Eric Hosmer’s Hacking

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:

Name O-Swing%
Vladimir Guerrero 45.2%
Alfonso Soriano 43.9%
Miguel Olivo 42.1%
Mark Trumbo 41.0%
Adam Jones 40.4%
Delmon Young 40.2%
Alex Gonzalez 40.2%
Yuniesky Betancourt 38.0%
Jeff Francoeur 37.8%
Erick Aybar 37.1%
Robinson Cano 36.8%
Josh Hamilton 36.7%
Adrian Beltre 36.4%
Eric Hosmer 36.3%

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:

Hosmer’s swings vs. four-seam fastballs

Source: TexasLeaguers.com

Hosmer chased 33% of four-seamers thrown out of the zone, according to Joe Lefkowitz’s Pitch F/X Tool. The league average, per THT’s Harry Pavlidis, is about 23%.

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:

Hosmer’s swings vs. sliders

Source: TexasLeaguers.com

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.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


20 Responses to “Eric Hosmer’s Hacking”

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  1. DrBGiantsfan says:

    A lot of umpires force rookies to swing at pitches that would be called balls for other batters. Hosmer had better walk rates in the minors. I don’t think he will suddenly break out and he could even have a sophomore slump as pitchers start to get a book on him, but it’s a solid bet he will improve with time.

    I wouldn’t get too worried about rookies who swing at a lot of pitches because they are kind of forced to by the unwritten rules of baseball.

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    • Oliver says:

      That doesn’t make any sense at all.

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      • Oregon Nut Cups says:

        Actually makes a lot of sense if you’ve watched a game or two :)

        That said the Royals seems to coach hacking and go after players who do: Frenchie and Yuni as examples. Heck, they gave Pedro Feliz a minor league contract last year

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      • sumajestad says:

        This is meant as a reply to Oregon Nut. Don’t know why there is no button to reply to his comment.

        Kevin Seitzer most certainly does not teach hacking. There is a difference between acquiring hitters with bad plate discipline and actively promoting aggressiveness as an organizational hitting philosophy. Seitzer teaches patience. The problem in organizational philosophy is that Moore acquires hitters with poor plate discipline, whom they try to teach plate discipline to at the major league level. That rarely works.

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    • Nate says:

      I call for research on that. Umpires have a different strike zone for rookies? Or in some other way force rookies to swing at more pitches?

      We’ve got PitchFx and stuff, can that be verified?

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      • Oliver says:

        Yeah, exactly. It should show up in the data. But even then, how do you parse the data for rookie-hacking, as opposed something caused by umpires? This stinks of unfalsifiable, not because it’s right but because you could insist either way.

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      • Ludwig von Koopa says:

        Well the most direct way would be to reach over the catcher and grab the surprised rookie’s bat, of course.

        But I agree, if we look at all called strikes on rookies vs. veterans we should be able to see a difference in the width of the zone, if it exists.

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      • glenstein says:

        @Oliver you can look at called strikes on rookies, no?

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      • stuck in a slump says:

        While you may be able to find more called strikes on rookies, how much of that is the rookie having been pressing/hacking at the plate and the ump no longer giving them the benefit of the doubt vs an umpire’s preconceived notion of what a rookie SHOULD be swinging at?

        I’ve seen a lot of guys who are notoriously disciplined at the plate who have to take a fastball down the middle to get a called strike, while the ‘hackers’ will get anything called a strike if it’s remotely close to the plate.

        Even with data to verify that Rookies get more called strikes, this could be a case of the chicken and the egg.

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    • Frank Rizzo says:

      +1; This makes perfect sense. Not only do umps have wider strike zones for rooks (esp vs. veteran SP), players like Hoz, Moose and Goldschmidt are trying to make a name for themselves which has a tendency to lead to reaching at bad pitches.

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  2. Dibs says:

    Good point Dr.

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  3. geo says:

    I wouldn’t worry too much about it, as he has said he is well aware that he was swinging too much last year while he was learning how major league pitchers were going to go after him. Plus his minor league rates were much better. He’ll adjust.

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  4. LuckyStrikes says:

    Unfortunately, Hosmer is looking like a possbile bust candidate for 2012 as his draft stock (price) continues to rise. Just not sure he can earn a profit on his rising price in most auction leagues. He’s got talent for sure, but it almost seems better to wait on or pay much less for a guy like Ike Davis who also has BB/SLG skills on the rise.

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  5. joey bats says:

    hosmer is not a bust in 2012. sure it could be the perfect storm, but the royals dont have much to play for just like in 2011. its a “fun” merry be lucky type of rollercoaster season for the Royals. theres not much pressure in KC either. on top of that he has no prior memory, each AB is new and each day is new. I love the mental make up of the kid.

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  6. hawkinscm says:

    “for a guy at the low end of the defensive spectrum”

    Please tell me you did not just cite UZR based on less than a season of data. Also, every single scouting report is to the contrary.

    As for Hosmer’s hacking, you’re not doing a good job of looking at everything. It’s a given that he hacked too much last year, and as far as that goes, you did a fine job proving it. But I don’t think anyone doubted it. But all of your work is virtually moot because Hosmer’s entire stat history and scouting history is that he has good plate discipline. We can’t be 100% sure that his hacking will not return in 2012, but I think it’s safe to say it will not. He had changed his approach after his promotion last year. He realizes he needs to get back to what got him to the big leagues – [enter joke about how the Royals didn’t care for his plate discipline].

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    • stuck in a slump says:

      1B is the lowest of the defensive positions. By playing 1B, Hosmer is on the shallow end of defensive talent by default. A GG 1B isn’t likely to do as well at 3B or the OF. I believe defensive metrics give more weight to Catchers, Shortstops, 2B, CF, 3B, RF, LF, 1B in roughly that order.

      After all, if you can’t hack it defensively at 1B the only other place for you is DH if you’re in the AL.

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  7. Edwincnelson says:

    We’ll see how he reacts but having his amazing bat speed and good mechanics can be an ongoing problem in that he knows there are very few balls he can’t make contact with. Players with high contact rates and poor plate patience can have wild variations in their BABIP. Some players are looking for “their” pitch to drive and wait for it. Hosmer is the rare breed of players who can take what is given and make something of it. That being a positive unless you start going after balls you can make contact with, but can’t really do anything with.

    Having watched him in A ball a couple of times it was pretty clear that pitchers were wary of challenging him, especially with RISP, and he earned more than a few walks from pure intimidation, which is something that clearly isn’t going to carry over to MLB.

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  8. Troy says:

    I spoke about this before but has anyone looked at confidence intervals to determin projections for player statistics. This would account for small sample sizes and the intervals will be widder. Also, looking at intervals for major events would also allow poeple to determine hypothesis testing if an significant event has changed a player (ie injury or change in ballpark). Also, you could use those intervals to determine players that are buy low or sell high candidates.

    Just a thought, but it woudl be interesting to look at players as upper and lower bands of projections that would tighten as sample sizes increased.

    Troy

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