The Royals are continuing to build on last season’s surprise success, and Eric Hosmer – finally – is a major reason why.
Entering their Sunday Night Baseball matchup against the division-foe Tigers, the Royals are off to a hot start, and Eric Hosmer is one of the main reasons. Hosmer, the man whom everyone expected to be a cornerstone of the Royals future, has had his up and downs in his Major League career. Similar to Kendrys Morales, who is also off to a hot start, the question becomes whether or not Hosmer can sustain his early season production.
The walk and strikeout rates for Hosmer aren’t really in question when it comes to his production. The real question is whether he can keep hitting the ball gap-to-gap, or is this just a matter of small sample size?
First of all, we are getting closer to small sample size being an unusable term when talking about 2015 production. Hosmer is currently slashing .322/.396/.551, which would be his highest single-season OPS.
Part of the production for Hosmer is a .367 BABIP, which would also be a career-high. BABIP isn’t necessarily something to brag about since Hosmer may be benefiting from good luck. However, that isn’t the case for Hosmer. Similar to Morales, Hosmer has traded grounds balls for line drives. This year, Hosmer is hitting line drives on 25.8 percent of balls in play.
The reason to be concerned about the line drive rate is the hard contact rate for Hosmer. This year, Hosmer is making hard contact on 27.1 percent of balls is play. That is down from last season, where he hit 33.2 percent of balls hard, but finished with a .716 OPS. That is concerning, but Hosmer is making soft contact at a similar rate to last year at 17.7-percent.
For the season, Hosmer has hit everything well. He is currently struggling against sliders and split fingers. Splits aren’t in every pitchers arsenal – neither are sliders – but he will usually run into one during a game.
Against left-handed pitchers, Hosmer has not recorded a hit against a cutter, which is a concern. However, he is staying on the ball as he is slugging .429 against sliders for lefties. That’s an impressive number for Hosmer, as he is slugging .233 for his career against sliders from left handed pitchers.
The contact rates stand out for Hosmer, and he is probably the beneficiary of good luck on some balls, but that isn’t Hosmer’s full value. Hosmer is a plus-value defender at first base. In the past two years, Hosmer has been five defensive runs saved above replacement. This year alone, Hosmer has saved two runs with his defense.
There really is no reason to not buy what Eric Hosmer is doing this year. He is making solid contact, and it is resulting in line-drives. The trade in of ground balls for line-drives has led to a higher BABIP, which contributes to his elevated slash line. At first, he is a very good defender, and the Royals were waiting for him to reach his peak on offense. It appears that Hosmer is reaching those levels in 2015 and there is no reason to not buy in on the current production.