Where Scott Boras Could Be Right About Eric Hosmer

There are circumstances under which $150 million-plus for Eric Hosmer might make sense.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

Earlier this week, Travis Sawchik addressed some of the confusion surrounding an apparent bidding war for the services of Eric Hosmer, a player who’s limited to first base defensively and has produced a career batting line only about 10% better than league average.

Hosmer has been an inconsistent performer since his debut in 2011, but wildly differing narratives have emerged regarding the the 28-year-old and his virtues. There are those who praise his intangibles, qualities that have made Hosmer a team leader and World Series champion. And while Hosmer’s agent Scott Boras is certainly selling that point of view, it’s also one that’s difficult to quantify. For the purposes of this post, we’ll ignore it.

There’s also the narrative surrounding Hosmer’s ground-ball tendencies. If he could just embrace hitting the ball in the air — maybe in a park that doesn’t suppress fly balls like Kansas City — his offense might take another step forward. Travis discussed that possibility, as well, back in November.

An alternate way of selling Hosmer is to say he just produced a breakout season. That’s one we will explore here.

Perhaps the term breakout isn’t entirely accurate. After all, Hosmer authored a couple good seasons before 2017. It’s also reasonable to say that the most recent campaign constitutes the best of Hosmer’s career, though, his 135 wRC+ and 4.1 WAR both representing career highs. Hosmer also arrived in the majors as a 21-year-old who’d compiled just 329 plate appearances above High-A, so it’s possible that some of the challenges he’s faced at the major-league level are a product of having to learn on the job.

Age and recent performance are all factors considered by projections and right now Steamer has Hosmer as a 2.6 WAR player. If you take that projection, add in an aging curve, a $9-million-per-WAR cost, and add in inflation, it looks like this:

Eric Hosmer’s Contract Estimate — 6 yr / $125.2 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Contract
2018 28 2.6 $9.0 M $23.4 M
2019 29 2.6 $9.5 M $24.6 M
2020 30 2.6 $9.9 M $25.8 M
2021 31 2.1 $10.4 M $21.9 M
2022 32 1.6 $10.9 M $17.5 M
2023 33 1.1 $10.9 M $12.0 M
Totals 12.6 $125.2 M

Assumptions

Value: $9M/WAR with 5.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

That’s the market-value version of a six-year contract for Hosmer if we take the projections at face value. That $125 million mark is basically the same one at which Travis Sawchik arrived, as well. Sawchik questioned demands for a seven- or eight-year deal:

Something like $20 million per season for a 28-year-old who has produced 10 WAR over seven seasons, but is coming off a four-win season, is not a wild overpay with a win worth about $9 million on the open market.

Jay Jaffe at Sports Illustrated came to a similar conclusion, as well. If it’s true that certain teams value Hosmer at more than $20 million per year and also that Scott Boras has set a value considerably higher even than that, we have to conclude that (a) those intangibles have real value to clubs, (b) the ask by Boras and the reports of offers are unreasonable or false, and/or (c) maybe our evaluation of Hosmer is too modest.

Let’s focus on that third possibility, because it is the easiest one to evaluate. If Hosmer is actually more valuable that the projections suggest, what are we missing? Perhaps the best way to answer the question is to look through history for similar players and see what they did, focusing on Hosmer’s output over the last four years and emphasizing a breakout at age 27.

Before we get to that — and with the understanding that paying a player like Hosmer anywhere near $100 million makes no sense at all to many of our readers — let’s run through one quick comparison in the form of Carlos Santana.

Carlos Santana is currently a player of roughly equivalent value to Eric Hosmer. He just signed with the Phillies for three years and $60 million. That would appear to make Santana a bargain relative to Hosmer, but note the ages of the two players. The Phillies are paying Santana for his age-32 through age-34 seasons. Hosmer, meanwhile, wouldn’t hit that mark until year five of his contract. Santana didn’t reach the majors until later in his career, but in his age-27 season, he put up a Hosmer-like season, with a 132 wRC+ and 3.6 WAR. He was probably a 2.5-WAR player at that time and proceeded to put up about 11 WAR over his age-28 to -31 seasons, just a bit better than Hosmer is projected for above. Using some slight mathematical contortions, we can say that, if Hosmer does what Santana just did, he might be worth a three-year, $60 million contract in four years time, and that the next four years are probably worth around $100 million. Voila, Hosmer is worth $160 million.

Age matters. It’s certainly one of the biggest things Hosmer has going for him right now. To put Hosmer’s performance in the right context, I looked at all first baseman since 1947 who, from age 23 through age 27, recorded between eight and 13 WAR and recorded something in the vicinity of Hosmer’s 3,232 plate appearances during that range.

These constraints alone narrow the number of similar players to 22. Given the positional requirement, the plate appearances, and the WAR, almost all of the players were fairly similar offensively, with a wRC+ ranging from 103 to 130. I took that band of players and looked at those who had a breakout season at age 27.

Here are those players’ careers from age 23 through age 27.

Eric Hosmer Comparable Players Age 23 Through Age 27
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Carlos Delgado 2558 140 .270 .361 .537 125 11.9
Justin Morneau 2896 129 .283 .350 .503 119 11.6
Mike Sweeney 2569 95 .304 .373 .496 118 11.1
Gil Hodges 2622 107 .269 .353 .463 114 11.1
Derrek Lee 2738 112 .269 .359 .480 119 10.1
Chris Chambliss 2913 49 .284 .326 .405 109 10.0
Richie Sexson 2634 146 .273 .342 .522 117 8.8
AVERAGE 2704 111 .279 .352 .487 117 10.7
Eric Hosmer 3232 94 .292 .351 .449 117 10.6

Now here’s how those players did in their age-27 seasons.

