Is Eric Hosmer Worth a Massive Contract?
If you are a power-hitting free agent first baseman in Major League Baseball nowadays, your market is not as robust as it once was. Just about every ballclub seemingly either has one of those guys already or has a guy in the minors who they could plug in at first base and live with the results.
That's part of the reason why Eric Hosmer is still looking for a home, although reports indicate that new home may emerge sooner rather than later, and it may be one he's familiar with. The Kansas City Royals are said to have offered their long-time first baseman a seven-year contract worth $147 million. The San Diego Padres have also reportedly offered the 28-year-old a seven-year deal, the Padres' offer worth $140 million. Hosmer's agent, Scott Boras, is reportedly holding out for a deal of at least eight years or longer.
Is Hosmer worth that kind of commitment?
Last Year Was His Best Year
In 2017, Hosmer had a slash line of .318/.385/.498 with 25 home runs, 94 RBIs, 98 runs scored, a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .376 and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 135. That means he was 35% more effective at driving in runs last season than a league-average hitter.
Among qualified MLB first basemen, Hosmer's 4.1 fWAR was tied for fifth, his on-base percentage was sixth, his wOBA was eighth and his wRC+ was seventh. He tied a career high with those 25 dingers (also had 25 in 2016), walked a career-high 9.8% of the time and also set a career high in isolated power (ISO) at .179.
There's a lot of good stuff there, but when compared to first basemen, it doesn't look as great. Among others at his position, that walk rate ranked only 22nd and the ISO was 24th.
He's not a basher in the traditional sense, but he was a solid all-around player in 2017. His career numbers, however, are a bit more up and down.
Since becoming an everyday player in 2011, Hosmer has posted fWAR totals of 1.0, -1.7, 3.2, 0.0, 3.5, -0.1 and 4.1. He gets dinged for playing a subpar defense at first base, and since 2011, he's 17th among qualified first basemen with an fWAR of 9.9. His 127 bombs during that stretch is tied for 21st, his OBP is 17th and his wRC+ of 111 is tied for 27th.
He's not a game-changing force at the position.
Hosmer's main issue is that he doesn't hit for much power, and power is what most first basemen bring to the table. He lacks power mainly because he's a ground ball hitter. Last year, he hit a grounder in 55.6% of his plate appearances, down slightly from 2016 when it was 58.9%. He's been over 50% every year since 2012, and his ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio of 2.50 last year was the highest of his career and fourth-highest among all qualified hitters last season.
MLB's StatCast has a statistic called "barrels," a number that combines exit velocity with the angle at which the ball left the bat. There is a sweet spot in which the launch angle (generally in the 25-to-30 degree range) and exit velocity (generally over 100 miles per hour) combines for a result that, more often than not, leads to a home run. Among 540 players to put at least 30 balls in play last year, Hosmer's barrels per plate appearance of 5.2 was tied for 146th.
Players who put the ball on the ground as much as Hosmer does are reliant on getting some luck on batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and that certainly applied to Hosmer's 2017 season as he posted a .351 BABIP. In 2016, when he batted just .266 and had an OBP of .328, his BABIP (.301) was much closer to the league average of .298. But Hosmer has generally been a high BABIP guy, with a career mark of .316.
Comparing to the Market
The Phillies signed Santana to a three-year, $60 million deal -- four less years and about $80 million cheaper than what is reportedly being offered to Hosmer. Of course, Hosmer (28 years old) is younger than Santana (will be 32 in April), so he's probably going to get a longer deal if that's what he craves. But looking at their numbers, Hosmer was the better player last year, but Santana has done more since both became first basemen back in 2011. (Hosmer has always played first, but Santana started moving out from behind the plate that season.)
Last year, Hosmer hit .318/.385/.498 with a wRC+ 135, 25 homers, and 4.1 fWAR. Santana batted .259/.363/.455, with a wRC+ of 117, with 23 dingers and 3.0 fWAR. Since 2011, though, Santana has a higher on-base percentage (.365 to .342), more homers (174 to 127), a better wRC+ (123 to 111) and more fWAR (23.0 to 9.9).
Despite that, Santana's $20 million average annual value is roughly the same as Hosmer would get ($21 million a year) if he agreed to the Royals' reported offer. And both players will be roughly the same age when their contracts expire.
Hosmer is an interesting player in which to invest seven years. It's important to remember that although Hosmer has been solid so far in his career, the team that signs him only cares about what he'll do going forward over the duration of the contract.
In that sense, he's still young, with some of the prime of his career right in front of him, and he's coming off a very good campaign. It's not out of the realm of possibility that he can come close to his 2017 numbers again in the future.
Seven years for a free agent still under 30 years old is the price of doing business in baseball's free-agent market nowadays -- just don't expect Hosmer to turn into a big-time power threat. He's a good player, and with the cost of a win at roughly $10 million per WAR, Hosmer can live up to this type of deal.