Eric Hosmer has been a bit of a lightning rod this season. Some observers were wowed by the first 25 HR 100 RBI of his career, his All-Star Game MVP performance, and his Gold Glove nomination at first base. Others look at his below-average offensive metrics for a first baseman, his terrible defensive metrics, and his sub-replacement level WAR.
The truth is probably somewhere in between. Eric Hosmer is not a platoon player nor is he a non-tender candidate, but he is also not a $200 million player or better than Miguel Cabrera. He is a first baseman with tremendous skill and ability who has produced largely below-average seasons in the Major Leagues.
Even this year, when some marveled at his home runs and RBI, his overall offensive performance was underwhelming. Hosmer ranked 18th among 23 qualified first baseman in baseball in OPS and 19th in Weighted Runs Created Plus, which takes into account league and ballpark. His 25 home runs seem impressive until you consider how much home runs spiked across baseball. The home run rate in baseball went from 3.7% to 3.9% this year, Eric Hosmer’s home run rate went from 2.7% in 2015 to 3.7% this year. Hosmer basically improved to become an average power hitter.
As for his 100 RBI, it has been widely written about how RBI is a flawed stat. While Hosmer does have some ability to drive in runs, his RBI total is a large product of getting lots of chances with runners on base. Hosmer was tied for 20th in all of baseball for most plate appearances with runners in scoring position, and 24th most with runner on base. He did perform well in those situations, hitting .309/.363/.500, but this was only 64th best for players with 100 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. In other words, Hosmer performed about as well as Kevin Pillar (who hit .324/.361/.491 in 120 plate appearances with runners scoring position, while Hosmer had 182). But Pillar had just 53 runs batted in. Hosmer had way more opportunities.
As far as his defense, there are reasons to doubt the metrics that say he is the worst defensive first baseman in baseball. But by the eye-test, Hosmer certainly seemed to have a drop-off in defensive performance, allowing more balls to get past him. I can say with quite a bit of certainty that Hosmer is not near the worst-defensive first baseman in baseball. But I also feel quite confident he is not one of the best either. He certainly looks the part, however, and I can’t help but wonder if he looked more like Billy Butler, would he still have won all those Gold Glove Awards?
You may read this and think "this guy is just a Hosmer-hater!" I’m not really. I like Eric Hosmer. Aesthetically, he’s a lot of fun to watch. He has a sweet, powerful swing, fluid defensive moves, and I love his alpha-male swagger. Its nice to have a "superstar" face of the franchise, even if he doesn’t put up superstar numbers.
But Eric Hosmer is what he is. He has the tools to put it all together for a superstar season, but most likely he is going to continue to be an average hitter who puts up numbers closer to James Loney and Casey Kotchman than Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera.