‘What happened to the power?’
That’s the question that the Kansas City Royals and the their fans have been wondering about first baseman Eric Hosmer, once thought to be a future offensive star and middle-of-the order anchor along with Billy Butler after .799 OPS debut season that featured 19 homers and 11 steals.
But one brutal -1.6 fWAR, .663 sophomore slump of a 2012 later, the former top prospect is still looking for answers.
Well, he’s got part of it down, I suppose. With a .270 batting average going into play on Saturday, at least Hosmer is no longer floundering at .232 anymore. In fact, he’s in a little bit of a hitting streak in June thus far with three multi-hit games in his last six, and carrying a .333 average over 25 PA this month.
Considering that his season OPS is still identical to what he ended up with last year, though, it’s just a baby step towards fixing a much more alarming problem.
That, of course, would be the total disappearance of his power. Even when the 23-year-old was struggling last season, Hosmer still managed with hit 14 home runs. This year? He’s on pace for just three, after tallying one lone homer back on May 9.
Now, that would be okay as long as he’s still hitting … if he was a shortstop, perhaps. At first base, however, it practically makes the lefty bat a giant sinkhole in terms of production, as his -0.1 fWAR would indicate.
The problem, though, isn’t that Hosmer no longer has any power. Actually, with nine doubles on the season already, he’s on pace for 26 in 2013, which would be an improvement from last season … so clearly, he’s still got some pop in that bat.
Whether he can get the ball up in the air to demonstrate it, though, is another story.
In short, the story is that the first baseman is pounding the ball into the ground far too much. He’d started the trend last season with a 53.6 percent ground ball rate, but that number has now gone up to 59.2 percent. As you can imagine, that’s reduced his pop-up rate from 11.3 percent to his rookie season to just 3.2 in 2013, but has seen his infield hits number go up to nine percent from 3.6 in 2011.
Okay, so he’s lining the ball at a career-best 22.5 percent, which explains the doubles power … but the downside is rather massive — the 3.23 GB/FB ratio has all but sapped his home run power, leaving his HR/FB rate to 3.2 percent simply because he just isn’t hitting that many fly balls to begin with (18.3 percent, easily the lowest among first baseman).
In fact, the only three guys in the entire leage ahead of him in that department? Elvis Andrus, Everth Cabrera, and Ben Revere.
So yeah, like I said, Hosmer’s batting profile would be perfect if he was a speedy shortstop. Unfortunately for the Royals, he’s their first baseman, and this identity crisis is costing the team more than it’s helping.