Eric Hosmer: Making Hittable Pitches Less Hittable


Yesterday, I wrote about how Alex Gordon has been so great over the last month. Today, I’m writing about how Eric Hosmer has been much less great over the last month. If you’ve watched many games recently, you can see that Hosmer is struggling at the plate. His swing and approach look terrible, and those struggles are even more evident in the numbers. Since May 10th, Hosmer is hitting .178/.215/.248, with 7 doubles, 4 walks (1 intentional walk, for some reason), and 23 strikeouts. That’s a .463 OPS. For comparison, Mike Moustakas has a .575 OPS with 5 extra-base hits in that span, in just over a third of the plate appearances.

Those awful 107 plate appearances have driven his season-long batting line to .264/.305/.360, which translates to a wRC+ of 82. Typically, first basemen hit slightly better than that. As I mentioned earlier this week, Hosmer was the worst first baseman in baseball during the month of May. For the season, though, only 2 qualified first basemen have been less productive at the plate. Thank goodness Justin Smoak and Yonder Alonso exist, I guess.

There are several different things wrong with Hosmer right now – 14.9% line drive rate, decreased batted ball distance, .189 average on fastballs, to name a few – but I’d like to focus on just a couple of them. First of all – and what may be more noticeable than anything else – Hosmer is swinging at everything. Not literally everything, because that would literally never happen, but he’s swinging at far more pitches than he should. This season, his O-Swing% is 35.9%, which is slightly higher than his career average of 34.6%. Once again, swinging at bad pitches is bad.

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His propensity for swinging isn’t the only thing to blame, however. In fact, Hosmer has always been a bit of a free swinger. Since 2011, the only Royals to have a higher O-Swing% than Hosmer (minimum 800 plate appearances) are Salvador Perez and Jeff Francoeur. Hosmer is far from Gordon and Billy Butler in terms of discipline. This season, though, Hosmer’s making more contact on pitches out of the zone (O-Contact% of 76.3%), so again we see a case of a Royals hitter making contact on pitches that are tough to drive.

Usually, it’s that contact on balls that is the biggest issue for players displaying a lack of power. But in Hosmer’s case, it’s actually the contact he’s making on pitches inside the strike zone that’s the problem.

To illustrate the issue, I want to look at a few heat maps. First, we’ll look at Hosmer’s popups. In this instance, popups aren’t exclusively infield fly balls, but they still result in outs more often than the other batted ball types. Here is the zone profile on popups per ball in play from Hosmer’s first three seasons:

Now, here is the same zone profile, but for 2014:

That’s kind of a big difference. From 2011-2013, Hosmer did a fairly good job of not popping up pitches in the zone, and only inside pitches really gave him much trouble. This year, he’s been less good at that. Notice how high the percentages are at the thigh-high level. You might think that would be a bad spot for a pitcher to throw, but against Hosmer, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fairness, his popup rate is lower in other parts of the zone, but the fact that it’s so high in the middle is concerning.

To further drive home the point that Hosmer is making weak contact on pitches in the zone, let’s also look at his isolated slugging percentage. I could use slugging percentage, but one of the main problems with Hosmer is his lack of power, and I don’t want to factor in those BABIP singles he’s been racking up. Here’s the aforementioned heat map from 2011-2013:

And this is what Hosmer’s doing on those pitches in 2014:

Again, woof. Hosmer is doing basically nothing with the most hittable pitches he sees. As you can see from the first picture, Hosmer had been successful in collecting extra-base hits on balls in most parts of the strike zone, until this season. Even during his disastrous 2012, Hosmer was still showing some extra-base power. In 2014, he’s hit 20 doubles, but that is the full extent of his pop. For a first baseman, that kind of slap-hitting ability just won’t do.

Watching him swing the bat is a painful experience right now. Hosmer is making it easier for opposing pitchers, since they don’t really have to throw a strike, knowing he’ll chase, but if they do miss their spot and leave something over the plate, not much damage will be done.

When a pitcher makes a mistake against a player who is supposed to be a “middle-of-the-order bat,” that player should make the pitcher pay. Hosmer’s not doing that, and as a result, his numbers and the team’s numbers have severely suffered. Until (unless?) Hosmer returns to his old form, the Royals’ offense will likely continue to sputter along, so it’s imperative he and the team find a solution soon.