During the quiet period of the All-Star break, Eric Hosmer and his infamous agent Scott Boras made some noise. Well, maybe they made some noise. Jon Heyman, noted Boras mouthpiece, wrote that Hosmer and Boras could be seeking a 10 year, $200 million deal.
Hosmer, absolutely loved by Royals higher-ups as a clutch leader and a very fine two-way player who has put up nice-though-not-crazy offensive numbers in a pitchers' park but who may just be scratching the surface offensively, has two years to go before free agency. Consistent power is the only thing Hosmer hasn't shown in spades, and there are signs this year; earlier, he hit two opposite-field homers off A.L. All-Star starter Chris Sale. Hosmer's camp isn't tipping their hand, but Royals brass, which stepped up with a $70-milllion deal for free agent pitcher Ian Kennedy and $72 million for another core star Alex Gordon, seems to have an idea Hosmer could be seeking $20-million plus per year on a 10-year deal.
Setting aside the fact that Kauffman Stadium is not actually a pitchers park, Heyman hits some points. According to the mainstream narrative, Eric Hosmer is a fine two-way player who has put up nice numbers. Let's look at the hitters who have actually been offered and signed $200+ million deals:
Here is the production of each of these players prior to signing their mega-contracts:
Votto: 158 wRC+, 21.5 fWAR
Pujols: 167 wRC+, 81.4 fWAR
Cabrera: 152 wRC+, 53.6 fWAR
Rodriguez: 147 wRC+, 91.1 fWAR
Fielder: 141 wRC+, 20.2 fWAR
Cano: 126 wRC+, 35.8 fWAR
Stanton: 144 wRC+, 21.1 fWAR
All of these hitters put up individual seasons worth more Wins Above Replacement than Hosmer's total of 6.5 for his entire career. The closest Hosmer is to any of these guys is Giancarlo Stanton or Prince Fielder. Stanton has been worth roughly triple what Hosmer has in ~30 less games and Fielder had hit 230 home runs, 140 more than Hosmer. Robinson Cano is arguably one of the twenty or so best second basemen of all time. Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols are likely Hall of Famers, and only PEDs will keep Alex Rodriguez out of Cooperstown.
So let's just try to look at and reason the different things GMs typically "pay for" and see if Hosmer checks any of those boxes.
When you are a star first baseman you typically have to hit for power. There is just no if, and, or but's about it. The top first basemen of the past decade (by fWAR):
Miguel Cabrera: 37.7 fWAR, 217 home runs (35 per 162 games)
Joey Votto: 34.6 fWAR, 152 home runs (28 per 162 games)
Paul Goldschmidt: 24.5 fWAR, 131 home runs (30 per 162 games)
All guys who have averaged basically thirty or more home runs since 2010. As for Eric Hosmer...
Hosmer: 6.5 fWAR, 90 HR (18 per 162 games)
So Hosmer has hit about half of what those guys are doing on full season basis, and that's without also mentioning their tremendous on-base skills.
Cabrera: .413 OBP
Votto: .431 OBP
Goldschmidt: .398 OBP
Hosmer: .338 OBP
In any case general managers pay first baseman to hit the ball for extra bases, and that's just not something Hosmer has done over his career.
Since 2013 he hasn't had a single year where he met the league average ISO, and in many years he hasn't even been close. This year is the closest he's been and he's still 20 basis points off.
My apologies as that graph is a bit noisy, but it's meant to show Hosmer versus his first base peers. What you see though is Hosmer consistently intersecting with two guys: Prince Fielder and Logan Morrison.
Fielder still gets the reputation of being a prominent slugger but that's just a memory lingering in the back of your mind. Fielder has seen a precipitous drop off in power and in turn production. It is not unreasonable to say power-wise Hosmer and Fielder have been alike but that's a compliment to Fielder probably, who hasn't hit been an average player in several years. Do we even need to discuss Morrison, the guy who has been trades several times, nearly non-tendered, and is now a platoon 1B/DH?
There is one primary reason Hosmer doesn't hit for power: groundballs.
Hosmer has the groundball rate of no power guys like Emilio Bonifacio, Jon Jay, and Cesar Hernandez who have no incentive to hit the ball in the air (which usually results in a infield fly). Despite that heavy groundball percent, he has out slugged those light hitters though. That puts him more in the class alongside David Freese.
