I thought it may never be done. But Eric Hosmer finally cleared that impenetrable 20 home run barrier after many seasons of hardcore flirting. You see, Hosmer hates worms. So much so, that over 50% of the balls he has put into play over his career have been of the grounder variety. Those worms have likely learned not to pop out of the ground when he’s at the plate. But all those grounders come at the expense of fly balls. And a low fly ball rate has capped Hosmer’s home run potential. Until this year.
Only twice in Hosmer’s six season career has he posted a fly ball rate above 30% (league average is around 34%), and in those two seasons, it was barely over at just a touch below 32%. This year was no different, despite the home run surge — his FB% sat at just 24.7%, a familiar number as he’s sat between 24% and 25% in half his career. That mark put him in the company of such power sources as Denard Span, DJ LeMahieu, and Ender Inciarte. Supposed power guys shouldn’t be hitting fly balls roughly 25% of the time. At the very least, we would hope for a league average mark.
So he didn’t improve his fly ball rate. Making things more difficult was his sudden penchant for the strikeout. After remarkable consistency with his SwStk% since 2012 (he has posted a mark between 8% and 9% every year from 2012 to 2015), his SwStk% suddenly spiked to a career high 11.9% this season. And while he made marginally less contact with pitches inside the zone, he had significantly more trouble putting the bat on pitches outside the zone this year. That all led to a strikeout rate that jumped to nearly 20%, up from a previous high of just 17%.
So with a stable fly ball rate and and increased strikeout rate, the only possible driver left behind his home run spike is his HR/FB rate. Like the rest of the league, it surged this year, from 15.1% in 2015, which had been his high, to a new high of 21.4%. Let’s see if we could point to any obvious explanation in his underlying metrics with some Statcast data:
|Season||Fly Ball EV*||Avg Absolute Horizontal Angle*||Brls/BBE|
First, let’s define these metrics. Fly Ball EV (exit velocity) is not the same as what’s on the Statcast leaderboard, as that also incorporates line drives. I asked Andrew to provide me data on just fly balls as the vast majority of home runs are classified as such. Andrew was gracious enough to calculate Average Absolute Horizontal Angle for me as it’s not actually available from the data. It replaces the average absolute angle I had used previously as part of my xHR/FB rate equation, but updated data is not available at this time. It’s the same as the Batted Ball Direction metric Statcast defines on MLB.com. It’s odd the metric appears in the glossary though since it doesn’t actually provide the metric yet. Brls/BBE is the newest metric added to the Statcast leaderboard and is a ratio of “barreled balls” to batted ball events.
So we see above that Hosmer moved in the right direction in all three metrics this year, but not by much. Surely I wouldn’t expect such minor improvements would result in such a significant jump in HR/FB rate. So naturally we have to expect regression next year.
Since I buried half my lede, let’s finally get to the topic of his 2016 fantasy value. Despite setting a new career high in homers, and coming close to his R+RBI total from 2015, he earned more than $6 less in 2016 than 2015, according to our values. That everyone seemingly hit way more homers this year is one reason why, but also because his batting average dropped to the second lowest mark of his career. That could easily be explained by a career low LD%.
So what to expect next year? Who knows! A lot changed in his profile this year, though the one constant is his speed is essentially gone since he last reached double digit steals in 2013. I still feel like at some point he’s gotta change his swing to increase his fly ball rate, since he doesn’t have the speed to leg out infield hits. If he could ever get that fly ball rate into the mid-30% range, he’ll challenge for 30 homers. But that’s just a dream at this point.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.