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Hosmer could win an AL MVP if he hit fewer ground balls

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He's got the talent, that's for sure.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Last Friday night, Eric Hosmer murdered a baseball. As John Cleese would say, it's metabolic processes are now history, it's off the twig, it's kicked the bucket, it's shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible. This is an ex-baseball:

It was given a 443' measurement (or 81.2 Altuves if that's your thing). It was Hosmer's first home run of the season. For reference, that would have cleared the dead-center wall of Comerica Park in Detroit and Minute Maid Park in Houston, as well as old Tiger Stadium in Detroit. That is a certifiable blast.

Of course, long home runs are nothing out of the ordinary for Hosmer. Last year, Hosmer's average home run length was 420'. In 2013, it was 418'. So far this year, it is 443'.

Despite last year's standout year, where Hosmer hit 25% above league average, Hosmer's career has been ever-so-slightly a bit of a letdown. Consider the things Hosmer has not done as he enters his sixth season:

  • Never been elected to an All-Star game
  • Never hit 20 home runs in a season
  • Never achieved 100 RBI in a season
  • Only hit .300 in a season once

Of course, Hosmer's career has been a success. He has two American League Championship rings and a World Series ring, has hit multiple crucial playoff home runs, and scored the tying run in the bottom of the ninth in an elimination game of a World Series. Don't forget his three Gold Gloves, either. But still - from an individual perspective, Hosmer has never been the powerhouse player that we thought he could be.

I know why: Eric Hosmer hits way, way too many ground balls. Everything that I said in September still rings true.

But at the beginning of the year, it's worth looking into again, especially considering it took ten games for Hosmer to hit his first home run at the year. And at the beginning of the year, hope springs eternal. So let's take a different approach: can Eric win an American League MVP?

Yes, he can...if and only if he makes a concerted effort to hit fewer ground balls and more fly balls. Sadly, we may never see this adjustment.

Let's take a look at the best hitters from 2011-2016, sorted by wRC+; for those of you who don't know, wRC+ is a simple number that looks at overall production, adjusting for league offense and park factors, among other things. A 100 wRC+ is league average, and each additional point above or below represents one percent better or worse than league average, respectively (Hosmer has a wRC+ of 109 for his career, meaning he has hit 9% better than league average over that time).

Included in these charts are name, team, and amount of plate appearances; Home runs and isolated power are there to judge raw power, and the standard average/on base percentage/slugging to judge overall production. Batting average on balls in play and soft, medium, and hard hit percentages, along with line drive, ground ball, and fly ball percentages show how the hitter did what they did. Here's an explanation of what it means for a ball to be hit soft, medium, or hard:

Soft%, Med%, and Hard% are based on data from Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) which attempt to capture how well each baseball was hit...Quality of contact doesn’t perfectly correlate with success on the field, but in general, hitting the ball hard or allowing weak contact is better than the alternative.

For the early years of quality of contact stats, the BIS video scouts had to make judgments, but since 2010, the video scouts recorded the amount of time the ball was in the air, the landing spot, and the type of batted ball (fly ball, ground ball, liner, etc) and the BIS algorithm determines if the ball was soft, medium, or hard hit.

Without further ado, here are the top ten qualified hitters from 2011-2016:

Name Team PA HR ISO AVG OBP SLG BABIP Soft% Med% Hard% LD% GB% FB% wRC+
Miguel Cabrera Tigers 3273 162 0.243 0.333 0.417 0.576 0.354 10.9% 47.1% 42.0% 23.4% 41.5% 35.1% 169
Mike Trout Angels 2919 140 0.253 0.303 0.396 0.556 0.356 14.1% 49.3% 36.6% 22.3% 39.3% 38.4% 166
Joey Votto Reds 2929 103 0.207 0.307 0.437 0.514 0.360 11.4% 51.9% 36.7% 27.2% 41.1% 31.7% 160
Jose Bautista Blue Jays 2967 175 0.271 0.270 0.394 0.541 0.266 17.7% 45.6% 36.8% 15.9% 38.5% 45.6% 155
Andrew McCutchen Pirates 3409 123 0.206 0.301 0.395 0.507 0.342 13.5% 48.5% 38.0% 21.7% 39.9% 38.3% 151
David Ortiz Red Sox 2840 157 0.266 0.293 0.383 0.559 0.295 12.2% 45.8% 42.0% 20.9% 37.9% 41.2% 149
Paul Goldschmidt DBacks 2695 119 0.237 0.298 0.394 0.534 0.353 10.5% 48.5% 40.9% 22.5% 42.7% 34.7% 148
Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 2599 161 0.281 0.271 0.367 0.552 0.326 17.2% 41.3% 41.5% 19.0% 40.9% 40.0% 148
Bryce Harper Nationals 2182 101 0.233 0.289 0.385 0.522 0.331 14.0% 51.4% 34.6% 21.4% 43.0% 35.7% 148
Jose Abreu White Sox 1333 68 0.236 0.301 0.365 0.537 0.343 17.2% 47.7% 35.2% 22.0% 46.2% 31.8% 147

All ten of those names have one thing in common: power, and lots of it.  McCutchen and Votto have the least amount of raw power, but both hit for high average and walk a lot to generate lots of OBP. That's our first lesson: you need power to generate offense, and offense is a huge part of the MVP conversation.

Here are names 11-20:

Name Team PA HR ISO AVG OBP SLG BABIP Soft% Med% Hard% LD% GB% FB% wRC+
Yasiel Puig Dodgers 1431 47 0.193 0.296 0.374 0.489 0.353 17.1% 48.3% 34.6% 16.7% 49.2% 34.1% 144
Ryan Braun Brewers 2747 130 0.234 0.301 0.369 0.536 0.334 16.4% 47.4% 36.2% 19.3% 45.8% 34.9% 143
Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 3007 170 0.255 0.275 0.364 0.530 0.267 17.3% 47.2% 35.4% 19.2% 35.3% 45.6% 143
Buster Posey Giants 2653 86 0.171 0.312 0.379 0.483 0.328 14.4% 52.8% 32.8% 22.4% 45.4% 32.2% 143
Matt Holliday Cardinals 2790 97 0.191 0.289 0.382 0.480 0.321 14.4% 48.4% 37.3% 19.3% 46.1% 34.6% 141
Josh Donaldson - - - 2415 108 0.219 0.279 0.356 0.498 0.305 14.3% 52.0% 33.7% 17.9% 44.0% 38.2% 138
Robinson Cano - - - 3443 128 0.197 0.305 0.364 0.501 0.322 16.5% 50.1% 33.5% 24.0% 48.4% 27.6% 136
Matt Kemp - - - 2716 119 0.213 0.291 0.352 0.504 0.346 10.8% 51.4% 37.8% 23.2% 41.2% 35.6% 136
Prince Fielder - - - 3017 120 0.196 0.293 0.387 0.489 0.310 16.5% 50.1% 33.4% 21.5% 43.1% 35.4% 135
Adrian Beltre Rangers 3152 137 0.206 0.309 0.358 0.515 0.311 14.2% 51.3% 34.6% 21.0% 39.7% 39.3% 132

After 20 names, we can focus on a second pattern: all of these guys hit the ball hard. Posey hits the ball hardest the least often, but still at 32.8%, almost a third of all balls put in play. Bautista's soft contact rate of 17.7% is the highest of any of them.

Finally, here are names 21-30:

