Eric Hosmer: Bust*

Okay, so he’s not, really but Dave Gershman’s tweet brings up an interesting point.

Despite the press and preseason accolades, to this point, Eric Hosmer hasn’t been the world-beating giant one might expect.  Hosmer, as difficult as it may be to believe, is human.

That being said, he’s still plenty good.

Entering Wednesday’s game, Hosmer had a .750 OPS (and 108 OPS+) which isn’t too shabby for a 21-year-old rookie  year removed from the Texas League.  He reached Kansas City after destroying Triple A for a month, becoming the first big name (apologies to Aaron Crow) from the Royals celebrated farm system to reach the majors.

To glance at his numbers, though, his season seems disappointing.

In the context of the rest of the league, he’s not that bad.  The 108 OPS+ says that his OPS is better than league average, and when adjusted for park factors, it’s considered a little bit better even.

Also, compared to other rookies this year, Hosmer’s OPS is the fourth-best among rookies who have 200 or more at bats in 2011.

Relative to other notable rookies of the past few years (and one fun one from a bit further back) he’s in good company:

Player Season Age OPS OPS+
 Robinson Cano 2005 22 .778 106
 Ken Griffey Jr. 1989 19 .748 108
 Eric Hosmer 2011 21 .750 108
 Troy Tulowitzki 2007 22 .838 109
 Prince Fielder 2006 22 .831 110
 Dustin Pedroia 2007 23 .823 112
 Ryan Zimmerman 2006 21 .822 114
 Hanley Ramirez 2006 22 .833 116
 Andrew McCutchen 2009 22 .836 121
 Joey Votto 2008 24 .874 125
 Evan Longoria 2008 22 .874 127
 Jason Heyward 2010 20 .849 131
 Buster Posey 2010 21 .862 131
 Ryan Braun 2007 23 1.004 154

In that table, Hosmer’s performance looks pretty weak.  And yet, he’s still having a better than average year and young players aren’t expected to light the world on fire.  Ryan Braun-style debuts are the exception.  With a 6% increase in OPS, Hosmer would be near .800 – that’d be a line in the vicinity of .291/.350/.450.  That’s within reach if Hosmer starts getting hot again.

He’s been a streaky hitter so far in 2011, with strong May and July production, and slight June and August months.  He hit five homers in May and July and none in June or August.  His August has been a line drive desert, as only 5% of the balls he’s put in play have been line drives (while 62% have been grounders).

When he’s gotten hot, it’s been for sustained periods of time.  He had a nine game hitting streak from May 30 to June 7 where he put up a .410/.439/.564 line in that stretch.  Later, from July 19 to July 30, he hit in 11 straight with a .426/.481/.596 line.

He’s struggled with pitch selection at times, chasing high strikes and pitches early in the count.  In the minor leagues he walked 11.6% of the time.  Since his promotion, he’s walked just 7.1% of the time.  He has made adjustments and came back from a his June slump with a big July.  As he progresses through August, the league seems to have adjusted again to him so it’s on him to make more adjustments to get back ahead of opposing pitching.

Another hot stretch could get Hosmer headed towards a line that’s more towards the middle of the notable-rookie pack.  Considering that he’s younger than most of the players on the list (as four others were 21 or younger like Hosmer and the rest are 22 or older*), it’s not a crazy thought that his 2012 at the age of 22 could be a very big year.

*It’s a somewhat arbitrary list I must admit, though every player was towards the top of their league’s Rookie of the Year voting, except for Hosmer who will be there when it comes time.

So maybe he’s not a superstar. Yet.  He’s 21 and holding his own against the best pitchers in the world (well, some of them) and there’s potential for rapid improvement.  Next year, he should progress to be a regular producer at this level with upside to turn into a name recognized by fans in every big league stadium.

At worst, he’ll be a slightly better than average hitter this year, which is a good sign heading into the future.  With a few adjustments, he could move up into the .800-plus OPS area that many other current stars reached as rookies.  That WAR will start climbing and James Loney will be left in the dust.

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