What Went Wrong: Eric Hosmer

It was easy to mock the Padres signing of Eric Hosmer to an 8-year $144 million deal. It’s a real possibility that literally everyone outside the key decision makers in the Padres front office believed that it was a bad deal. After his first season, the doubters are up 1-0. He posted the second lowest wOBA of his career and lowest since 2012. This after coming off his best career mark, meaning that his wOBA plummeted an exorbitant 0.67 points. Since you’re generally paying a first baseman for his offense, a .309 wOBA simply doesn’t cut it. So what went wrong?

  • Too many strikeouts

One of Hosmer’s best skills was better than league average strikeout rates. Unfortunately, the gap between his strikeout rate and the league average narrowed considerably this year. Let’s check the trend:

We know the league strikeout rate has steadily risen, but Hosmer’s had remained relatively stable outside a spike in 2016. This year, his strikeout rate surged again after rebounding in 2017 and reached a new career high, tied for the closest to the league average he has ever been. A career high SwStk% coincides with this strikeout rate surge, backed by a career worst Z-Contact% and Contact%. His O-Contact% was barely above his career low set in 2016, but still represents just the second time that mark fell below 64% (to 58.5%). Losing contact skills is a surefire way to disappoint offensively.

  • More fly balls to take advantage of strong HR/FB rate? HA, I SAY!

Over the last 10 years, there is a correlation of 0.34 between FB% and HR/FB rate. That’s meaningful and pretty amazing — all you need to know is a hitter’s fly ball rate and you’ll have an immediate idea of what their HR/FB is more likely to be. A 50% FB%? Probably a home run hitter with a HR/FB rate comfortably above 20%. Only a 25% FB%? Probably a slap hitter with a below league average HR/FB rate in the single digits.

Hosmer is one of the exceptions, hampering this correlation. He clearly has the power as evidenced by his career 15% HR/FB rate and marks of at least 19.4% in the last three seasons. But he has never fully taken advantage of that home run power because he hits too many darn balls on the ground. It’s such an obvious change to add some loft to his swing, but Hosmer has been resistant. And to really shove it to those suggesting a change, he hit a higher rate of grounders and lower rate of fly balls than ever before this season:

Why is he hitting fly balls less than 20% of the time?! It’s absurd. Previously, he hadn’t had any real motivation to change his swing because he was performing well enough offensively to just leave things alone. But now that his wOBA collapsed, perhaps that’s the kick he needs to consider such a change. A lower FB% (combined with the lower HR/FB rate and higher K%) resulted in a drop back below the 20 homer plateau after two straight seasons finishing with 25.

  • Underperformed xBABIP

For four straight seasons, Hosmer has posted an actual BABIP at or above his xBABIP. This season, he underperformed his xBABIP for the first time since 2013 and by the greatest degree since 2012. His underlying skills driving his xBABIP were generally in line with his history, but he hit a lower rate of ground balls into the shift, which should have made a positive impact on his BABIP. So it appears that a small part of his disappointing performance was due to a bit of bad luck, as his balls didn’t fall for a hit as often as his underlying skills suggest they should have. He should rebound here in 2019.

***

Though it’s not as simple as changing your swing to more of an uppercut to take advantage of your power, it’s been done before and will continue to be done in the future by select hitters. We won’t know what kind of an effect, if any, a change in swing will have on the other non-power aspects of Hosmer’s, or any other hitter’s, game. However, given how low Hosmer’s FB% currently sits, there can’t possibly be any more downside. Fantasy owners are basically paying for a 20% fly ball rate at this point, which provides for ample upside potential.

Hosmer’s career high FB% hit 31.9% back in 2014. Given the same strikeout rate, but a doubling of his HR/FB rate in line with his career average, plus an at-bat total of 600 to match his last four seasons, we end up with…21 homers. That’s barely above his 2018 total. But if we increased that HR/FB rate to 20%, about where he’s been for the past three season, we end up with…31. Now we’re talking!

Since Hosmer still steals a handful of bases which is worth a couple of bucks, should enjoy a rebound in BABIP, and will probably improve his strikeout rate at least somewhat, there’s real value to be had even without a massive spike in FB%. Given the small chance he does retool his swing and increase his FB%, there’s a whole lot of potential upside in that home run total as long as he is posting a 20% HR/FB rate. I’ll be buying at the depressed prices in 2019 that assumes just a 20% FB%.





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.

newest oldest most voted
dl80
Member
Member
dl80

Next year is an odd year, so he’s definitely due for a rebound! /s (mostly)

In seriousness, though, at what point is it possible that there is some weird underlying mechanism that makes Hosmer the one real odd-even kind of player? He’s gone good-bad-good-bad for 8 years in a row, and both offensively and by overall WAR (so it’s not like it is based on flukey defensive numbers).

I mean, if he makes it 2 more years, do we start to think there is something to it? I know it sounds ridiculous, even to me as I type it, but I just can’t understand any real explanation.

jayman4
Member
Member
jayman4

I have wondered about this too. Perhaps a bad year leads to some sub-conscious adjustments the following year. Then he gets complacent and the bad comes back. Really seems implausible but that is the best I came up with.