Eric Hosmer Comparables at Age 27
Name HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ wRC+ Added* WAR
Gil Hodges 40 .268 .374 .527 137 31 5.0
Chris Chambliss 17 .293 .323 .441 126 22 4.1
Mike Sweeney 29 .304 .374 .542 128 14 4.0
Derrek Lee 31 .271 .379 .508 133 18 3.8
Carlos Delgado 44 .272 .377 .571 134 13 3.6
Justin Morneau 23 .300 .374 .499 128 12 3.3
Richie Sexson 29 .279 .363 .504 126 12 2.9
AVERAGE 30 .284 .366 .513 130 17 3.8
Eric Hosmer 25 .318 .385 .498 135 23 4.1
That is, the improvement of the player’s age-27 wRC+ over his age-23 to -26 campaigns.

These are all first basemen with careers fairly similar to Hosmer’s. They were decent in their mid-20s and had their best seasons at age 27, at least up to that point. Now we know Boras is looking for an eight-year deal, so here is how these seven players performed from age 28 through age 35.

Eric Hosmer Comparable Players Age-28 Through Age-35
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Gil Hodges 4836 238 .282 .369 .513 129 31.0
Carlos Delgado 5140 282 .288 .399 .559 143 29.9
Derrek Lee 4649 201 .294 .373 .514 129 23.7
Chris Chambliss 4614 122 .276 .338 .425 108 14.6
Justin Morneau 3381 114 .281 .348 .465 115 11.3
Mike Sweeney 2917 108 .294 .362 .485 117 8.9
Richie Sexson 2959 160 .250 .346 .494 120 8.1
AVERAGE 4071 175 0.281 0.362 0.494 123 18.2

Here we find three really good results, a couple players in the middle, and a couple more on the low end. No one, it should be noted, completely bombed. Now let’s look at that 18.2 WAR average over eight years with normal aging.

Eric Hosmer’s Contract Estimate — 8 yr / $182.4 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Contract
2018 28 3.2 $9.0 M $28.8 M
2019 29 3.2 $9.5 M $30.2 M
2020 30 3.2 $9.9 M $31.8 M
2021 31 2.7 $10.4 M $28.1 M
2022 32 2.2 $10.9 M $24.1 M
2023 33 1.7 $10.9 M $18.6 M
2024 34 1.2 $10.9 M $13.1 M
2025 35 0.7 $10.9 M $7.7 M
Totals 18.1 $182.4 M

Assumptions

Value: $9M/WAR with 5.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

A-ha! Eight years and about $180 million. Is this the most likely outcome for Hosmer? Perhaps not, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility. The caveats with Hosmer are still there: inconsistency, a .351 BABIP propping up his career year, questions about his glove. Even optimistically, we are looking at only a three-win player. Perhaps the issue really lies with just how expensive it is buy wins on the free-agent market right now. If you were a team that had an average player at first base, it wouldn’t make much sense to pay more than $100 million for a player like Hosmer.

If you were a big-market team with terrible first-base options and at a place on the win curve such that each incremental improvement was incredibly important, a major investment in Hosmer might make some sense. You hope for the big outcome, but are able to write off the less desirable one. It isn’t clear that a team like that is out there right now, which could make finding a good deal difficult. Eric Hosmer is risky and probably doesn’t make sense for most teams, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t semi-reasonable cases to be made for Hosmer as a $150 million-plus player.

We hoped you liked reading Where Scott Boras Could Be Right About Eric Hosmer by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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AJ pro-Preller
Member
AJ pro-Preller

“Eric Hosmer, a player who’s limited to first base defensively”…yea but its GOLD freaking GLOVE defense…doesn’t mean much here if it ain’t a Dodger/Cub

CCSAGE
Member
CCSAGE

I got stuck on that phrase as well – not only due to the 4 GG’s, but because the vast majority of first basemen are also ‘limited to first base defensively’

As an aside to AJpro-preller – do you see how I posted a counterpoint without the use of sarcasm/snark/pejoratives/general negativity? It’s likely that this message will fall on deaf ears, but you don’t win debates by yelling the loudest, especially in a forum that is dedicated to the analysis of data.

EonADS
Member
EonADS

I sincerely doubt he cares, CCSAGE.

Mean Mr. Mustard
Member
Mean Mr. Mustard

Well…Rafael Palmeiro won a GG primarily as a DH. Derek Jeter won how many? There are other egregious examples I could point out, but my point is that winning a Gold Glove is not necessarily an indicator of defensive excellence. Sometimes people stop examination after looking at fielding percentage, which doesn’t say much about range or anything else. Sometimes, it’s the result of being the least moldy apple. And sometimes they’re won on reputation.

thestatbook
Member
thestatbook

The gold glove is voted on by managers and coaches. Seeing as you can’t vote for your own guy, most votes are based on 0-18 games worth of seeing a guy.

The reality is, the coaching staff in Seattle, for example, probably isn’t paying that much attention to non-Seattle fielders enough to make educated votes. I’ve heard some coaches just put whoever won it the previous year in.

The Gold Glove is pretty much baseball’s equivalent to the NCAA’s coaches poll. The coaches are too busy worrying about their own team than to watch all the guys they have to vote for. Therefore, citing a gold glove as anything quantitative is as lazy as it gets.

hardball14
Member
hardball14

Lol. Discounting the professional opinions of baseball lifers, MLB Managers and GMs, because they *only* see a player play between 6-18 times a season.

When the average fangrapher doesnt see half that.