There have been plenty of complaints about the Royals pitching. We know that’s got to get better. But what about the hitting? The front office seems to think the pieces are in place, and most fans are quick to agree, even with the struggles of guys like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Even if Dayton Moore makes a repair or two in the rotation, the team still needs to score runs. Will they be ready?
In 2011, the offense showed great promise and put up 730 runs on the season. Kevin Seitzer was a genius and was credited with “fixing” guys like Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Francoeur. Then Eric Hosmer came up to the big leagues after ripping apart pitchers in AAA and looked like a natural. We saw Gordon struggle for a few years before hitting his stride in 2011. Hosmer, on the other hand, seemed like the type who would produce from day one. For all of 2011, he did just that…2012, however, was another story.
What happened? Does the blame fall on Seitzer? Was it just a sophomore slump? What causes a guy to have a drop of 61 points in batting average, 30 in OBP, and 106 in SLG? In 2012, Hosmer had 35 more plate appearances than in his rookie campaign, yet had 29 less hits with 5 less home runs and 5 less doubles.
I remember watching games this season and thinking to myself that Hosmer had to have the worst luck of any hitter on this team. Really of any hitter I’d closely watched in quite some time. It seems like he hit the ball hard pretty often, but always right at a defender. Don’t get me wrong, Hosmer had those stretches where he went into legitimate slumps, hitting soft grounders and easy fly outs. But how much of this season was bad luck vs. just plain bad?
For starters, I’m going take a quick look at his plate discipline. Hosmer’s walk rate was up 3.4% this year vs. 2011. His strikeout rate was also up, but only by 1.3%. In 2011, while hitting .293, his OBP was 41 points higher at .334. This year his average dipped all the way to .232, but his OBP was 72 points higher at .304. In the end…the .304 is obviously quite a bit worse than the year before…but the fact that his OBP was so much higher than his average in 2011 shows me he had a better eye this year.
If he was judging the strike zone at an improved rate from 2011, where did the dip in production come from? Was he not driving the ball? His line drive rate, according to FanGraphs, was basically identical – with 18.7% in 2011 vs. 18.5% in 2012. This tells me my initial thoughts about bad luck definitely have something to do with the drop in numbers. Hits that were driven into the outfield gaps or past diving infielders were now being driven into the gloves of shortstops and right fielders.
Taking a little bit closer of a look at luck, I can see Hosmer had a sharp decline in BABIP (batting average on balls in play). In 2011 that number was at .314, but dropped all the way to .255 in 2012. This goes back to his line drive rate being the same while giving him vastly different results.
All of this might have accounted for the drop in base hits and a lower amount of doubles, but what about Hosmer’s home run power? This was the area of most concern to me. Hosmer’s ground ball rate was up from 2011 by 3.9% while his fly ball rate was down by 3.8% – basically one offsets the other. If he’s hitting less balls into the outfield, he’s going to have less opportunity to see them carry over the wall. In addition to that drop, Hosmer also saw a drop of 2.2% in his HR-to-FB ratio.
Judging from the first batch of statistics I looked at, I see no reason to think Hosmer can’t turn around next year and hit .290, which is more in line with 2011. But what type of hitter will he ultimately be? Will he put up numbers similar to Alex Gordon and be a guy who hits a ton of doubles with 20 HR power? Or will some of those grounders turn back into fly balls, and those fly balls into homers?
Maybe that’s where a guy like Kevin Seitzer is somewhat to blame. Seitzer was never a power guy, and from all accounts, he taught what he knew – wait for your pitch and drive the ball to all fields. I’m not saying that’s a bad approach at all, but on a team without much power, maybe it’s not the best approach for everyone. Maybe it resulted in some guys, like Hosmer, tinkering too much and hitting for less power.
I’m not even sure how much of an effect hitting coaches have at this level. And I know Hosmer had some prolonged slumps this year that came from legitimately bad hitting. Maybe a new coach will make an impact…or maybe Hosmer just needs a little luck.