Eric Hosmer had a terrible season. This is fact. The amount of sugarcoating to suggest otherwise would be too much for even Willy Wonka. Hosmer started bad (.188/.274/.388 in April), he finished even worse (.179/.264/.295 in September/October). He was supposed to be the second coming of Will Clark. Instead we were treated to some bizzare reincarnation of Todd Benzinger. It. Was. Ugly.
Sophomore slumps aren’t new to Royals fans. We’ve seen some of the most talented players in franchise history succumb to it’s vile ways (I’m looking at you, Carlos Beltran and Zack Greinke). I’m fairly confident Hosmer will bounce back and have a great season next year. Baseball history also suggests a bounce back season. Players who put up a similar OPS+ as Hosmer produced at age 21, and then struggled at 22, went on to productive, and in some cases Hall of Fame, careers.
What I was curious the most about was age 23 and how these players performed the year after their season long slump. So I fired up play index and looked at all the players since 1901 who put up an OPS+ in the 110-125 range as a 21 year old in their first or second season (min. 502 plate appearances). I added the second season to account for players who may have been September call ups at age 20. Anyway, PI spit out 21 seasons, not counting Hosmer’s 2011. I then divided the 21 players into two categories – those above league average at age 22 and those below. I ended up with 8 players in the below average group, 7 of which rebounded at age 23. I think you’re going to like some of these names.
Richie Ashburn – Age 21, 123 OPS+ | Age 22, 88 OPS+
Ashburn hit .333/.410/.400 as a 21 year old rookie and finished 3rd in ROY and 11th in MVP voting. He followed his first season with a disappointing .284/.343/.349 line his sophomore campaign. Ashburn rebounded his third year hitting .302/.372/.403 as a 23 year old. Those numbers were good for a 105 OPS+. Now, a 105 OPS+ isn’t particularly impressive in any era but it did get Ashburn back on track to an eventual Hall of Fame career. A Veteran’s Committee selection, but still.
Ron Santo – Age 21, 122 OPS+ | Age 22, 74 OPS+
Santo’s age 22 slash stats were as close to Hosmer’s as you will find.
Santo – .227/.304/.358
Hosmer – .232/.304/.359
Santo simply shook off the terrible season and put up a 128 OPS+ at age 23. He hit .297/.339/.481 with 25 home runs, 99 RBIs and was a first time All Star selection. Another Veteran’s Committee selection, Santo’s long overdue induction into the Hall of Fame occurred this past summer.
George Burns – Age 21, 119 OPS+ | Age 22, 91 OPS+
No, not that George Burns. Burns, the baseball player, put up a 110 OPS+ at 23 in 1916. He was pretty bad at 24 too (78 OPS+) but he posted a 158 OPS+ at 25 and won an MVP award in 1926 when he hit an an impressive 64 doubles. It was actually called the League Award then and an American League player could only win it once. That’s why, despite 47 home runs and a 225 OPS+, Babe Ruth was ineligible. He won the award in 1923.
Delino DeShields – Age 21, 116 OPS+ | Age 22, 94 OPS+
DeShields hit .292/.359/.398 with a 115 OPS+ at age 23. He walked 95 times and stole 56 bases the year before so his age 22 season wasn’t as disappointing as some of the others. If Hosmer had walked that many times we’d view his 2012 season much differently.
Rod Carew – Age 21, 113 OPS+ | Age 22, 95 OPS+
Carew won the Rookie of the Year award at 21 when he hit .292/.341/.409, numbers fairly close to the .293/.334/.465 line Hosmer put up his rookie season. Carew’s .312/.347 OBP/SLG at 22 also were fairly close to Hosmer’s. To say Carew rebounded is an understatement. He wouldn’t post an OPS+ below 100 again until his final season at age 38. At age 23 he hit .332/.386/.467 with a 134 OPS+ and won the first of his seven batting titles. Carew batted over .300 every year from 1969-1983 and ended his career with 3,053 hits and a 134 OPS+. He was a 1991 Hall of Fame selection. I think Hosmer is potentially more Santo than Carew but this is my favorite comp.
Gary Carter – Age 21, 112 OPS+ | Age 22, 66 OPS+
The fourth Hall of Famer on this list (2003) Carter hit 31 home runs with a 138 OPS+ at 23. This was the start of a ten year run where he averaged 25 home runs and a 128 OPS+ a season. Those are phenomenal numbers for a catcher then and now. The 66 OPS+ at age 22 would go down as the second worst of his career.
Garry Templeton – Age 21, 110 OPS+ | Age 22, 91 OPS+
A few years before wearing out his welcome in St. Louis, Templeton put up a 112 OPS+ in 1979 at age 23. He led the NL in hits with 211 and also led in triples for the third consecutive year. After being traded for Ozzie Smith after the 1981 season he apparently forgot how to hit. He had a 104 career OPS+ before the trade but managed a meager 76 OPS+ for the remainder of his career.
And then, there was….
Rick Manning – Age 21, 116 OPS+ | Age 22, 71 OPS+
Manning played 13 seasons in the big leagues but the only seasons with a 100 or higher OPS+ came in his first two (101 at age 20). I suppose this is Hosmer’s worst case scenario but then this would be a lot of players worst case scenario. Manning just wasn’t a very good hitter.