Eric Hosmer is a trendy fantasy pick this spring, and for good reason. The Royals first baseman batted .293/.334/.465 during his age-21 season, providing decent power (19 homers) and uncommon speed (11 steals) for a guy at the low end of the defensive spectrum. Hosmer’s youth, contact ability, athleticism and promise of more pop from his 6-foot-4, 230 frame have caused him to shoot up the draft board, placing eighth among first basemen and just outside the top 50 overall in MockDraftCentral’s latest ADP Report.
Hosmer could bust out in 2012 — the fans are betting on it, projecting a .299/.359/.501 line, 25 homers and double-digit steals. But for Hosmer to progress from good young hitter to true fantasy stud, he’ll need to hone his strike-zone discipline. Specifically, he needs a cure for a serious case of hack-itis against the heat and sliders/cutters.
The lefty swinger drew 34 free passes in 563 plate appearances as a rookie. But that actually overstates Hosmer’s patience, as seven of those were intentional walks. If you subtract those outside lobs from the equation, Hosmer’s walk rate was 4.3% instead of 6%. That was one of the 20 lowest figures among 145 qualified hitters in 2011.
Not surprisingly, you’ll find Hosmer’s name toward the top of the chase list. He went after 36.3% of pitches thrown out of the strike zone, compared to the 28.6% average. That made him one of the game’s 15 most hack-happy hitters:
As that list shows, some guys like Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre manage to rake with a huge strike zone by making lots of contact and hitting for elite power. Hosmer has the contact part down (14.6 K%), but not he’s not a big-time slugger — at least not yet. He would be better served by laying off some of these junk pitches and putting himself in a position to see more hitter’s counts. Hosmer’s wide zone meant that he fell behind the pitcher in 35.1% of his plate appearances, well above the 31.7% average for American League batters.
Pitchers seemed well aware of Hosmer’s tendency to chase, putting just 46.6% of their offerings in the zone against him (the league average was 49.8%). Hosmer was especially jumpy against four-seam fastballs. He didn’t go clubbing on low pitches all that much, but he stretched the strike zone on the sides and especially on high heat:
Outside of four-seamers, Hosmer was also a free-swinger against sliders (32%, 30% average) and cutters (36%, 28% average). Most of his chases on sliders came on pitches at the shins and ankles:
Going after those low breaking balls seemingly hurt him in the power department: Hosmer hit a ground ball 58% of the time that he put a slider or cutter in play, way above the 45% average.
This look at Hosmer’s shortcomings at the plate isn’t meant to be a condemnation of those spending an important pick on him. That Hosmer managed to hit 14% better than the league average at an age when most players are in A-Ball speaks to his talent, and it’s to be expected that someone who turned 22 this past October isn’t close to being a finished product. But better plate discipline, particularly against fastballs and sliders/cutters, would put him in favorable counts and let him tap into his power potential. That, in turn, would go a long way toward reaching fans’ expectations for 2012 and eventually emerging as a star-level first baseman.