Eric Hosmer has been infuriating baseball writers, fans and coaches for going on two years now. He should have been a monster after his breakout 2011 season. He hit .293 with 19 home runs in just 523 at bats as a rookie. There was nowhere to go but up! Everyone said so. Too soon, it seemed, we forgot about Angel Berroa‘s short MLB career after winning Rookie of the Year.
Hosmer’s 2012 season was a disaster. His SLG dropped by over 100 points and he only hit .232. Some analysts blamed defensive shifts. Some writers blamed psychology/ makeup/ stress/ depression/ whatever. Most fans and the front office blamed the coaches. No one blamed Hosmer. After all, this was Eric Hosmer, a top-five first-round draft pick with MVP power and a franchise face. For years, Royals fans held their breath in feverish anticipation as he breezed through AA-ball at age twenty and put up Paul Bunyan numbers in AAA. He couldn’t be bad. He just couldn’t. Comments from every baseball scout, beat writer, front office personnel and coach led fans to believe that it wasn’t a matter of if Hosmer would start raking again, but when. Apparently, the “when” wasn’t last season, but it may have finally rolled around in June of 2013, under George Brett‘s tutelage.
Hosmer’s swing has been tweaked, tweaked back and retweaked by at least three hitting coaches in two years, never letting one thing sink in before throwing another adjustment at him. Once Hosmer’s average dropped to .174 in mid-May of 2012, Yost benched him so he could work with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. It seemed to work. Hosmer began spreading the ball around the field and from May 19, after he rejoined the lineup, until the end of June, he hit .283/.349/.443. Then, near the All-Star Break, according to an 810 Sports Radio interview with Kevin Seitzer, and reiterated in another interview with 610 Sports Radio, Seitzer was forced to make a mid-season change in hitting philosophy to generate more power. Probably due to being toyed with once again, Hosmer collapsed and hit .238/.318/.338 with five home runs for the rest of the season. By season’s end, Hosmer’s swing was a hitchy and quirky wreck that put his confidence in freefall. In the off-season, he went back home to work on his swing with the people he trusted most, his family.
The Royals brought in hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David to improve the team’s power. Somehow, by trying to force more power out of Hosmer, the philosophy ironically robbed him of what little power he had left. He didn’t hit a home run in 2013 until May 9th. In combination with his dismal 2012 season-ending power drought, he hadn’t hit a home run in 163 plate appearances.
Coincidentally, Hosmer started hitting better on May 19th, 2013, just like the year before. From that date, he has hit .306/.342/.398 in 117 plate appearances (fun additional tidbit: according to Fangraphs, he hasn’t popped up since April). Since George Brett took over as “interim hitting coach” at the end of May, Hosmer has embraced Brett’s hitting philosophy and parrots his sayings. He’s supposedly no longer thinking about hitting while he’s in the box. He doesn’t try to hit home runs. He just wants to hit the ball so hard the leather comes off. It doesn’t matter where the ball goes, as long as he drives it (“hard not far,” he repeats). Brett’s zen-like philosophy is having an effect on the young hitter. Since June 1, Hosmer is being more selective and walking more (9.2% walk rate). He’s squaring up the ball (26.6 LD%). He’s hit better overall (.305/364/.414).
Hosmer had been knocking less than ten percent of balls in play to right field. Everything else in the air has been going left or left-center. In this recent series against Tampa Bay, Hosmer hit a home run and another ball 400 feet to left-center on Thursday, he smoked a double down the right field line on Friday, lined out to right-center for a sac fly, lined a ball up the middle, and lined to shortstop on Saturday, and he lined a single to left field on Sunday. The ball is flying all over the field and almost everything has been hit really hard. Spreading the ball around the field could be paramount to his future success. If opposing teams can’t shift their defenses to predict where he will hit the ball, more hits will finally start falling between fielders.
Even though he’s slugging only .414 in June, it’s hard to lay the blame on him. His lack of power production isn’t exactly related to a lack of raw power or hitting the ball squarely. It is a direct result of Hosmer’s perpetual bad luck on line drives this year. Hitters typically have a batting average on balls in play (BAbip) of around .700 on line drives. Coming into Sunday’s game, Hosmer’s BAbip on line drives was a mere .595 for the season, more than 100 points below average. He smoked six line drives in the past two games, one of which injured Alex Cobb, by hitting him in the ear at 102 mph and bouncing back to the catcher, and another one caused Yunel Escobar to peel off his glove and shake the pain out of his hand. Hosmer only had one hit on those six scorched liners. It was a single. He won’t continue to his 27% line drive rate, but he’ll start getting more hits on balls that will inevitably drop through the defense more often.
This could finally be a turning point for Hosmer. All the needles are moving in the right direction. However, Hos had similar success turning around his 2012 season before Yost changed the hitting philosophy mid-season. Now, the clock will soon run out on George Brett’s commitment as interim hitting coach, likely leaving Hosmer with yet another hitting coach within the next two weeks. Based on Hosmer’s recent approach, any new hitting coach should just leave him the hell alone. He’s hitting the ball hard. Let him.