, 1MM plus incentives.

      I’d want a cheap full time DH in FA.

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        …why do you want a full time dh when Arod, Jeter, Jorgie and probably somebody else will all need at least half a day a week off? Plus #jesusmontmashero

  • Frank

    I find all the sudden love for Thames a bit ironic considering so many people who check in here wanted him DFAd in ST and even earlier this season.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      You could replace Thames with Matsui and say the exact same thing about last season.

      • https://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

        This. People love making moves for the sake of making moves.

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        Heh, wasn’t there a thread soon after the World Series where you posted the dumbest comments made throughout the season and like half of them were “trade Matsui for beans” from like, May 2009?

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      Heh. I fully admit to finding Thames’ at-bats during ST super painful, because he wasn’t hitting anything. I think he hit a HR like the second-to-last day of ST and I was like “Oh great, now we’re gonna get him on the 25-man.” I wanted Jamie Hoffmann over him, because I thought he was a lot more versatile. Of course, in retrospect, Hoffmann probably couldn’t give the Yankees what Thames has.

      Like I said last night in some thread, I don’t think you can kill/lionize a GM for bench pieces. A lot of it is luck. Some of these guys work out way better than you were expecting (Thames). Some of these guys don’t work out at all (Winn).

      • https://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

        I don’t think you can kill/lionize a GM for bench pieces. A lot of it is luck. Some of these guys work out way better than you were expecting (Thames). Some of these guys don’t work out at all (Winn).

        Repeated for emphasis. Bench/bullpen players are so volatile from year to year it could make any GM look like a genius or an imbecile, which is why it’s stupid to ridicule a GM for that.

        • Sweet Dick Willie

          which is why it’s stupid to ridicule a GM for that.

          And yet, so many do.

        • thurdonpaul

          cant you say its kinda luck with the whole team then too ? you never know who will have a good year or a bad year. you certainly dont know who will stay healthy or not either.

          • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

            Sorry for the really non-declarative statement here but a lot of a baseball season is partially luck, yeah. Like, take the John Lackey deal, just because it came to mind. I think it’s fine to criticize Theo for the deal itself, which is probably too long and too much money and what have you (same with the AJ Burnett deal, so it’s not like I’m picking on the Red Sox here). On the other hand, it’s not Theo’s fault that Lackey has been so bad this year. Other than the injury history, there weren’t really any scary signs from 2009/prior years.

  • larryf

    Marcus Thames a fastball….times and tames both work for last night’s HR


  • chriskeo

    I couldn’t find the specific performance bonus info on Thames on Cots, other than just $.9M, but I checked Randy Winn’s because I thought they gave them both the same bonuses:

    performance bonuses: $0.1M each for 50, 75, 100 PAs against left-handed pitchers; $0.15M each for 125, 150, 175, 200 PAs against left-handed pitchers

    Assuming that’s the same specifics for Thames, he has met the 50 and 75 PA mark, and is 2 PA away from 100.

    • Tom Zig

      200 PAs against lefties is a hell of a lot. For instance: Cano who has 562 total PAs this year has only 189 PAs against lefties.

  • Brett

    It would be interesting to see a comparison of Cashman’s spring spare parts vs. the other names we were clamoring for in place of CHOP and Winn, etc. I would guess whomever we would have ended up with would have been DFAed