The 2007 Royals were a sorry bunch. They had a nice Opening Day win over Boston with new free agent Gil Meche, but the bottom dropped out shortly after that. They finished April 8-18. The first baseman was light-hitting Ross Gload. No-hit shortstop Tony Pena was one of the worst offensive regulars in baseball that year. Odalis Perez had a 5.57 ERA - that got him 26 starts. They lost all seven games against the Baltimore Orioles - an equally bad team. It was Dayton Moore’s first full year on the job, and he had a lot of work to do. That team lost 93 games, third-most in baseball.
For their troubles, the Royals got the third overall pick in the 2008 draft. The Rays took Tim Beckham, the Pirates took Pedro Alvarez, and the Royals took a young high school first baseman out of Plantation, Florida named Eric Hosmer. Hosmer struggled badly his first full season in the minors in low A ball, but in his second year he hit .321 with 20 home runs across High A and AA and by the end of the year he was ranked the #8 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America.
Hosmer was only in Omaha for about a month, when the Royals called him up. He had just 76 games above High A ball under his belt, but in his first week, he launched a pitch in to the second deck at Yankee Stadium for his first career home run. He was fantastic that rookie season, hitting .293/.3334/.465 with 19 home runs in 128 games with the second-highest wRC+ among all rookies that year. The future seemed very bright.
And then came the sophomore slump. Hosmer was a disaster in 2012, hitting just .232/.304/.359, an OPS lower than teammate Chris Getz. He had fewer extra-base hits than Alcides Escobar. He went homerless for the entire month of June. The problem was, he was pounding the ball into the ground, with a groundball rate of 53%.
Hosmer has alternated good years with bad since then. He was excellent in 2013, the only time he has hit .300 in a full season. But he disappeared again in 2014, hitting just one home run over his first 60 games, although he did come back to hit .359 that post-season with some huge hits against Oakland and Anaheim. His 2015 season was his best season by WAR, according to Fangraphs, and he hit .297/.363/.459 with 18 home runs and of course had his memorable dash home in the World Series. While people lauded his 2016 season for reaching a career-high 25 home runs and his All-Star Game MVP, he hit just .266/.328/.433, and was below replacement level when factoring in his defense.
His career up to this point has left a wide gulf in perception on Hosmer between those that see a superstar and a terrific defender who comes up big in key moments (World Series, All-Star Game, World Baseball Classic), and those that see a first baseman who hits more like a middle infielder with a below-average glove, according to the metrics. With free agency looming, that gulf posed a problem for Eric Hosmer. Which Hosmer would teams believe in?
At first this year, it looked like we were due for another disappointing season from Hosmer. He hit just .195 over his first 20 games, another cold spell from a notoriously streaky hitter. Then came the inevitable hot streak, and brother, he got hot. Hosmer is hitting .350/.405/.565 since then. In the past 30 days, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Andrelton Simmons are the only AL hitters with a higher OPS than Hosmer’s 1.018.
This is really the Eric Hosmer we have all been waiting for, an offensive force who can carry this team. He has been doing it unconventionally by spraying the ball all over the field. But it should come as little surprise that Hosmer’s offensive success has come as he has begun lifting the ball more and avoiding hitting ground balls.
Something's different about Eric Hosmer, but I just can't put my finger on it... pic.twitter.com/osL9MFioIU— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) July 27, 2017
Hosmer still isn’t quite putting up superstar numbers - his OPS of .877 ranks 12th in the American League. But he is enjoying a career season at just the right time for the Royals and his career. How does this affect his free agency? Let’s worry about that this winter. For now, enjoy what you’re getting out of Eric Hosmer, because it is Eric hitting at his best and it is the Hosmer we have been waiting almost a decade for.