I'll admit it's not a perfect comparison but there are similarities in their offensive profiles and batted ball distribution.
His groundball percentage is actually up this year too:
Hey look who is #2 on that list!
Hosmer ranks fourth overall in groundball percentage this year and honestly it is somewhat of a miracle he's hit 13 home runs despite hitting 60% of his balls on the ground. What are the groundball rates for those other sluggers from earlier?
And it's not like this is just a one year blip for Hosmer. He's consistently hit a heavy amount of groundballs over his career, more than any other first baseman since 2013.
Those are all of Hosmer's batted balls from 2015 to so far this year. Compare those to a guy like Paul Goldschmidt:
You can see on Hosmer's graphic that the roundness of the gray shaded areas is much more pronounced than on Goldschmidt. Also Hosmer's hit top line comes to a screeching halt at the 20 degree launch angle where Goldschmidt has 30+ hits above 20 degrees.
Now I know what you are saying; "Shaun...my man...he plays 81 games a year at Kauffman. It's an awful place to hit! Surely he'll do better outside of Kauffman."
While Kauffman is a hard ballpark to hit home runs in (a 93 park factor for home runs - 100 is average) it's not like Kauffman is having an anti-Coors effect where he plays better on the road.
Hosmer for his career has actually done slightly better at home than away. He's also hit for slightly more power at Kauffman too (his HR totals are 41 at home, 49 away - not a huge discrepancy).
I don't necessarily disagree that if Hosmer played an additional 77-78 games at New Yankee Stadium that he would maybe hit a few more over the right field fence, but he's not going to go from a guy who's season high home run total is 19 to a 30 per season guy. So unless groundballs start leaving Fenway/New Yankee/Coors, it might not matter where he steps in the box.
You can call this section playoff numbers, leadership, chemistry, star power, or whatever you want. One of the narratives for Hosmer is his leadership abilities and coming through in the clutch. Particularly coming through when it matters, like the post-season.
However that's another narrative that evidence shows to be false. Hosmer has a career playoff line of .276/.333/.398 with three home runs in 31 games. Those are far from awful numbers but it is far from a clutch player with numbers actually below his regular season performance.
There is one metric that Hosmer does well by in the playoffs that could point to "clutchness" (which is retrospective and not an actual skill). Since 2000, Hosmer has the fifth highest WPA by a hitter in the playoffs (min. 20 games and 50 PA).
That WPA rather than being built on a series of continual good games it's instead built on two moments:
- His triple in the 12th inning of the 2014 Wild Card
- His home run in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the 2014 ALDS
His two biggest moments came in the early rounds of the 2014 playoffs. Since then Hosmer has hit .250/.293/.339 in the rest of his playoff games. And as long as we are creating narratives, I would like to posit instead that Hosmer cracks under pressure when it comes to the spotlight as his World Series batting numbers show.
.224/.273/.286 0 HR 4 BB 15 K in 55 plate appearances
His biggest moment in the World Series (that he was responsible for really) by WPA is a game tying single in the fifth inning of last years World Series Game 2. From Game Seven of 2014 to the final game of the 2015 World Series, Hosmer collected just four hits total in 29 plate appearances. As you may have noticed he hasn't hit a home run in the World Series either. Alcides Escobar has more World Series home runs than him. All of his home runs have come in the ALDS. And let's not forget his two big errors in the World Series as well.
Another thing I hear come up a lot is the trophies Hosmer has.
One World Series
Two ALCS trophies
Three Gold Glove Awards
This is akin to a tweet I saw last week:
Quite a run of individual honors for #Royals— Blair Kerkhoff (@BlairKerkhoff) July 13, 2016
14 ALCS MVP Lorenzo Cain
15 ALCS MVP Alcides Escobar
15 WS MVP Salvy Perez
16 ASG Eric Hosmer
All those awards require their team to win basically. I mean there are no rules saying the team has to win, but the World Series MVP isn't going to someone on the losing team (has happened only once, in the 60's). The World Series championship crown goes to everyone on the team, and I don't think there would be demand for Christian Colon because he is a proven winner with playoff experience.
