Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: Why is Hosmer Struggling?
by Jeff Herr,posted May 21 2012 12:51PM
Royals baseball history has more than its fair share of players who showed up to much fanfare and potential only to not live up to the hype. Angel Berroa, the shortstop from the Domincan Republic came up and was a sensation with the Royals. For the best Royals team since the strike shortened season of 1994, Berroa was a spark of youth and skill. He hit .287/.338/.457* (BA/OBP/SLG) with 17 HRs and 73 RBIs and won the Rookie of the Year award. What seemed like just the tip of the potential filled iceberg of Berroa turned out to be the apex of a follied career that would end in the majors amidst age questions and diminishing skills.
Bob “The Hammer” Hamlin was the player that preceded Berroa with this dubious honor. Coming up at the tail end of George Brett’s career in the strike shortened season of 1994, Hamlin hit .282/.388/.599 with 24 Hrs. and 65 RBIs. He also won the Rookie of the Year award and gave fans hope that there could be another elite player in Kansas City after the retirement of George Brett. Instead, Hamlin, as Berroa would do years later, never reached those heights again.
Now we have Eric Hosmer. While he didn’t share the curse of winning Rookie of Year as Hamlin and Berroa did, he gave Royals fans the same feelings. Hosmer is a player that scouts and “baseball people” like. He possesses a skill set that is rare and was on full display in his rookie season. He also had to deal with high expectations coming in to his first full year in the big leagues.
From his first ever major league baseball game it was apparent that this town was ready to embrace a future star. With a standing ovation for his first ever at bat he garnered a walk. He would go on to end the day 0-2 but with another walk to his credit, showing the trademark plate discipline we had heard so much about from his time in the minor leagues.
What followed over the next 127 games was Hosmer hitting a very good .293/.334/.465 with 19 HRs and 78 RBIs. While he didn’t win Rookie of the Year, he did finish third and provided quite the argument as to whether it was given to the correct person. It was clear that Hosmer was the future of the Kansas City Royals.
Now here we sit, 40 games in to the 2012 season (although Hosmer has only played in 38), and the face of this franchise has a dismal line of .172/.238/.311 that is only partially saved by his 5 HRs and 19 RBIs. It doesn’t take a scout or a statistician to tell you Hosmer is struggling.
Most around Hosmer will tell you that he’s trying to get his batting average up to .300 with just one swing. Besides one small blip in the minors, it’s fair to say that Hosmer is probably in the worst slump that he has ever experienced. Based on his potential it’s also fair to say we might just be witnessing the worst slump of his career, and he’s only in his first full year.
This past Friday and Saturday the Royals gave Hosmer both days off. They wanted him to clear his head. Royals brass didn’t even want him in the batting cages. He just needed to step back, decompress, and return ready to take things one at-bat at a time. Those two days off have yielded a 1-7 streak in the two days that followed. Bringing Hosmer’s total to 1-14 in his last 3 games. Everyone in Kansas City has started to wonder, where is Eric Hosmer?
Truth be told, he’s right here where he’s always been. Just as any scout will tell you, Hosmer is going to be fine. His current struggles might be perplexing and it’s not clear when he’ll come out of them, but he will. The scouts and the Royals assure us of this.
After all, it’s not as though Hosmer looks lost. He’s not striking out every other time at the plate and hitting weak dribblers back to the pitcher. Hosmer is only striking out 11.6% of the time and walking 7.9% of the time. While not great numbers, they are both improves from the previous year.
Hosmer is hitting fly balls at 31.3%, which is actually a decrease from his prior year number of 31.7% and is well below the 2011 league average (36%). He is also hitting line drives at a 17.6% clip which, although below his 2011 numbers of 18.7%, it’s not so low that he would be tipping the scales well below the Mendoza line.
Historically, fly balls are far more likely to turn into outs and, according to the Hardball Times (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/statpages/glossary/#ld%), line drives turn into hits about 75% of the time. This suggests there is something else at play here causing his average to be so far below what we see.
One possible issue might be his ground ball rate which currently sits at 51% compared to the 2011 league average of 44.4%. Even so, that’s still only slightly higher than his groundball rate of 49% from 2011.
If we are to assume that his decrease in fly balls, and decrease in line drives from 2011 all fed into his increase in ground balls, one still wouldn’t expect the dip we’re seeing. Ground balls aren’t as likely to be outs as fly balls and aren’t as likely to be hits as line drives, but land somewhere in the middle. This type of fluctuation shouldn’t manifest itself in a .100+ point drop in batting average.
The only other factor is “luck.” While not precisely defined, luck can be monitored by the Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) statistic. This measures how many balls put in play by the hitter (so all hits excluding strikeouts and homeruns) actually fall for hits.
It is very hard for a player to have a BABIP that is well below .300. Historically, league averages for BABIP remain consistently near the .300 plateau. Even in the steroid heightened apex of 2001 BABIP remained a steady .296.
Hosmer currently sits at a BABIP of .165. It’s the lowest in the league and would create a historical anomaly if he were to finish the season anywhere close to that number. While nobody knows for sure, this would lead us to believe that “luck” almost certainly has to be the predominant factor for Hosmer’s struggles.
What we do know for sure, and what should put the mind of many Royals fans at ease, is that he is not Hamlin or Berroa. Hamlin was 26 when he won Rookie of the Year. Hosmer is 22 and won’t even turn 23 until after the season is over. Berroa came at a time when the Royals were able to catch lightning in a bottle for one season and everything went right. The indicators were there to suggest that he might not be able to sustain.
While this is worrisome for Hosmer, it’s not all gloom and doom yet. League stalwarts such as Jose Bautista and even the great Albert Pujols find themselves struggling nearly as much as Hosmer so far in 2012. While Hosmer may be pressing a little bit, he’s not stepping too far outside his game. I won’t worry about Hosmer until his starts striking much more than he does and looking like he shouldn’t be going up against major league pitchers. To me, he still looks like he belongs and I won’t worry about him too much until that goes away. Even with his struggles he’s still not Berroa or Hamlin. Not even close.