Eric Hosmer: Returning to Form or Fake Promises

Putting a finger on Eric Hosmer‘s true talent level seems tougher than the over cooked pork crops my mom makes. Hosmer was good his rookie season. Then he was horrible in year two. He started last season off horribly, but then turned his season around. While he seemed to be all over the place, his production change can be focused to a period of an extremely low BABIP

Let’s just start out looking at his stats from his first three seasons along with his 2014 Steamer projections.

Season Team PA HR R RBI SB AVG
2011 Royals 563 19 66 78 11 0.293
2012 Royals 598 14 65 60 16 0.232
2013 Royals 680 17 86 79 11 0.302
2014 Steamer 615 18 75 80 11 0.285

Just one number is out of place – his 2012 AVG. He was near .300 for both 2011 and 2013. Usually only two items lead to a lower AVG, more strike outs or a lower BABIP.

Season K% BABIP
2011 14.6% 0.314
2012 15.9% 0.255
2013 14.7% 0.335
2014 14.2% 0.309

While his strike outs increased by about 1% point in 2012, a near 70 point BABIP drop was the cause from the production drop.

Alright, now it is time to see how he hit the ball over over those three season and xBABIP.

2011 18.7% 49.7% 31.7% 11.3% 0.314 0.293 0.021
2012 18.5% 53.6% 27.9% 9.7% 0.255 0.309 -0.054
2013 22.4% 52.7% 24.9% 6.9% 0.335 0.338 -0.003

His 2012 BABIP makes no sense at all. With the same line drive percentage as 2011, he had less fly balls and more ground balls. This mix should have led to a higher 2012 BABIP. Ground balls are twice as likely to go for a hit than fly balls. This effect can be seen in his .309 xBABIP.

One possible explanation for the change in BABIP is teams shifting him less in 2013. Teams usually shift an extra player to the pull side of the field if a hitter pulls 75% or more of their ground balls (for more on shifts pick up the Hardball Times Annual once it is released). If a player is going to ground the ball 75% of the time to the one side of the infield, a team might as well have 75% of their infielders over there.

Here are Hosmer’s values along with with Pull, Center and Opposite field BABIP.

Season GB to Pull% Pull Center Oppo
2011 68% 0.240 0.356 0.356
2012 69% 0.169 0.230 0.405
2013 62% 0.292 0.354 0.356

Hosmer didn’t hit the magic 75% GB Pull% value, but he was generally close. I watched quite a few Royals games in 2012, teams were shifting quite a bit. While I don’t have the exact numbers from 2012, FanGraphs, thanks to data from Inside Edge, does have shift information from 2013. Hosmer hit into 14 shifts in April, 8 times in May and then never again. Teams just quit shifting him. His BABIP went from .310 in the first half to .368 in the second half.  It can be seen by his 2013 ground ball pull %, he tried to use the other half of the field. It is hard to pin down the exact change, but it could be from one of his four 2013 hitting coaches.

In summary, I think Hosmer’s 2012 low average was driven by luck and the defensive shift. In 2013, he sprayed the ball around the field more and his BABIP shot up. For 2014, I expect his above Steamer projection to be on the low side with chances for growth. His counting stats should be closer to his 2013 values with similar PA and could see a nice jump in the Royals offense decides to show up. I would expect his power to continue to improve as he ages, but still be able to hold onto his stolen base numbers. With 1B being the shallowest it has been in years, he looks to be a top 12 1B in 2014 with a chance of moving up higher.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

16 Responses to “Eric Hosmer: Returning to Form or Fake Promises”

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  1. Zimmerman says:

    I have read that 2 important qualities in pitchers are ability to get strike outs and ground balls. But, I read in your Hosmer article that ground balls are twice as likely to go for hits than fly balls. So why is being a ground ball pitcher a good quality? Is it because they are more likely to give up singles than extra base hits? Thanks.

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    • bob dole says:

      Ground balls are never HRs and less often XBH.

      Ground balls are more likely to result in DPs than fly balls.

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    • RT says:

      Ground ball pitchers usually stay off the barrel more. This leads to significantly less home runs/doubles, as the vast majority of both of those categories are obviously fly balls. Also factors such as double plays and preventing sac flies play a part as well.

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      • Tim says:

        “Ground ball pitchers stay off the barrel more.” Do they tend to have a lower LD% or a lower HR/FB%? Or is it that just give up less balls hit in the air which reduces their 2B/HR totals?

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      • Pat G says:

        groundball pitchers give up far fewer extra base hits period. There is no right way to pitch, lots of strikeouts and a few home runs are not a big deal, or lots of singles and double play balls are another way to get to the desired end result (27 outs).

        The real no-no of pitching is walks, they are always bad.

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    • Roger says:

      You can pair a groundball pitcher with a good infield defense and limit the hit rate. If you have a flyball pitcher, a good outfield defense will limit the doubles but you can’t do anything about the home runs outside of moving the walls back, which typically isn’t practical.

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  2. gump says:

    why did teams stop shifting on him?

    why do you assume they won’t start shifting on him again?

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    • Train says:

      Cuz he went from 69% pull in 2012 to 62% in 2013 and my guess is that number is even lower in the second half of 2013.

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    • Jeff Zimmerman says:

      The pull% for the league is near 60% and from research I have done, teams don’t normally shift if the percentage isn’t near 75%. David Ortiz is the most shifted player and he pulls his ground balls 82% of the time.

      I don’t think teams will shift on him as long as he doesn’t pull the ball at a high rate.

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  3. dan says:

    That GB% is going to limit his HR potential, significantly, isn’t it?

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  4. Paul says:

    So you seriously watched him in 2012 (and presumably the continuation of suck early this season) and you didn’t notice that the main difference was that he was hitting the ball much, much harder? Seitzer very wrongly thought he swing was too long and the result of the changes to his load gave him dead hands. You could not possibly have missed that since it was talked about constantly and obvious to anybody who watches any baseball at all.

    Luck and not shifting? Seriously? I haven’t been here in a while, but this is the article where Fangraphs has officially jumped the shark.

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    • rbt says:

      Don’t blame Seitzer; Hosmer did it himself. Seitzer begged him not to change a thing in 2012, but the kid was frustrated and didn’t listen.

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  5. DrBGiantsfan says:

    I just did a smackdown between Hosmer and Brandon Belt. It was interesting. Hosmer was better in almost every category except 2: Walks and ground balls. Hosmer’s GB/FB=2.11, Belt’s was 0.8!

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  6. Gus says:

    So, kind of piggybacking off the previous post, why are most 1B rankings putting such a gap between hosmer and belt? their projections are very similar, but if you look at the batted ball profile of each hitter it doesn’t seem reasonable to think hosmer will (next yr and in future yrs- i play in a keeper league) outproduce belt in hr’s, which is a very important category for a first baseman. i guess my question is, why is there such a gap between the two? it seems like either belt should be ranked much higher or hosmer should be taken down a peg. cant shake the feeling that most people ranking these guys have fallen for the “name”.

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  7. Gus says:

    I just have a hard time believing that, despite belt having a superior FB%, better LD%, and better ISO than hosmer, hosmer is the far better choice. Park effects cant really be that big of a factor, can they?

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