Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer is finally playing like the superstar that scouts projected him to become when Kansas City made him the third overall pick of the 2008 draft. Heat map data shows why the breakthrough isn’t just a hot streak.
In the first five seasons of his career, 26-year-old Eric Hosmer has been more of a good, rather than great, hitter for the Kansas City Royals. With a career .282/.339/.434 triple slash and a season high of 19 home runs, Hosmer is only a slightly-above average first baseman at the plate.
Yes, Hosmer has been a star because of his ability hit in the clutch and his outstanding defense that has won him three Gold Gloves. However, Hosmer has never been the middle-of-the-order masher that the KC Royals could build their offense around. Instead, he’s been more of a link-in-the-chain hitter.
That’s pretty much what you have to become to be among the best first basemen in the game such as Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, and Anthony Rizzo. In the recent past, Albert Pujols was the model for consistency at first base while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.
This season, however, Kansas City Royals Eric Hosmer belongs among the best first sackers in the game.
Is it just an extended hot streak, or has Eric Hosmer made a breakthrough that makes you expect vastly improved performance through the prime seasons of his career?
One look at his heat map data suggests that the new-and-improved Eric Hosmer is here to stay for quite a few seasons to come. Here is Hosmer’s career swing percentage heat map from Brooks Baseball:
Notice that Hosmer swung at a lot of low and outside pitches throughout his career. In short, his strike zone discipline has been his biggest limitation as a hitter. This winter, I wrote that Hosmer needed to improve in this area in order to become a superstar.
Eric Hosmer’s swing percentage heat map from this season shows he’s done exactly what I said he needed to do: develop strike zone discipline:
Eric Hosmer has shown a massive improvement. .Just look at the low pitches. He’s now laying off the pitches in the dirt that he’s swung at nearly half the time throughout his career. Hosmer is also refusing to offer at pitches off the outer edge (to the left side of this diagram for a left-handed hitter like Hosmer).
According to his plate discipline data from Fangraphs.com, Hosmer is swinging at a career-low 29.5% of pitches outside the strike zone. That’s a steep drop from his career rate of 34.4% and his 2015 rate of 33.7%. That puts Hosmer right in line with Miguel Cabrera’s career out-of-zone percentage of 28.9%.
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The bottom-line result has been a career-best .327/.388/.553 triple slash that has him on pace for 32 home runs this season, which would crush his previous season high of 19 (set as a rookie in 2011).
So why is this a permanent change? Because strike zone discipline is about pitch recognition. It’s not about bat speed (which declines with age), or the ability to smash a baseball a long way. Pitch recognition is in your head. Once you’ve got it, it’s likely to remain throughout a player’s career.
Enjoy Kansas City Royals fans. The new and improved Eric Hosmer looks like he’s here to stay.