Eric Hosmer is vastly underwhelming in his sophomore season.
Over 34 games, he has a .174/.243/.326 line in 144 plate appearances. In a season where very little has gone right, Hosmer is a big part of the “gone wrong” column. He’s a former first round pick – a third overall selection – and scouts and stat junkies alike see him as a potential star.
And yet, he’s struggling.
All I want to do is put his slump into perspective here. He has 23 hits in 132 at bats. No mathematical juggling will change that. However, Hosmer has run into a big batch of bad luck.
I hate to say that too often, because it’s often turned into a crutch. Player starts whiffing at changeups? Bad luck – he’s running into changeup pitchers more frequently. Player starts grounding out a lot? Oh, maybe he’s facing ground ball pitchers. It’s easy to get stuck calling bad performance bad luck.
These things happen, yes, but those circumstances are often just tossed into the equation to explain why a batter hasn’t had success. In some cases, sure, maybe he’s running into pitchers than have the right mix of skills and pitches to neutralize their batting skills. That doesn’t change what he’s done to that point.
In Hosmer’s case, he’s had some bad luck. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) sits at a mere .165. The league generally sits around .300. In other words, nearly twice the amount of balls that Hosmer could expect to be hits when put into play have been turned into outs. That’s significant. He’s hit the ball hard in many cases, but been right at fielders. We’ve said this here before and it was as true then as it is now.
Nonetheless, it’s still happened. He’s still just hitting .174, bad luck or not.
But it could be a lot better. A few inches here and a ball gets through. A foot to the left and a line drive turns from a triple play into a two RBI double down the line. Monday night, he hit a shot right at Adrian Beltre who was the only fielder on the left side of the bag in an extreme shift.
Here’s when I’d start to worry: When Hosmer starts chasing and striking out more than he has been. So far, he has struck out 12.5% of his plate appearances. He’s walked in 8.3% of those appearances, which is right around average. That’s perfectly acceptable.
Let’s take a look at a stretch of time for Hosmer last year.
To take you back, Hosmer debuted on May 6th. On June 7, he was hitting.310. By July 18 he was at .260. During that stretch, the league adjusted to Hosmer. He chased some pitches and didn’t make solid contact. He struck out over 15% of the time and walked less frequently. During the slump, he hit .218/.281/.361. Certainly, that’s not good, but from that stretch, he played in 34 games and had 146 plate appearances, almost the exact same amount of time at the plate as he’s had in 2012. His BABIP in 2011 during that five-plus week stretch was .231. Strikeouts had a role in that, but even getting the ball in play, Hosmer was hitting it at fielders.
This year, he’s put the ball into play with the potential to be fielded 109 times and gotten a hit 18 times. If I assume he is sitting at the .300 BABIP, where the league average tends to land, he would have 32.7 hits on balls in play. With five homers added to that, that could potentially be 38 hits. Over 132 at bats, that’s a .287 average. Nobody would complain about a .287 average.
That’s not to say that he can blame everything on BABIP. He’s hit less line drives (which fall for hits around 70% of the time) than in 2011. He’s hit more grounders (which go for hits about only 30% of the time) than in 2011. Fly balls have come at around the same rate as in 2011. Some of that is pitch selection. Some of that could be his stride and swing (as some commentors have suggested). There are adjustments that can be made.
If he were hitting dribblers half the time and getting some to sneak through, that’d be one thing. Hosmer is drilling the ball often enough to give me reason to think that he’s going to be able to get back into the groove of things.
Last year, the Royals didn’t give up on him after struggles in June and into July. This year, over a similar sized slump, they’ve stuck with him again, as they should.
After his slump, Hosmer re-adjusted and finished with a line of .325/.359/.502. That kind of a turnaround is still possible. It looks bad on paper now, and Hosmer can’t take back the first six weeks of the year’s stats, but while he’s slumping, he still has a chance to turn things around in a big way and finish up with a strong season. With even a slight uptick in luck, he’ll be back on track.