Eric Hosmer, Bob Hamelin, Alex Gordon and lots of numbers to hint at what it all means
The Kansas City Star
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later and the wake of an oh-for-7 that dropped Eric Hosmer’s batting average to .173 is as good a time as any.
It started last night on Twitter, and is continuing in my e-mail this morning, people moving closer to the edge and the questions from fans about sending the Royals’ best young talent since at least Zack Greinke to the minor leagues^ gaining momentum and even a rough comparison gaining steam:
Of Hosmer and Hamelin.
^ One thing to keep in mind, for the get-Hosmer-out-of-there crowd: who do you replace him with? He gets the day off today, for instance, and Johnny Giavotella is your DH with Billy Butler playing first. You want that to be the permanent solution? I’d rather wait for Hosmer’s luck to even out and his talent to shine through.
You probably remember Bob Hamelin — The Hammer! — winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1994 and then, essentially, falling apart in 1995. Hamelin actually had some good years in ‘96 and ‘97, but the narrative on him is a one-year wonder who couldn’t back up a shiny debut.
So the comparison is natural, I suppose, even as it’s misguided. Hosmer and Hamelin^ are/were both left-handed first basemen playing for the same success-starved franchise, each with promising rookie years and (so far for Hosmer, at least) disappointing follow-ups.
^ @BHIndepMO makes a point I should have: Hosmer was five years younger than Hamelin in their rookie seasons.
Hamelin in 1994: .282 batting average, .388 on-base, .599 slugging percentage and a 147 OPS+ over 375 plate appearances.
Hosmer in 2011: .293/.334/.465 with a 117 OPS+ over 563 plate appearances.
Hamelin in 1995: .168/.278/.313 and a 53 OPS+ over 242 plate appearances.
Hosmer in 2012: .174/.237/.319 and a 53 OPS+ over 156 plate appearances^.
^ Hosmer’s career numbers, in 164 games: .267/.313/.433 and a 103 OPS+.
So, just from those numbers you can see where the comparisons come from. But if you look a little deeper, you see that they really don’t apply. It’s why I’ve probably been about as staunch a Hosmer believer as anyone in town.
Hosmer in 2011: .314 babip, 14.6 K%, 6.0 BB%, 2.41 K/BB.
Hosmer in 2012: .165 babip, 11.5 K%, 7.7 BB%, 1.50 K/BB.
Hamelin in 1994: .277 babip, 16.5 K%, 14.9 BB%, 1.11 K/BB.
Hamelin in 1995: .192 babip, 23.1 K%, 10.7 BB%, 2.15 K/BB.
What you see there is a drastic drop in pure luck with balls in play. If you isolate that part of Hosmer’s season so far, his numbers would be slightly down from last year, but only slightly, enough that nobody would be talking about moving him anywhere.
And the reason I expect this to be just a phase instead of the new reality is that his walks are up and his strikeouts down, impressive, if you think about it, with everything else going on. For the most part, this just isn’t a guy overmatched at the plate (though he had a few bat plate appearances last night). Hamelin, on the other hand, had some bad luck amplified by an awful trend of skyrocketing strikeouts and fewer walks.
Per FanGraphs, Hosmer is swinging at fewer pitches (particularly outside the strike zone), but most of the other numbers are fairly equal from last year. One point of caution is that his line drive percentage is down from last year (17 to 11).
A Hosmer comparison I haven’t heard people make as often is to Alex Gordon. You probably remember Gordon having an awful go of it his rookie year, hitting well under .200 into June and being inches away from a demotion to Omaha before a four-hit game in Cleveland.
Gordon’s first 36 games that year:
.168/.303/.261 with a .231 babip. He also struck out 39 times in 143 plate appearances (Hosmer has struck out 18 times in 156 PAs).
We know how that story ended. Gordon caught fire the last three months or so, worked through some injuries, and broke out in a big way last year.
The Royals’ macro timeline probably can’t afford to wait that long on Hosmer — in part because he’s much less likely to sign an extension in KC — but it is at least an accessible precedent for a wildly talented player overcoming some early struggles.
In other words, there is a crossroads that the Royals and Hosmer might come to, but at least in my mind, it’s still a ways off. I’d still take the over on 20 homers and a 100 OPS+, for instance. His at-bats are still mostly strong, and his peripherals are still mostly encouraging.
But the production has to come.