Eric Hosmer is still sitting on one home run as we approach the one-fourth point of the regular season. He hasn’t hit fewer than 14 dingers yet in a year, so it’s clear that Hosmer’s still looking for his power stroke. But don’t make the mistake of believing that Hosmer has yet to make a positive contribution — he’s got a 120 wRC+, which is basically right on what he did a year ago. Let’s keep doing that, comparing last year to this year. The offense has been identical, overall. Hosmer last year was nine runs below average defensively. Hosmer this year is on pace for about -7. So in a sense, Eric Hosmer has been just as good a player. But, last season, Hosmer was worth just over three wins. This season, he’s on pace to be worth just over one win. How do you explain that, when a guy’s been hitting the same and fielding the same? Is WAR losing the mind that it doesn’t have?
That’s one option. Or you could look at WAR’s other, oft-forgotten input. You think about baserunning value when it comes to burners like Billy Hamilton and Jacoby Ellsbury. It’s easy to kind of forget about it when you’re dealing with a first baseman or a DH. But, to this point, according to our leaderboards, Hosmer has been the worst baserunner in baseball, at almost five runs below average, already. That puts him on pace for -21, eclipsing Kendrys Morales‘ recent record of -14 in 2009. Hosmer, presumably, won’t keep up this impossible pace. Previously, for his career, he was actually above average. But how did things get to this point? How has Hosmer already cost his team that many runs in such a small sample of games?
There are .gifs, and, unfortunately, they are big.
The first thing that comes to mind: caught steals. People think of stolen bases as a huge part of baserunning value, yet so far, Hosmer is just 0-for-1 in steal attempts. Before the year, he was 38-for-48, so he’s a first baseman with some wheels. That makes it all the more surprising that he ranks where he does for the moment. But there are an awful lot of ways to do something good or bad or in between on the bases, and Hosmer’s wound up on too many bad ends through a month and a half.
Excluding steals, he’s already made seven outs on the bases, one shy of last year’s total and higher than his 2011 and 2012 totals. He’s run into four outs at home. This year, only Yasiel Puig has also made seven outs on the bases, and nobody else has made as many outs at home. Hosmer’s been thrown out leaving first on a single, he’s been thrown out leaving first on a double, and he’s been thrown out twice leaving second on singles. It hasn’t been Eric Hosmer’s year, and three times, he’s made outs on the bases in consecutive games.
So how does this happen? And perhaps more importantly, what does this tell us about Hosmer, versus what does this tell us about the nature of good and bad luck? How reflective is this of Hosmer’s true talent? We’re going to quickly go through the plays in chronological order. Following will be the eight Hosmer outs on the bases, caught-steal included.
#1: April 2
Welp. Nurts. Absolutely nothing for Hosmer to do. The numbers don’t know how to interpret a line-drive double play, and we don’t have live game-to-game stringers.
#2: April 5
The problem here? Part Hosmer, part not-Hosmer. From the recap:
Gordon dropped a single into right field, just in front of diving right fielder Dayan Viciedo.
But Hosmer feared a catch, hesitated between second and third and then had what he called a miscommunication with the team’s new third-base coach, Dale Sveum. Rounding third base, Hosmer got hung up and was tagged out in a rundown.
“My first peek, I saw his hand and saw him point so I figured the ball got away from somebody or something like that and I just saw the hand and went,” Hosmer said. “It wasn’t the right thing to do.”
Hosmer gets penalized for being over-aggressive, but at least some of the responsibility falls on the third-base coach, who I guess wasn’t completely clear.
#3: April 6
Runners last year were 19-for-21 against Chris Sale. Runners this year are 0-for-1. I’m not a huge fan of running in a 3-and-1 count against a good hitter, but perhaps Hosmer figured Billy Butler would get a pitch to drive, and then Hosmer could come all the way around to snap the deadlock given a head start.
#4: April 17
A good relay from deep center and Hosmer was just barely out. That’s something to remember about plays like this: they’re frequently decided by a small fraction of a fraction of a second, and the decision to go or not has to be made with the ball still quite far away. The Royals were leading comfortably against a team they were playing comfortably, so in a sense Hosmer didn’t need to risk it, but in another sense he didn’t have a lot to lose since the Royals’ win expectancy was already so high. The outcome of this was a coin flip, and it required the Astros to do a lot right, after the first mistake by Dexter Fowler.
#5: April 18
Too much aggressiveness, here. Hosmer might’ve misread the height of the throw in to home plate. Or he might’ve forgotten about the pitcher. Or he might’ve just plain old done something dumb. But that’s an out that doesn’t need to be made. That extra base is not worth a ton.
#6: April 30
Can’t help the contact play. The contact play is out of the runner’s hands.
#7: May 1
Hosmer was going full speed and he certainly didn’t misread his third-base coach. He just made an attempt and got thrown out after a strong throw that yielded a good hop and got the catcher in good position to apply an easy tag. Hosmer was out by literally an inch or two, and plays like this are like one-run wins: you figure they’ll balance out in the long run because so much just comes down to luck. If the outfielder grips the baseball a little differently, Hosmer might be safe. If the catcher does anything, almost genuinely anything differently, Hosmer might be safe. He was out, but not in a way that really reflected a mistake on his own part. Wasn’t about running, or speed — this was just about the fact that nobody is safe all of the time, no matter what. Defenses just make plays.
#8: May 7
And here’s something stupid. This is flat-out bad baserunning.
Eric Hosmer has done some things to earn his low baserunning value. He’s also been a victim of some bad luck and circumstances, and if all these plays were to repeat, Hosmer might not make outs on all of them. On a couple, there was nothing for him to do. In the eight games in which Hosmer has made an out on the bases, the Royals have gone 5-3, so it’s not like this has been particularly crippling, so we’re all left just considering what this means. Seems to me there’s a lot of noise in the baserunning values, but there’s a lot of noise in all the data, and it’s not like Hosmer didn’t make all the outs. But you end up in a situation where you’re deciding whether you want to look at a number descriptively or predictively. Descriptively, Hosmer has made all these outs, and they’ve cost runs. But predictively, Hosmer now has a career BsR of about exactly league-average. Which seems about right to me. Overall, Eric Hosmer is roughly a league-average baserunner, and over a month and a half, a league-average baserunner can, statistically, look like the worst runner in the majors.
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