The All-Star MVP is also based on one game and three plate appearances in the case of Hosmer. No general manager is going to trip Hosmer up with bags of money at his feet because he got two hits in an exhibition game.
Finally we should mention Hosmer's MVP record, or lack thereof. The highest he's ever finished in MVP voting is 24th. That was last year, where he got two votes. That is the same number of votes Russell Martin and Brian McCann got too.
The guys who got $200M?
Votto: 1 MVP, 2x top five, 4x top ten
Cabrera: 2x MVP, 7x top five, 9x top ten
Stanton: 2nd place MVP
Pujols: 3x MVP, 10x top five, 11x top ten
Cano: 4x top five
Fielder: 3x top five, 4x top ten
Rodriguez: 3x MVP, 5x top five, 10x top ten
At a minimum these guys all have at least one top five MVP finish and excluding Stanton they've been in the top five several times and even more in the top ten.
Hosmer made his first All-Star appearance this year (partly due to the strong competition he has had but that's not an excuse for an individual performer). As you can imagine, those guys who got $200M have had more All-Star appearances than you can count with one finger.
I won't go on and on about Eric Hosmer's defense. He has three Gold Gloves, speaking to his reputation as a smooth defender. In June (right before I came back from vacation in Japan) August Fagerstrom of Fangraphs took an article idea right out of my head in writing about Hosmer defensively.
The advanced numbers, the traditional numbers, the video scouts all say the same thing: Eric Hosmer is a perfectly ordinary defensive first baseman, likely one whose below-average range is cancelled out by a penchant for scooping balls in the dirt. How does that equate to three Gold Glove Awards? I'm not sure, and it probably shouldn't, but my best guess it that those within the game — the managers whose votes make up 75% of the Gold Glove process — appreciate scoops more than the numbers do. Yost literally says Hosmer has "average range," but that his scoops "[save] us countless errors, countless runs, because infielders can grab a ball, and they can turn around and throw it in the vicinity and know that Hos is gonna pick it." What that quote tells me is that Yost believes Hosmer's scooping ability far outweighs any range deficiencies he might have, though the numbers reveal no evidence of that being true.
August was spot on with scoops and how they are very overvalued (your teammates have to make a poor throw first). Overall though, Hosmer probably isn't anything more than an average defender.
You can dispute that sentence all you want. Maybe you think he's an above-average defender or even an elite one, but you can't dispute the fact that teams don't pay for defense as much as offense, and they especially don't pay for first base defense. When Mike Napoli signed with Boston, Texas, and Cleveland they weren't giving him millions for his better than average defense at first. They were paying him for the 112 home runs he hit from 2011-2015. The same apply for Adrian Gonzalez and the Red Sox, and Mark Teixeira and the Braves.
Each team has their own player valuation system and they are all basically some version of WAR While they are likely more accurate (if that's the right word) than the public sphere of data, they aren't extremely different (from what we know). There is just no way that any club sees Hosmer as a 4-5 win player, one that would at least justify starting the conversation of giving a player $200M.
In March I wrote a piece calculating Royals free agent values using a free agency value calculator I based off of Justin Perline of Beyond the Box Scores work. In it I came up with ~6/$90M for Hosmer. That was based on pre-season projections. Now that we are just past the halfway point we can use a little more exact measurement of his 2016 value.
I still had to estimate his value for 2017 which I just assumed he'd be an average player (2 wins). Using his 2016 fWAR so far (0.5) and his projected rest of season fWAR (0.9) I'd estimate his value on a 7-year deal at seven years, $97 million, or about $14 million annually.
In my opinion that's probably a bit low. Hosmer won't get $200 million but he'll probably break the $100 million line on a seven year deal. My guess would be something like seven years, $120 million because a GM will fall in love with his age. Don't however confuse value and contract. Hosmer probably wouldn't be worth those $120 million, even if you factor in the front half potential surplus vs the back half deficit.
But what the hell do I know? Free agency gets weird, revenues are exploding around baseball, and it only takes on foolish General Manager flush with cash to do something unexpected. I fully expect a year and a half from now people rubbing this article in my face after Hosmer signs with the Yankees for 10 years, $250 million.