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The seesaw bat of Eric Hosmer

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Should we be worried about him? Or is he just an extremely streaky hitter?

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We all know the Eric Hosmer story. Dayton Moore's first round pick in 2008, Hosmer tore through the minor leagues and made his major league debut in May 2011, Moore's first big-time prospect to do so. Mrs. LaMar and myself happened to attend his debut, a two walk performance with a steal and a tricky 3-6-3 double play turned at Kauffman Stadium.

Hosmer's rookie year was a revelation. He hit .293/.334/.465 for a wRC+ of 113, impressing with his power, athleticism, and defensive skill.  He finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Jeremy Hellickson and Mark Trumbo.

Since then, Hosmer has accumulated 2,645 plate appearances in 631 games for the Kansas City Royals. And I have no idea what kind of player he is

Let's start with defense. Hosmer's defensive numbers have varied drastically over the course of his career. From 2011-2012, Hosmer's DRS was a terrible -14.  Since then (from 2013-2015), his DRS has been 8. Hosmer won his second gold glove last year, and scouts drool over his athleticism and skills at first base. Anecdotally, teammates like Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas thoroughly enjoy having him man first base, as their confidence in him allows them to take chances throwing when they might not otherwise. Hosmer certainly looks the part of a good defender. It's most likely that Hosmer's terrible 2011-2012 numbers were due to positioning, as his numbers went from terrible to good overnight.

Offensively though...geez.

All players go through slumps. Every last one of them, including the greats. Baseball is 162 games long, and ~600 plate appearances is plenty for a player to go through good and bad stretches.

But Eric Hosmer is a total enigma at the plate, from a macro scale to a micro scale. Just take a look at his career slashes:

  • 2011: .293/.334/.465/.799
  • 2012: .232/.304/.359/.663
  • 2013: .302/.353/.448/.801
  • 2014: .270/.318/.398/.716
  • 2015: .294/.363/.461/.824

The swings in OPS points between seasons go 136, 138, 85, 108 for an average difference between seasons of 117 points. Hosmer's offensive consistency at the major league level is basically zero. This isn't just a 'hitters have inconsistencies between seasons' thing, either. Among Hosmer's main teammates since 2011--Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, and Jarrod Dyson--only Dyson, Escobar, Cain, and Moustakas had any season-to-season difference of over 85 points, Hosmer's lowest swing in his career.  Only Escobar and Moustakas had a single season-to-season difference in which they exceeded Hosmer's average swing in his career. Hosmer has been unable to carry any momentum between seasons.

Zooming in from a macro to a more micro perspective, Hosmer suffers severe and sudden bouts of lack of production without warning.  Sure, they are slumps, which, again, every player suffers. But Hosmer's are extreme and often last months long.

In 2013, from the beginning of the season until June 5, Hosmer hit .259/.313/.325/.638 in 215 PA.

In 2013, from June 6 until the end of the season, Hosmer hit .322/.372/.505/.877 in 465 PA.

In 2014, from the beginning of the season until June 30, Hosmer hit .246/.286/.344/.630 in 360 PA.

In 2014, from June 30 until the end of the playoffs, Hosmer hit .327/.407/.513/.920 in 253 PA.

In 2015, from the beginning of the season until May 15, Hosmer hit .333/.410/.574/.984 in 162 PA.

In 2015, from May 16 on, Hosmer has hit .230/.284/.276/.560 in 95 PA.

The usual caveats apply here. Again, slumps exist, and every player goes through them. Cherry-picking dates and selections of time can also be problematic. Still, these are large chunks of plate appearances--it isn't as if I'm picking out a week here or there or a comparing months. These are sections of time where Hosmer exhibits extreme shifts in offensive performance, and it's happened three years in a row.

So what can we glean from this, if anything? I think that Hosmer has proved that he is an extremely streaky hitter for his career. On a macro level, his seasons show no signs of consistency. On a micro level, his slumps are extended and unaffected by BABIP (he's got a .299 BABIP in his most recent one). It's true that all hitters get hot and cold, but some are more immune to dips in production than others. Hosmer is not one of those individuals.

Obviously, Hosmer's overall production this year has been very good. He is hitting 29% above league average and has a very solid 1.8 WAR, and it is only the middle of June. That fact can't be denied, and probably shouldn't be.

But should we be concerned about Hosmer? I have no idea. The mathematical problem with an average is that it does a very poor job of providing accurate results among a data set which oscillates wildly. Hosmer's career wRC+ is 106. The closest to that has been his 99 wRC+ performance last year. Otherwise, he's posted a wRC+ of 113, 80, 120, and 129. Hitting 29% above average is good, but I'm not sure that it's such a great indicator of skill or performance when he's hit 72% above league average for half the year and something like 50% below league average the other half.

How can Hosmer be Miguel Cabrera two months of the season and Omar Infante the next two months? That is probably the biggest issue, and one that I don't have a good answer to. To my amateur eye, Hosmer seems to be swinging at the right pitches for the most part, even in his slumps. But in his slumps, Hosmer is missing the pitches he would crush otherwise or, more commonly, harmlessly fouling them off.  Major League pitchers are very good, and as a batter you aren't likely to receive more than one or two mistake/hittable pitches per plate appearance if you're lucky.

The real Eric Hosmer has been hidden under extreme highs and extreme lows. His bat has seesawed back and forth from fantastic to terrible, with no warning and for extended periods of time.  Unfortunately, we are at a low point. It has been 27 games since he has hit a home run, 12 games since he hit for extra bases at all.  He continues to harmlessly ground out on mistake pitches and fouling off good pitches. If the real Eric would stand up, that would be great. If the real Eric is this Eric, then maybe staying seated would be the better move.