Can Eric Hosmer Become A Power First Baseman for the Kansas City Royals?
As the Kansas City Royals enter Spring Training, Kings of Kauffman will release a series of articles on the 25-man roster. We will be going through each individual player, including the locks, bubble players, and a few prospects. We will progress through the roster from the top down, continuing with the projected starting lineup.
Today, we will be looking at Eric Hosmer
"2015 stats – .297/.363/.459, 18 HR, 93 RBI, 98 R, 125 wRC+, 3.5 fWAR2016 Steamer – .285/.348/.448, 18 HR, 82 RBI, 75 R, 117 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR"
Projected Role – Starting First Baseman
2015 was, without a doubt, Eric Hosmer’s best and most complete season as a major leaguer. He set career highs in RBI, R, OBP, SLG, wOBA, wRC+, and fWAR. He also passed George Brett as the Royals all-time postseason RBI leader.
Hosmer’s career hasn’t exactly followed the course that was expected, however, and that’s not a bad thing. The player that comes to mind is Alex Gordon. Remember when Gordon came up, and he was going to be the savior? He was going to hit 30+ homers, drive in 100+ RBI, steal bases, and just be a juggernaut?
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If you’re saying yes, you also remember that that never happened. However, what did happen was that he adjusted to the league, and became good at just about everything. Ironically enough, eight seasons later, Gordon was that juggernaut, being the second best player in the American League on a team that would go to it’s first World Series in 30 years.
It just wasn’t the juggernaut we envisioned.
That’s kind of where Hosmer stands right now. There’s a really good chance that Hosmer never hits 25 home runs. Heck, there’s a decent chance he never hits 20 home runs. Ordinarily, that’s a killer for a first baseman. Paul Sporer of Rotographs dug into Hosmer’s struggles with his position.
"He still doesn’t have a 20-HR season and while he did miss time last year, he only hit 9 HR in 547 PA. League average ISO in his career has ranged from .135 (2014) to .151 (2012). He has topped .151 twice and been below .135 twice. The problem is that he’s already walking the wire with his power at first base so while is power passable for the league, against his 1B peers, he’s in big trouble."
With Hosmer, however, it isn’t. He has evolved into a different player than is ordinarily accepted at that position. He gets on base. He can run the bases. He scores runs. And he’s as good at first as anybody in the business.
It still makes me laugh that almost every player on the Royals is in some way a microcosm of the teams philosophy. That’s why it’s so hard to get this team’s value down on paper, and why it’s so hard to quantify how they’re winning.
I’ve never seen a team buy into a philosophy quite like the Royals have, and Hosmer is no exception. He’s a clean up hitter that failed to hit 20 homers in 2015. He was also a clean up hitter with a 3.5 fWAR on a World Series winning team.
With all that being said, I did cringe when I wrote the title for this piece, because it’s the same question we’ve been asking for years.
As much as Hosmer has shown that his value is not orthodox for his position, he give us just enough of the orthodox value to make us think he could be that guy at some point. That guy being the 25-homer, .500 slugging, .200+ ISO guy. Will this year finally be that year?
I mean, maybe. Who’s to say? If I were using my gut, sure, I think he’ll have at least one of those seasons.
Lets compare him to Billy Butler, for a second. Both guys had above average on-base skills, worked more gap-to-gap than pole-to-pole, and hit ground balls at a high rate. Both guys had an, at time, elite hit tool and seemingly^ had that clutch gene.
^I say seemingly because I’m not very much into being clutch or the value of driving in runs. However, I won’t deny that both of them had/have a innate to bring runs home when they are to be had.
The real killer for both guys was their inability to get the ball of the ground consistently.
Earlier in Billy’s career, he hit enough line drives to get away with the high ground ball count. He was hitting so many doubles and getting on-base so much, that we weren’t all that concerned with his pedestrian home run totals for his position. However, he hit that 2012 season and…nothing changed.
He still hit a lot of ground balls, actually hit less fly balls, and hit a ton of line drives. However, for that one season, he posted a 19.9% HR/FB% rate. His fly balls were finally leaving the yard.
Last season was Hosmer’s best season, in terms of line drives (23.4%) while it was also his worst in fly balls (24.4%). Similar to Butler, he also posted a career high in HR/FB% (15.1%) despite not hitting a lot of fly balls.
I always go to LD%, because line drives means a hitter is squaring the ball up.
Aside from the fact that some of Hosmer’s homers were line drives, it’s also worth noting that his high line drive count signifies that he was generally squaring the ball up, which is as important as hitting the ball hard when you have the strength of a guy like Hosmer, or Kendrys Morales.
Hosmer’s problem will always be that he just doesn’t get enough lift on the ball. Sporer talks about his as well.
"He’s been a groundball hitter from day 1, a bad trait for a wannabe power hitter. He has hit at least 50% of his batted balls on the ground, including 52% this past season. Only five of the 55 hitters with 20+ HR also had a 50% or higher GB rate, but none of them reached Hosmer’s 52% mark and none were first basemen."
To come back to the point, yes, I do think Hosmer has at least one monster year in him. He’s headed into his age 26 season, so he still has some time to do it.
My personal opinion is that he’s not going to be a guy who consistently gives you 20-25 homers, even in the future, because his swing isn’t built for that. He’s just not going to hit enough fly balls to hit that many home runs, consistently.
Think of Jason Heyward as a comparison. He has the pop, and has shown it, but his swing just isn’t’ conducive to consistent home run power. However, Heyward has hit 27 home runs in a season before.
I think Hosmer is in the same boat. But I think his value is going to be more consistently in his ability to live in the gaps, get on base, score runs, and play a heck of a first base.
As we have seen with Gordon, being able to do everything well can be just as valuable as having one elite tool.