Name Team PA HR ISO AVG OBP SLG BABIP Soft% Med% Hard% LD% GB% FB% wRC+
Chris Davis - - - 2685 168 0.266 0.256 0.34 0.522 0.315 11.2% 50.7% 38.0% 23.4% 34.6% 42.0% 132
Matt Carpenter Cardinals 2498 54 0.166 0.287 0.376 0.453 0.334 11.6% 54.2% 34.2% 25.9% 37.2% 36.9% 132
Adrian Gonzalez - - - 3392 123 0.190 0.298 0.358 0.488 0.326 15.1% 49.9% 34.9% 23.5% 40.4% 36.1% 131
Freddie Freeman Braves 3110 104 0.181 0.284 0.368 0.464 0.335 12.4% 50.3% 37.3% 26.8% 38.1% 35.1% 131
Troy Tulowitzki - - - 2275 103 0.217 0.300 0.374 0.517 0.320 18.8% 46.4% 34.9% 20.5% 41.4% 38.1% 130
Nelson Cruz - - - 2989 166 0.241 0.273 0.334 0.514 0.304 16.0% 48.2% 35.8% 17.9% 42.3% 39.9% 129
Carlos Quentin - - - 1298 57 0.225 0.252 0.347 0.477 0.260 19.4% 47.7% 32.9% 16.5% 35.1% 48.4% 129
David Wright Mets 2406 66 0.163 0.286 0.366 0.449 0.333 15.6% 50.6% 33.9% 22.3% 40.2% 37.5% 129
Mike Napoli - - - 2430 114 0.225 0.255 0.361 0.481 0.317 16.2% 48.2% 35.5% 19.5% 40.6% 39.8% 128
Brandon Belt Giants 2089 66 0.187 0.272 0.348 0.459 0.338 14.0% 52.2% 33.7% 23.9% 35.8% 40.2% 128

And here is our final lesson: only two out of these top 30 names hit ground balls at over 46% - Puig and Cano.

So how does Hosmer stack up? (I'll include a few around Hosmer for reference)

Name Team PA HR ISO AVG OBP SLG BABIP Soft% Med% Hard% LD% GB% FB% wRC+
Ian Kinsler - - - 3512 95 0.162 0.273 0.335 0.434 0.283 18.3% 54.1% 27.6% 21.2% 36.2% 42.6% 109
Nick Swisher - - - 2554 83 0.171 0.245 0.342 0.416 0.290 14.0% 53.2% 32.9% 22.3% 39.7% 38.1% 109
Eric Hosmer Royals 3098 78 0.147 0.281 0.337 0.428 0.313 18.9% 48.3% 32.8% 20.1% 52.1% 27.9% 109
Evan Gattis - - - 1395 70 0.225 0.249 0.295 0.474 0.271 18.5% 46.6% 34.9% 16.2% 42.5% 41.3% 109
Chris Iannetta - - - 1799 53 0.156 0.230 0.351 0.386 0.283 18.2% 52.7% 29.1% 18.7% 38.5% 42.8% 109

Hosmer is lacking in the power department. His .147 ISO is 16 points below the lowest among the top thirty players (Wright). He's good in the hard/soft hit balls department; he is competitive with the top 30 in hard hit balls, and only slightly worse off among soft hit balls.

But Hosmer has hit 52.1% of his balls put in play as ground balls. That's just not going to cut it. Ground balls don't get hit for home runs barring an extraordinary defensive gaffe or on-field injury (or sometimes both), and they don't get hit for doubles or triples either unless the ball is hit just right down the line.

In Hosmer's career, his OPS--on base plus slugging percentage--is a putrid .531 on ground balls. On fly balls, it is significantly higher, at .820. Hosmer's line drive OPS is a stunning 1.715.

The simple change is that Hosmer should try to get a little bit of elevation. Not a whole lot, but a little. Of course, this is easier said than done, but we've already seen what happens when a Royal makes a small adjustment, and that individual is Mike Moustakas. Before 2015, he had never hit more than 22.7% of balls in play to the opposite field. Last year, he hit only about 5% more to opposite field, and he had the best season of his career. If Hosmer could hit 5% fewer ground balls, turning them all into line drives and fly balls, we could see a special season out of him.

To get an MVP season, we don't necessarily need sustained success. We just need an outlier here, an adjustment there. But Hosmer can definitely do it. Hosmer is a dangerous, all-fields line drive hitter who makes contact and is actually pretty difficult to strike out. When he's on, he is a nightmare to pitch to.

But Hosmer won't ever win an MVP award if he doesn't make an adjustment to hit fewer ground balls. Unfortunately, we'll probably never see that kind of adjustment. Moose made an adjustment because he was flat-out bad. Hosmer can extract success from his current approach, and the risk associated with making a swing adjustment may just be too much.

Still. Eric Hosmer, American League MVP has a nice ring to it.