Eric Hosmer's contract year is not off to a good start for him or the Royals
Eric Hosmer is hitting only .193 with two extra-base hits so far this season
The Kansas City Royals lost a frustrating 13-inning game to the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on Thursday. The game was scoreless until Delino DeShields knocked a walk-off single for Texas (TEX 1, KCR 0).
The Royals had four hits (three singles, one double) and went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. They've scored in only four of their past 41 offensive innings, and in each of those four innings, they scored just one run. Kansas City has not had a multi-run inning in a full week. Not since last Friday.
One the biggest reasons the Royals are scuffling offensively -- they rank dead last in the majors with an average of 3.15 runs -- is first baseman Eric Hosmer, who went 0 for 3 with two walks Thursday and is hitting a measly .193/.270/.263 (52 OPS+) in 2017. He has two extra-base hits (double, home run) in 63 plate appearances.
Hosmer, 27, has had several strong seasons but has yet to break out as the offensive force so many expected he would become after the Royals selected him with the third pick in the 2008 draft. By OPS+, his best season was 2015, when he hit .297/.363/.459 (122 OPS+) with 18 home runs. Last year he hit .266/.328/.433 (102 OPS+) with a career-high 25 home runs.
The offensive bar for a first baseman is quite high, of course. The league average first baseman is hitting .250/.329/.450 (120 OPS+) this season and only once in parts of seven big-league seasons has Hosmer exceeded those numbers. He's a career .276/.334/.426 (106 OPS+) hitter in nearly 3,800 MLB plate appearances.
Since Hosmer broke into the big leagues in 2011, 23 first basemen have batted at least 2,500 times. Here are Hosmer's ranks among those 23 first basemen:
Batting average: .276 (9th)
On-base percentage: .334 (13th)
Slugging percentage: .426 (19th)
OPS: .759 (17th)
OPS+: 106 (17th)
Home runs: 103 (17th)
Extra-base hits: 294 (9th)
RBI: 477 (9th)
Hosmer simply has not been a top-tier offensive performer at first base. He has been more Mitch Moreland than Miguel Cabrera. He is a good defender at first -- the various defensive stats hate him for whatever reason, though based on the eye test, he seems to be a comfortably above-average fielder to me -- and that's important, but it's not too difficult to find a first baseman who can match what he gives you at the plate.
The problem for Hosmer is he is going to be a free agent after this season, and if he plans on scoring a big contract, he's going to have to show more at the plate. Rather than build on that big 2015 season, he took a step back in 2016, and he is off to a dreadful start in 2017. Here is Hosmer's 2017 spray chart, via Baseball Savant:
Hosmer, a left-handed hitter, has pulled two balls to right field in the air so far this season. Two. That is unfathomable. Don't get me wrong, being able to hit the ball to the opposite field is a nice skill to have -- announcers enjoy it so much that every opposite-field single is automatically dubbed a "nice piece of hitting" -- but for a first baseman expected to provide offensive might, being unable to pull the ball in the air is a problem. Where is the power supposed to come from?
Fortunately for Hosmer, he has a few things going for him despite his rough start this season. For starters, his age. He won't turn 28 until October and teams will see him as a player right smack in the prime of his career. Secondly, his pedigree. Hosmer was a crucial piece of a World Series-winning team and clubs know he can handle the spotlight. And three, his defense. If nothing else, they know he'll catch the ball.
That said, defense-first first basemen are typically not a hot commodity. At this point Hosmer is closer to being the next James Loney than the next Mark Teixeira. He has yet to show he can be even a consistently average hitter relative to his position. We've seen flashes of it, but nothing more. Without a step forward offensively this year, teams will be wary of paying Hosmer big money in free agency this coming offseason.
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