Why Eric Hosmer Struggled in the First Half of the Season
Eric Hosmer has been through a lot during his first four seasons in a Royals uniform. From his great rookie season to his awful sophomore campaign, Hosmer has been the definition of unpredictable. A solid 2013 campaign looked to be a building block for Hosmer, and the first month of 2014 looked like he was finally putting it together, hiking his average up as high as .326 on May 9th. He's been in free fall ever since, hitting just .219 from May 10th on, as well as hitting just .195 in June. We have seen this struggling version of Eric Hosmer in the past. We have also seen the beast mode version of Eric Hosmer in the past, as recently as his latest 13-game hitting streak. So the question is, what has held back Hosmer from meeting his full potential?
Stumbling With The Strike Zone
The first and most glaring issue that Hosmer has struggled with, especially in 2014, is plate discipline. O-Swing% measures how many pitches a batter swings at that are out of the zone, while Z-Swing% measures how many pitches a batter swings at that are in the zone. O-Contact% and Z-Contact% carry the same principle, except they are based on the percentage of balls and strikes a hitter makes contact with. A key percentage to look at here, as well, is his Zone%, which is the percentage of pitches Hosmer sees in the strike zone:
|Eric Hosmer||League Average||Difference|
These numbers give us a lot of insight into Eric Hosmer’s struggles at the plate this season. Let’s just start with the obvious. Hosmer is swinging at way too many balls. He swings at nearly 8% more pitches out of the zone than league average. What's even scarier is that he makes contact with pitches out of the zone almost 9% more than league average. When a hitter swings at a ball out of the zone, it generally results in a swinging strike. This may not be ideal, but they have the opportunity to see another pitch or even a few more pitches and try to hit a better pitch. Hosmer is not only swinging at bad pitches, he is putting them in play and essentially, getting himself out.
However, the biggest problem I see in these numbers revolves around the Zone%. Remember I told you that number was going to be important? Well, here’s why. Outside of Hosmer swinging at too many balls, his plate discipline metrics are actually good. He's swinging at more strikes than the league average and makes contact on pitches in the zone nearly 6% more than the league average. He also swings and misses at less pitches than the average big leaguer. That's all great. However, because of his inability to keep the bat on his shoulder when balls aren’t in the zone, he sees about 5% fewer strikes than the average hitter. Basically, Hosmer swings at a lot of balls, so pitchers started throwing him less strikes, and he is yet to make an adjustment.
A Broken Swing
To go along with problems with plate discipline, Hosmer’s swing has looked mostly broken for most of 2014. His stride has been way too long, which is odd given how wide his stance is already, and that has cause his head and eye level to drop about four to six inches while his bat travels through the zone. It’s tough to make good contact against major league pitchers that usually have at least 1-2 plus pitches when his eye level changes that much during his swing. This video is a great example. Look at where his head and stride foot start, and where they end up. Here are some stills to give you a better perspective. The first still is where his head starts, and the second still is where is head as his hands are about to explode through the zone. As a result of these mechanical flaws, Hosmer is simply just not hitting the ball hard.
His line-drive percentage is a measly 15.3%, which is good for the seventh-worst percentage of all qualified hitters. This stat should not be taken out of context either. Guys like Yasiel Puig, Josh Donaldson and even Royals All-Star Alex Gordon all have lower LD% than Hosmer. However, guys like Puig and Donaldson that have HR/FB of 13.5 and 18.2 respectively, aren’t hitting line drives because they are hitting fly balls out of the yard. A guy like Gordon, predominantly a doubles guy who will hit 17-20 homers, doesn’t hit a lot of line drives, but is driving fly balls (41.1 FB%) into the gaps and over the fence. Hosmer isn’t hitting line drives or hitting balls over the fence. His GB% of 53% is the 16th highest percentage among qualified batters, which is not ideal for a guy who is supposed to a middle of the order type of guy.
Is Hosmer Fixable?
All of this being said, yes, Eric Hosmer is fixable. In fact, it could be happening as we speak. Hosmer is currently riding a 13-game hitting streak in which he has posted a slash of .412/.492/.627, which gives him an OPS of 1.119 during the streak. His homer from July 10th gives us hope that he is slowly improving his mechanics. His home run swing still saw his head move a little, but his stride foot was much more under control. Compared to the swing you saw earlier, it is much improved.
His plate discipline during the 13-game streak has also improved drastically. His O-Swing% is 31.6% during the stretch, which isn’t great, but it is better, as well as his Z-Swing% slightly increasing from 67.6% on the season to 69.6% during this stretch. It is not surprising that a few tweaks to his mechanics and some better plate discipline have led to not only a 13-game hitting streak, but to an uptick in power, something the Royals desperately need. If the Royals are going to have a shot at winning the AL Central or even just nabbing a Wild Card, Hosmer is going to have to be a major contributor. Over the last 13 gams, he has contributed more than his fair share. However, for the Royals to be contenders, he is going to have to hit like this for the next two and a half months.