The beginning of the season for Eric Hosmer has not been amazing due to a lack of power, but he is doing one thing extremely well, and that is getting on base. Due to this, I went over to Baseball Heat Maps to see how his pitch selection has changed. If you look at the picture coming up, the top two show Eric’s swing rates in 2011 against left and right handed pitchers. The next two show 2012, and the third set shows this year. These are from the catcher’s perspective, so Hosmer would be standing on the right side of the picture. The scale on the right of each picture shows the color hierarchy going from purple, very low swing rates, to red which indicates swinging almost all the time in that area.
In his rookie season, we see that Hosmer swung mostly at inside pitches from lefties, and had a more center driven approach to right handed pitchers while still preferring inside over outside. Against right handed pitchers he swung most at pitches up and across the middle. The following year, which was a disaster, he swung a lot at pitches up above the strike zone again, and his swing rates on outside pitches increased. This year so far, Eric has managed to reduce the number of pitches he is swinging at up above the strike zone. In fact you can see the fatter blue portions, and green surrounding the strike zone pretty clearly. Hosmer has managed to avoid swinging outside of the zone a lot in the early part of 2013. His fangraphs page backs this up. Eric’s baseball info solutions O-Swing% (% of the time swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone) is just 25.8% compared to 36.7 and 33.5 in 2011 and 2012 respectively. The PITCHf/x O-Swing% shows a less drastic drop, but still the lowest of his career.
It seems that Hosmer is being a lot more picky this year when taking the bat off of his shoulder. This has lead to a solid 12.8% walk rate. The other thing that you can see on the heat maps is that the highest swing rates are middle/middle of the strike zone versus left and right handed pitchers. He is swinging less at pitches on the inner half of the plate where he had been swinging a lot over the last two years. At the same time he is swinging more at pitches low in the strike zone against righties, and not swinging at all at low pitches versus lefties. Granted that might be a sample size issue.
There is still a lot of concern about Eric, and rightfully so, from the fan base. Until he starts turning on mistakes and driving them into the stands we will all be a little bit nervous that he is destined to break our hearts. These heat maps do make me a little more optimistic though. If he can consistently swing at strikes and lay off of the high pitches out of the zone, it can only help him. Also, if this is the effect of the hitting coach changes in the off season, then it may be showing better selection with better results to follow as he gets used to the adjustments that have been made.