The Making of a Sabermetric Murderer

Roger Cormier is a new contributor to FanGraphs. This is his delightful and strange first piece.

One could be excused for assuming that Eric Hosmer was made, not born. Made to confound the so-called “advanced” defensive metrics. Built to suppress that uprising known as the “fly-ball revolution.” Manufactured to lead a club written off by the projections — to lead them to a world championship. Engineered, in short, to thwart those who have attempted to harness the wild, loose ends of the game.

This long, chilly Hot Stove season appeared to be designed just for him, a comeuppance for his agitation. He, the One Demanding the Eight-Year Contract, would wait. And wait. And wait.

And then, like all mortals do, he would settle. And it would be glorious. The universe would finally bend towards justice. We would forever look at a picture of Hosmer in a puka shell necklace and laugh until we died, happy.

But we were naive. Instead, he did sign an eight-year deal. And not only that, but the pact would allow him to leave after five years if he wanted. That’s right: he even has Free Will.

How did we get here? How did we let such a polarizing creature into our lives?

As it turns out, Eric Hosmer is neither myth nor machine, but an actual human being — the progeny of two carbon-based lifeforms, even. He wasn’t constructed to singlehandedly defy sabermetric orthodoxy. Rather, he was born in South Miami. He is a person with feelings. He was once a boy.

I wanted to learn more about him, so I turned to primary sources, digging through newspaper and internet archives to build a portrait of the man. It’s a story I found interesting — and which also just so happens to be the truth.

*****

The story begins not with Hosmer himself, but with a seven-year-old named Ileana. Ileana’s family won a lottery for a temporary work visa. They got to fly out of Cuba and into the United States. Cuban officials threatened to cancel the visa the night of their flight because two of her dolls were missing. The neighbor to whom Ileana lent the dolls presented them to the officials just in time, and that was the last time she was ever in Cuba. (Another version of events, the one told by Eric himself, is similar, except Ileana was nine, and the two dolls was one teddy bear. It doesn’t matter.)

Ileana became a nurse. She met a firefighter named Mike one 1979 evening at Coral Gables Hospital. Mike was smitten and asked her out. They dated for four years, got married, and had two sons. One was named after his father, the other was an Eric.

The sons loved baseball. They played with a Tony Gwynn SoloHitter for multiple hours a day, even though it says “solo” right there in the title. Gwynn’s career wRC+ was 132. One of the sons surpassed that wRC+ mark in 2017. The Tony Gwynn Solohitter works!

Mike Sr. was dedicated and drove his sons to baseball tournaments. He couldn’t quit his job as a firefighter, though, so he worked two days straight to get three days off instead of the normal 24 hours straight follows by just two days off. Ileana recorded Mike Jr. and Eric’s games on a camcorder. The two watched the tapes and gave her friendly advice on how to work the camera better for next time. Eric followed in his brother’s footsteps and played ball at the private American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida. Ileana had to work twice a week in the school’s science lab to help pay the $18,000 annual tuition.

They should have paid the Hosmers, “they” being the American Heritage High School Patriots. Hosmer’s high school team’s nickname is the same nickname of the most reviled football teams in history. What is equally unsurprising is that in perhaps his first photo in the Sun-Sentinel, Hosmer is doing the one thing we all know you should never do.

South Florida Sun Sentinel March 13, 2005

The paper named him the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Class 3A-2A-1A Player of the Year for 2006, as a sophomore.

Hosmer became a pitcher, too, starting his junior year. The closer, in fact. He once struck out all nine batters he faced to send American Heritage to the district finals. Went 4-0 with a 0.63 ERA. He was named South Florida Sun-Sentinel Class 3A-2A-1A Player of the Year, again. He flirted with becoming Shohei Ohtani before Ohtani was a teenager.

South FLorida Sun-Sentinel May 30, 2007

Hosmer committed to Arizona State University in 2008, but Boras Corp. had seen YouTube videos of his towering homers and advised the family about, you know, certain matters. Hosmer had clearly been thinking about the pros. As for Hosmer, he told the Sun-Sentinel he wanted to face Tim Wakefield.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel April 3, 2008
South Florida Sun-Sentinel April 3, 2008 II

Hosmer got his wish three years later, going 1-for-3 and helping Kansas City deny Wakefield his 200th career victory. It was his first time facing a knuckleballer in his life. (The Tony Gwynn SoloHitter can only prepare one for so much.) It drove Wakefield into retirement. Or, at least, Wakefield retired after that season.

Before ending Tim Wakefield’s career, Hosmer was a 6-foot-5 senior in high school. He closed one game by striking out four batters in the ninth inning. A friend’s acquaintance recorded a walk-up song for him. When Hosmer made his pro debut, his new teammates made him sing a song for them. “I didn’t expect it at all, but I had a day to think about it,” he recalled. “I was probably more nervous about that than the game. I sang a rap song.” Hosmer never specified the tune. It’s very possible Eric Hosmer sang a song his friend’s acquaintance, a rapper, wrote for Eric Hosmer.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel May 8, 2008

Hosmer led the American Heritage Patriots to their first ever 3A title. He singled, doubled, tripled, and recorded a three-inning save. Class 3A-2A-1A Player of the Year yet again. He recorded 32 strikeouts and a 0.93 ERA in 15 innings. He laughed off the rumor he would seek a $7 million signing bonus the day before the Royals drafted him third overall in the MLB draft.

