I always had issues with the expression, “Stay in your lane.” What if someone is driving in the fast lane and going super slow? Should they stay in their lane? NO! As bizarro Beyonce would sing, “To the right, to the right.” That said, the expression has tons of merit. If driving slow, stay in the right lanes and let others pass on the left. If you see three of four lanes littered with trucks, staying in the one without them would be most prudent. Which brings me to Lane Thomas of the Washington Nationals. He’s been added in 11.4% of ESPN leagues over the past week and, since joining the Nationals, has a .293/.383/.515 slash with a .222 ISO in 115 plate appearances. Should we continue to stay in this Lane?
Thomas is 26 years old, 6 feet, and 185 pounds. He bats from the right side and patrols the outfield.
Throughout his minor league career, he showed a penchant for taking walks but the strikeout rate would often be in the mid-20% range. The batting average was all over the map while he did display some pop. He stole 17 bases in 81 games with Toronto and went 21/13 in 435 plate appearances with the Cardinals.
He spent the majority of this season with the Cardinals being a pinch hitter, pinch runner, or fourth outfielder. When he was traded to the Nationals, he filled the same fourth-outfielder role but then Victor Robles got sent down to Triple-A and Thomas took over centerfield and leadoff duties. The results have been great. In addition to the slash I wrote in the intro, Thomas has four home runs, 18 runs, 16 RBI, and two stolen bases while posting a 13% walk rate and 20.9% strikeout rate in 115 plate appearances.
We always love those power/speed guys. Let’s see if this is for real.
The BABIP is .347 so he’s experienced some luck. He often had a high BABIP in the minors so it’s not out of the question that he maintains this number. That said, most of the projection systems have him projected for a .300-ish number. That would put his batting average in the .250 range.
The Statcast numbers are very impressive. The average exit velocity is 92.1 mph with a max of 109.1. The launch angle is 13.4 degrees, the barrel rate is 7.9%, and the hard-hit rate is 47.4%.
The GB/FB ratio is 1.07 and the line drive rate is 21.2%. He’s pulling the ball 46.1% of the time and going oppo 18.4%. The HR/FB rate is 13.8%, which is fine and doesn’t indicate flukiness in that department.
The plate discipline numbers are muy fantastico. He only chases 25.5% of pitches outside the zone. The contact rate in the zone is 90.9% while the overall contact rate is 83.4%. The swinging-strike rate is only 6.7%. If he qualified, the O-Swing% of 25.5% would place him in the top 20. The contact rate in the zone would be good for top 30. The SwStr% of 6.7% would be good for 15th-best.
Too bad my name isn’t Mikey because Mikey likes it!
Let’s go to the splits. Against left-handed pitching, Thomas is Albert Pujols as the slash is .439/.566/.659 with a .220 ISO. The walk rate is 22.6% while the strikeout rate is 13.2%. Against righties?
Shaggy? Scooby? Ruh Roh.
The strikeout rate is 28.3% while the walk rate decreases to 10.8%. The slash is .151/.242/.283 with a .132 ISO.
Man, what a buzzkill. That said, the sample size has been relatively small as it’s been 53 plate appearances against lefties and 120 against righties.
There’s a lot to like with Thomas. The plate discipline, lack of swing and miss, order in the lineup, and confidence in the organization to give him the playing time. That said, he has experienced some good fortune and the splits are somewhat concerning since right-handed pitching is more prevalent than lefties.
He could experience some regression but as long as the Cardinals keep sending him out there in the leadoff role, the power/speed combo is too juicy to ignore. He’s still relatively young and only has 257 MLB plate appearances to his name. With his batting eye and plate discipline, it’s not out of the question that he figures out right-handed pitching. If he doesn’t and gets benched, it’s an easy drop. The risk/reward is too favorable.