Hosmer’s Struggles


About two weeks ago there were enough Royals fans on Twitter and other places bemoaning the struggles of Gold Glove left fielder Alex Gordon, saying that his cold start at the plate reminded of the “same old Gordon”. Without having much of a grasp on sample sizes, these fans were just certain that Gordon’s career breakout-year of 2011 was his fluke season, and that all the strikeouts looking were sure to doom. Well, 13 hits, 7 walks, 3 homeruns, and a few more dazzling defensive plays over the last ten games, and the outlook on Gordon’s 2012 season has completely changed.

Take that small sample sizes.

Now though, sites have turned to Eric Hosmer, even to the point of a ridiculous notion – again started on Twitter – a few days ago that the 22-year-old first baseman, should be sent back to Omaha so he can get back on track. (These no doubt are the same people that think Clint Robinson could hit just as well as Billy Butler)

After the loss to the Twins on Sunday, Hosmer is hitting a rather unsightly .198/.286/.407 through the season’s first month, and while there is some cause for concern that Hosmer may allow the numbers to get to him mentality, there really hasn’t been much evidence of it.

That’s because there isn’t much change from the Eric Hosmer of last year and the Eric Hosmer of this year. Check out this chart showing Hosmer’s plate discipline and swing rates from 2011 and to this point so far in April:

What’s surprising about these numbers is Hosmer’s outside-swing percentage is actually far less than what it was a year ago, and his overall swing percentage is as well. So good news there. Throughout the minors Hosmer was well regarded for his plate discipline and his approach at the plate, something few other recent Royals prospects have been known for, so seeing him actually swinging less overall, and less at pitches outside the zone, is encouraging.

The silver lining is his zone-contact percentage. Whether or not Hosmer proves to be a near 88% contact with pitches in the zone throughout his career remains to be seen (and in large part, I suppose, all of these numbers remain to be seen, because it’s only going off of one season of date) but you’d like to assume there wouldn’t be a near 10% decrease from one year to the next. So a 79.1% contact on pitches in the zone is a bit unsettling because presumably he’s swinging and missing at pitches he ordinarily shouldn’t be missing, but it’s safe to conclude that trend won’t continue. If there’s one trait we’ve seen from Hosmer over the past year that sets him apart from other players in the league, it’s his ability to barrel pitches in the zone.

Need more encouraging news? Usually slumps, or prolonged slumps, are tied to batters creating weak contact or no contact at all. Or both. And while the swings and misses at in-the-zone pitches are up for Hosmer, his line-drive percentage is also up:

Even though a 19.4 line-drive percentage would rank Hosmer behind some 130 other players around baseball this year for batted balls, at the very least there is an increase from this year to last. And even though there’s only one year of data to go from (as above) it is at least encouraging to see that Hosmer is at least hitting the ball (at least when there’s contact) with the same authority or a little better as a season ago.

So what does this all mean? Well, this slump can’t continue. It just can’t. Eric Hosmer last year finished with a .314 BABIP which may be a touch high, it isn’t at all an outlier, and from what we know from the numbers some players (like Matt Kemp for instance) can carry and sustain higher BABIPs than others. Hosmer’s BABIP so far in 2012: .164 (!)

One. Freaking. Sixty. Four.

That number will normalize. It has to or else this will be the season that defies all logic, and Hosmer would have every right to go mentally insane. For the time being though, fans, and Hosmer himself, just need to ride out this storm until things start to fall back into the place they should.

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