South Florida Sun Sentinel June 5, 2008
South Florida Sun Sentinel June 5, 2008

He was the highest draft pick for a Broward County baseball player ever. Broward County was the second-most populous Florida county and 17th-most populous United States county in 2016. That summer he played for an amateur baseball team based in Midland, Ohio, that shared the nickname of the professional football team in Washington D.C.

Hosmer signed with the Royals 10 minutes before the August 15 deadline. He got a paltry $6 million bonus, but managed to gift his brother a Hummer and his parents an Escalade. When he took batting practice at Kauffman Stadium for the first time, it made national news. He basically embarrassed the entire team.

ESPN reported on it:

One drive off the bat of the 6-foot-4 left-handed first baseman carried into the second tier of the water display behind right field. Only a few balls have been hit that far this season by a team trying to avoid its fifth straight last-place finish in the division.

So he was banished to the Idaho Falls Chukars, where he befriended Salvador Perez. Hosmer only got to play for the Chukars (it’s a bird) for three games before Major League Baseball told him to go home. The Players Association filed a grievance because Hosmer and Pedro Alvarez’s contracts were signed after an MLB deadline extension. Hosmer didn’t care, but Alvarez contested his signing. It got resolved a month later, but by then the minor-league seasons were done.

The 2009 season the toughest for Hosmer professionally. He was okay for the Single-A Burlington Bees despite playing through a fractured knuckle on his right hand. He got promoted to the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks, too. The Wilmington News Journal tried to spin his slow 4-for-22 start into a positive, noting that five out of his 14 ground-ball outs advanced a runner.

The Dispatch July 1, 2009

On Aug. 22, 2009, the paper noted he had missed four games because of trouble with his prescription glasses. By the end of the week, he was scheduled for Lasik surgery. Hosmer had astigmatism. He came back to play nine days after the surgery and smacked the second pitch he saw for a triple. On Sept. 11, he hit a walk-off 12th-inning home run to win Game 3 of the Carolina League Northern Division playoffs. Wilmington lost the decisive fifth game to the Lynchburg Hillcats in part because Hosmer was thrown out trying to score from second on a single to left.

By 2010, it was too late to stop Hosmer. He hit .350 in the first half. Went 4-for-5 in the Futures Game. Was promoted to the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Royals pitcher Zack Greinke that summer took the news that Kansas City has the best farm system in the league with a shrug.

Very rarely do guys come straight into the big leagues and make an impact, especially hitters. Just look at the top prospects in baseball. Delmon Young was one five years ago, and he’s finally starting to play well. Alex Gordon was one four years ago, and he might be starting to play well now. So the problem (with the Royals’ prospects) is that it’s not like as soon as they get here that it’s going to be instant (success). Maybe by 2014.

Greinke was traded in December for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi.

Hosmer kept raking, perhaps due to that slight. Northwest Arkansas won the Texas League championship. Hosmer himself finished with a .977 OPS in 2010. He won the Frank White Defensive Player of the Year award, given to the best defensive Royal in the minors.

Hosmer hit .439 in 26 games at Triple-A Omaha to start 2011. Royals GM Dayton Moore’s plan was to give him “200 to 250” plate appearances in the minors before calling Hosmer up, which conveniently would have ensured Hosmer didn’t receive “Super 2” status and save the team millions of dollars. Instead, everyone but Cleveland and Kansas City in the AL Central started off so poorly that the Royals called up Hosmer on May 5. (One of the prospects in the Royals’ robust system they waited longer to promote was Wil Myers, the guy Hosmer is forcing back to the outfield in San Diego.)

Anyway, it was considered the biggest rookie call-up by the franchise since Bo Jackson. Eric informed his mother Ileana by telling her to open a gift: a pink baseball that read “Mama Hos.” “Do me a favor, Mom,” he said. “Bring it up to Kansas City so I can see it.” Hosmer wasn’t always as cool as that. He was 45 minutes early to meet Jarrod Dyson in the hotel lobby for the ride to his first baseball game.

So it turns out Eric Hosmer is human, and probably deserving of $144 million as much as any other baseball player. As a human, I mean. I am as disappointed as you are.

We hoped you liked reading The Making of a Sabermetric Murderer by Roger Cormier!

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Bless his heart, Roger was reared in Brooklyn, New York. He co-founded and co-hosts the Good Fundies podcast and website. He's too busy and self-involved to hate your favorite team. @yayroger and @goodfundies on Twitter.

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Merl
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Merl

Welcome, Mr. Roger. I read the first line and busted up. I don’t know why.