May 16, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) breaks his bat during the 15th inning of the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Kauffman Stadium. The Orioles won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

What's Luck Got to do With It

 

Let me start this with a caveat: I do not believe in luck. I don’t think there’s a mystical force out there that determines the outcome of situations. I do not believe some people are lucky or unlucky, that a person who hits .350 or wins the lottery is lucky and a person who hits .180 or gets hit by a train is unlucky. Instead, I believe in systems of probability.

That doesn’t mean that I think everything is within someone’s control, that people rise or fall on their own merits alone. It means that sometimes people succeed or fail for reasons we can’t explain … but those reasons are not “luck.” Luck is an amorphous cop-out, a way to make us feel better than simply stating that we can’t explain or understand something with many complicated, and sometimes unknown, variables.

I bring this up because I cannot stand all this talk about Eric Hosmer and luck. Rex Hudler loves to look at Hosmer’s terrible performance so far and write it off as bad luck using his typically atrocious Hud idioms. He believes, as do many, that because his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is low, that Hosmer’s had “bad luck.”

It’s not bad luck. It’s probably not working out in his favor. It’s a mathematical certainty that it won’t work out in some cases and it will in others. That’s not luck. That’s just reality.

But the fact that Hudler, and many others, calls it “luck” isn’t what bothers me. The fact that Hudler, and many Royals fans, analysts, and bloggers, ignore actual problems with his play and simply call it “bad luck” bothers me. His BABIP as of Saturday (before the game against the Orioles) was .194; that’s very, very low. Now, instead of simply chalking it up to “bad luck,” let’s think about why that might be the case.

Possible reasons for Hosmer’s struggles (excluding ridiculous ideas of Voodoo or luck):

He’s hitting it right to defenders

This is one element that mostly seems out of Hosmer’s control. Hudler loves pointing out how Hosmer’s hit a number of hard-hit balls at defenders. I’m fine with that. I know that is the case, and that eventually the systems of probability will tilt in his favor, as they appeared to on Saturday. That’s fine. By watching the games, we can see that Hosmer has had quite a few balls hit right to defenders—I refuse to call them at-em balls. But these cannot fully explain his horrific start.

Weak ground balls

An article on Fangraphs recently attributed Hosmer’s poor BABIP, in part, to “bad luck” on ground balls. He had a .072 BABIP up to May 23 on grounders. But if you’ve watched the games, you’ve seen him routinely hit weak ground balls. All ground balls are not created equal. Some are hit hard; some are hit softly. Often, those hit softly come from a hitter who, instead of driving outside pitches to the opposite field, rolls over on them and hits weak ground balls to his pull field. Hosmer has hit many weak ground balls this year for that very reason. This is also why teams employ the shift on him because he rarely hits ground balls to his opposite field (left field). All those weak ground balls aren’t “bad luck;” they’re bad hitting. Rolling over on outside pitching is something young hitters do.

Hosmer has trouble closing

Last season I remember a conversation with my brother about how I thought Hosmer’s swing looked a little funky. He was crushing the ball so I wrote it off as a trick of the camera, which isn’t exactly a straight look at the hitter. Now, I know my feeling was correct. Hosmer starts with an open stance and doesn’t close all the way. Occasionally, last season, his body would be entirely committed to the right side, and he would throw the bat out, make a little contact, and get a hit out of it—sometimes a hard hit. That’s not happening this year, but teams are still working him away, away, away to take advantage of him opening up so much. I have to give Hudler a little credit. He has pointed this out a couple times during the broadcasts. I’m sure there’s a method behind this approach, but an adjustment needs to be made in some way (lay off outside pitching, close more completely with his step) or Hosmer will not reach his full potential.

A confused approach

This part is entirely my speculation, but there are times when I watch Hosmer’s at bats, and I feel like he doesn’t really have a plan for what he wants to do up there. Or that he has a plan but doesn’t really stick to it. Last season, I was stunned at the young man’s poise. It looked like he always had a plan depending on the situation and did a great job executing it. Now, there are times when he looks so desperate up there that he’s just swinging out of his shoes at whatever the pitcher throws (I know his plate discipline numbers look better. I’m just thinking about what it looks like). Consequently, he looks like one of the worst two-strike hitters the Royals have, swinging out of his shoes when he needs to just put the ball in play.

I don’t want to be an alarmist. I believe Hosmer will get out of his funk and be a terrific baseball player. He’s got talent like Mr. T has gold chains and broken dreams. But don’t let that talent fool you into writing off his struggles. He’s struggling not simply because of “luck.” To write it off as “bad luck” does him a disservice. It’s not bad luck; it’s bad play. Everyone plays poorly from time to time. Let’s recognize it for what it is, and hope that he’s working to make the adjustments necessary to turn this thing around.

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