On May 27, the Royals were 24-27. Yordano Ventura had suffered an elbow injury that everyone assumed was a precursor to Tommy John surgery. By my calculations, the Royals had at that point hit fewer home runs than bills that Congress actually passed, an astonishing feat. Rany Jazayerli, unhappy with the world, was full of righteous anger:
Ned Yost is finally mad, huh? I see really only one move the Royals can make that sends the appropriate message: demote Eric Hosmer. Really.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) May 28, 2014
Sending Hosmer down before it reached June would probably be a knee-jerk reaction, and the Royals rightfully didn't do it then. Today is July 1. Time's up.
Eric Hosmer should be demoted and sent to Omaha. This is not a phrase you wanted to hear, well, ever, but it needs to happen now more than ever for a multitude of reasons.
Hosmer's 2013 ended with a bang. From June 6 to the end of the year, Hosmer was one of the best hitters in the American League, hitting .322/.372/.505. He was a force, and was the main offensive cog in the machine that led the Royals to an 86-76 finish. However, he began the year continuing from his horrendous 2012, hitting .259/.313/.325 until June 6.
Well, it's June 30, and Hosmer is hitting .246/.286/.344. That is uncannily similar to his beginning of 2013, but unlike last year, there are no signs that Hosmer will exit his slump. He's getting worse.
Hosmer is showing a complete breakdown. Just by watching him, you can see that something is wrong. He's swinging at balls extremely out of the strike zone. He's getting hittable pitches and fouling them back. He's striking out. Nothing is working--Hosmer is currently hitting worse than every hitter in the lineup except for Moose, and they are getting closer and closer everyday. All in all, Hosmer is hitting 28% below league average, or 5% worse than Yuniesky Betancourt's career numbers. Reread that sentence if you dare.
What's wrong with Hosmer? Well, let's go over it:
- He's not hitting for average
Hosmer's average is .246; this is not awful, no, but the league average is .251. Hosmer is supposed to be a talented pure hitter who hits for a high average, and not doing so is a huge red flag. Now, some of this is due to his BABIP--he does have a .285 BABIP--but .15 points below league average does not really constitute as awful.
- He's not hitting for power
Hosmer' ISO is not good--he has a .99 ISO, .28 lower than his previous worst. Now, Hosmer is not a huge HR power-hitting guy; his offensive strength comes from high average and consistent doubles/HR power. Gordon is a pretty good comparison here--lots of doubles and 20ish home runs per year--and Gordon's ISO since becoming a left fielder is .170.
- His plate discipline has declined
Honestly, Hosmer has been pretty disappointing in the plate discipline department. His career walk % is only 7.3, and his career strikeout % is 15.4; though his K% is 5 points below league average, he has walked less often than the 7.9% that hitters are doing this year. This year? BB% of 5.3 and K% of 16.9. That's not good. That's bad. Very bad.
- He's hitting fewer line drives
Line drives are a great hitting sign; they signify solid contact and turn into hits more often than any other batted ball type. His line drive % has plummeted from a career 19.1 to 14.4.
- He's swinging outside of the zone more often
Swinging outside the zone is usually not the best idea; that's when a lot of off-speed, strikeout pitches are tossed and often are in a position that prohibits solid contact. This year, that number is 38.2%. His career is 34.8%.
So, to recap: Hosmer is not hitting for average, not walking, not hitting for power, not making solid contact, and swinging at pitches outside the zone. Maybe we could forgive a vice or two, but this quintet is squashing his offensive contributions.
Furthermore, according to the advanced defensive metrics, Hosmer is not a good fielder. Yes, he has a Gold Glove, but Derek Jeter has five of them and we all know how much range he's got to his left. Somebody's clearly wrong--either the defensive metrics or the eye test--but since we can't evaluate the eye test, we'll focus on the numbers for now.
There are a bevy of defensive statistics, and unlike offensive statistics, there isn't one simple way to quantify defense. Hosmer's fielding percentage at first is .993, which means he makes an error 7 times out of 1000 chances. Between 2011 and 2014 compared to first basemen with at least 1500 innings played, Hosmer is 24th out of 38. When moving on past simple fielding percentage, the results don't get any better. By UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), Hosmer is 31st in the same group with a UZR/150 of -5.7; by the Fielding Bible's DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), Hosmer is 25th at -5.
Regardless what you feel about the defensive statistics, both traditional and non-traditional statistics are telling the same story: Eric Hosmer is not a great fielder. This flies against the narrative, but, again, these numbers are all we have.
So who would replace Hosmer? The answer is Billy Butler. In fact, not only does sending Hosmer to Omaha help him by allowing him to refocus on mechanics and sharpen his mentality and approach, but the 2014 Royals are better off without him. Sure, Hosmer may turn it on like he did last year, but in a contending year, that should be unacceptable, considering the Royals have a better option in Butler.
Butler's defensive shortcomings are greatly exaggerated, at least compared to Hosmer. Butler's .992 fielding percentage and -6.1 UZR/150 are both extremely close to Hosmer, though DRS has Butler at -19, quite a bit worse. Butler is likely a defensive downgrade from Hosmer, but not by as much as you would think, and there's another factor to consider. For his career, Butler hits better as a first baseman than he does as a DH. He boasts an .846 OPS at first and a .797 OPS as a DH. Is this a fluke? Possibly, but also possibly not; fielders are involved in the game at all times and the DH sits for a good 40 minutes between plate appearances. It cannot be assumed that Butler will continue to be better as a 1B than a DH, but his track record at least suggests it, and it is at least worth a try.
With Butler at first, the DH spot then becomes a rotating position based on the starting pitcher that day. Valencia, Dyson, Aoki, Ibanez, and Perez all would likely spend time at the position. In particular, it allows Perez to take more days off as catcher while also preserving his bat and team-leading slugging percentage in the lineup. Perez is, by far, the most valuable individual on the 2014 Royals going forward and should be protected as much as he can.
Do I want Hosmer to fail, or do I enjoy it? No. I root for the guy; he's my fiancee's favorite player on the Royals, and our very first game together was Hosmer's Major League debut. But demoting Hosmer is best for him and for the Royals.
They won't do it. For this reason and others, I hope Hosmer proves me wrong.