KC Royals: Eric Hosmer Is Underrated By Projection Systems


KC Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer is a bona-fina star. His mad dash for home plate in Game 5 of the World Series is largely credited as the key play that sealed the Kansas City Royals championship. He’s won his third straight gold glove, appeared on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and dates the stun local news reporter Kacie McDonnell.

Despite all of these accolades, Steamer still projects Hosmer as little more than an average position player at 2.4 WAR for 2016. This low esteem isn’t anything new. Last season, ZiPs saw Eric Hosmer as an almost dead average 2.0 WAR player, PECOTA had Hosmer at 1.9 WAR, and Steamer projected 2.3 WAR.

Hosmer ended up producing 3.6 WAR according to Baseball-Reference.com and 3.4 WAR according to Fangraphs.com.

So, what gives? Projections systems are not human beings so we can’t accuse them of bias. Why do projection systems consistently under-rate Eric Hosmer relative to his perception around the league?

There are two reasons why most value models view the 26-year-old Hosmer as little more than an average player: 1) inconsistent offensive production and 2) limits of current defensive metrics in evaluating first basemen.

The first rationale is pretty legitimate. Eric Hosmer has produced every other season as we can see from his career stats:

5 Yrs278336977915114773684915237478.280.336.427.763108
162 Game Avg.61982173343178211353106.280.336.427.763108
AL (5 yrs)278336977915114773684915237478.280.336.427.763108

We see a clear pattern of good seasons followed by bad seasons. Going into his sixth full year in the major leagues, KC Royals fans hope Eric Hosmer has figured things out to the point that we can expect consistent production. But, his career pattern gives us little reason for such an expectation.

The second reason for Hosmer’s poor projections is due to defensive systems emphasizing range. Thus, Eric Hosmer has exceeded a -10.0 DEF ranking on Fangraphs.com the last three seasons—a period in which he won three straight gold gloves.

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Range, however, isn’t the most important factor for a first baseman. Instead, first sackers earn their bones with their ability to pick poor throws out of the dirt. As far as I know, no major defensive metric evaluates that ability other than to evaluate expected errors. They do not tell you how many errant throws a first baseman saves his infielders, but the eye test tells you that Hosmer excels in this area.

That’s why Eric Hosmer wins gold gloves.

In fact, one of the signature abilities of the Kansas City Royals defense is that they often make strong plays at both ends: an infielder makes a difficult pick that leads to an off target throw that Hosmer is able to salvage for an out.

In many ways, some of the highlight-reel defensive plays that have gotten credited to the likes of Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Omar Infante over the last few seasons are in large part due to Eric Hosmer. Kansas City Royals infielders have the confidence to sling off-balance throws to first base because they know Hosmer will usually come down with the ball if they misfire.

How much do the defensive metrics undersell Hosmer’s true ability? If I could quantify Hosmer defense, I’d create my own metric to more accurately rate first basemen. To give my rough sense, I’d estimate that Hosmer was at least as valuable as Mike Moustakas’  4.4 bWAR last season. In fact, I think most pundits and fans that watched the KC Royals regularly last season would take Hoz over Moose if forced to pick one.

All of this suggests that Hosmer’s defense should be worth 1.0 to 1.5 WAR of ignored value. Add this defensive adjustment to Steamer’s 2016 projection and we get a range of 3.4 to 3.9 WAR.

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Considering that 5.0 WAR typically puts a hitter among the top 20 position players in baseball, such an evaluation seems more in line with perceptions about Eric Hosmer.