Who is Eric Hosmer?

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Will the real Eric Hosmer please stand up?

That’s the question Royals fans have been asking all season.

But, sadly, this photo above is who Eric Hosmer has been for the good part of his MLB career – an off-balanced, light-hitter (for first base standards) who I like to compare to James Loney and Casey Kotchmann and certainly not the guy Rex Hudler just last weekend called a “future MVP” and my friend Coop calls, “Hall of Hosmer,” in reference to his opinion that he’s a future Hall of Famer – although I think he may be softening on that stance.

In his rookie year in 2011 when Hosmer finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting while hitting a career-high 19 HR with 78 RBI (one below a career-high) with 27 doubles while posting a .293/.334/.465 slash line, only topped by last year’s .302/.353/.448, in just 128 games after he forced the Royals hand for a call-up with an impressive .439/.525/.582 in Omaha through 28 games (after a .338/.406/.571 between two stops in 2010). Since, other than a mammoth June last year (where he hit 9 of his 17 HR) and a hot second half, where he hit .318 with an .862 OPS (and 16 of his 17 HR) Hosmer has not been the guy that showed so much promise in 2011 and came to the Royals as the No. 8 prospect in baseball (Baseball America). Were the expectations too high?

The answer to that loaded question is, simply, yes. Hosmer was a .312/.393/.493 hitter in the minors with a lot of doubles (69 in 217 games) with 29 HR – 20 coming in 2010. Many thought the power would come with all the doubles in the minors, the 20 HR + 43 doubles in 2010 and the 19 HR in his rookie season in 2011. But that 2010 season was the only in his career where his isolated power suggested that he was an above average power hitter. Maybe he is what he is – a guy who hits more liners and balls on the ground than anything else and does have the occasional power but more times than not his HR’s come in bunches. He only hit 14 HR in a dismal 2012 season, where he was the worst offensive first baseman in baseball (.232/.304/.359), but bounced last year, but hitting more than half his long balls in one month and hit three of his four homers so far this season, where he is again the worst everyday offensive first baseman in the game (.249/.291/.351), during the Royals 10-game winning streak. On a west coast road trip, Hosmer was hitting .320 after two doubles in Seattle and had his OPS up to .800 on May 11 – 155 points higher than it is presently (.645).  It went downhill from there. Since (42 games) Hosmer is hitting .188 with a woeful .507 OPS while striking out 37 times and walking just nine times (59/19 ratio in 2014). In fact, until walking twice on Wednesday, Hosmer had gone 52 at-bats without walking.

But it’s not just the stats. He looks lost at the plate. In 2012 after MLB pitching figured him out, he continually got pitched low and away. Then, starting last June, Hosmer figured MLB pitching. In 2014, like a game of chess, the pitchers have the advantage, again. And, his plate discipline has virtually disappeared. He is now a free swinger, hacking at more than half the pitches he sees (51%), including balls out of the zone (38% of his swing and misses). He is off-balanced and falls all over the plate and himself with unnecessary massive cuts as he tries to “swing out” of his struggles. He also appears to be too far from the plate and struggles to turn on pitches that are on the inner-half. And on and on and on. But, if I can see this, how can Hosmer and the Royals not? All this adds up to him having a career-low 13.6% line drive rate, way down from a career-best 22.4% last year and, right now he has no business batting in the first-inning – whether it is No. 2 or No. 3 in the order – and should be hitting No. 5, maybe No. 6.

If you look at Baseball Reference’s similarity scores, the most comparable players, statistically are as follows: Ryan Garko, Randall Simon, Dave Revering, Dick Kryhoski, Gaby Sanchez, Les Fleming, Johnny McCarthy, Glenn Adams, Jeremy Giambi and Ross Gload (!!!!!). Wow, quite an unimpressive list. The most similar players by age includes a few nice names, such as Eddie Murray, John Olerud, Keith Hernandez, Willie Mays and Jose Guillen and current players such as the Braves Freddie Freeman and teammate Billy Butler. So, maybe there is hope for Hosmer.

I certainly haven’t given up hoping Eric Hosmer will turn into a legit stud. He is still only 24 and he has had stretches of being an elite performer. As Coop says, “have a take and don’t suck,” and if I had to have a take, it would be that Eric Hosmer will be a lot closer, but a better version, of the “most comparable players” list and not the phenom everyone expected him to be – a MVP/Hall of Famer. He may not even be an All-Star. Yes, he has a Gold Glove and could win many more, but I’d rather have an offensive weapon at first base than someone who saves runs. I’d rather have a first baseman that has a positive WAR, not a negative one. I could totally be missing the boat here, but I don’t think Eric Hosmer will ever be anything than a good defensive first baseman who can hit for average. He’ll never be a power guy. He’ll never be anything better than average. I hope he proves me wrong. I hope he is the guy that Coop and Rex Hudler proclaim him to be. But, I just don’t see it.

We still don’t really know who the real Eric Hosmer is. But, we have some trends and some comparable players that indicate that he will never be anything more than a JAG (just a guy). That is what I see.

What do you see?

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