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Eric Hosmer’s declining swing

If things aren’t fixed, the mega-deal the Padres gave Eric Hosmer over the offseason is sure to become a mistake.

San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It would be an understatement to say Eric Hosmer was one of the more perplexing free agents on the market last offseason. While one of the better players available, the consensus was that he was going to get overpaid. The high asking price from Hosmer, Scott Boras, and company, and the overall lack of fits keep the amount of suitors for him low, as for much of the offseason, it seemed like the Royals and Padres were the only likely destinations. Due to a better budget situation, the Padres were able to make the far-and-away higher offer, eventually inking him to an eight year, $144 million deal.

The figures of the deal made many skeptical, including myself. It felt extremely risky to give a large amount of money and a long commitment to a first baseman that had season-to-season numbers that would make your head spin.

Perhaps part of the risk seen in this was Hosmer’s lack of ability to make adjustments. In the era of home runs holding up offensive value, especially for first baseman, he has had a lot of trouble accessing that power with the gaudy ground ball rates he puts up. As a consequence, he has been a below-average hitting first baseman for his career.

The issues with Hosmer’s swing have reached an all-time high in his first season with San Diego.

Breaking it down into months, Hosmer had more trouble elevating the ball than any other month of his career in June. It’s gotten worse a third of the way through July and he’s on pace to have the worst season of his career by far, currently slashing .091/.143/.152. No player in baseball has been nearly as bad during that time.

Highest GB% by month of Eric Hosmer’s career

Season Month GB% wRC+
Season Month GB% wRC+
2018 Jul 69.6% -30
2018 Jun 68.3% 83
2016 Jul 67.6% 48
2016 Mar/Apr 62.2% 135
2017 Mar/Apr 60.8% 52
2013 May 60.6% 81
2011 Aug 60.0% 99
2017 Aug 59.5% 139
2017 Sept/Oct 59.3% 134
2012 Aug 58.8% 111

What makes it more frustrating is Hosmer is consistently worse when he can’t elevate the ball. Represented in the chart below, he seems to be at his best when he elevates the ball more and it his worst when he’s punching it into the ground. A somewhat streaky hitter, the reason he holds respectable numbers on offense is these short spurts of lifting the ball.

Hosmer is currently pacing for the third lowest launch angle in the Statcast-era (only 2018 Ian Desmond and 2015 Dee Gordon are lower). In the neighborhood of his degree is hitters you would consider “lacking power.” Jon Jay, Howie Kendrick, Nori Aoki, Dee Gordon, etc.

Lowest launch angles since 2015

Year Player Name Launch Angle Exit Velocity Launch Angle
Year Player Name Launch Angle Exit Velocity Launch Angle
2018 Ian Desmond -1 89.5 -1
2015 Dee Gordon -0.7 81.3 -0.7
2018 Eric Hosmer -0.5 89.6 -0.5
2015 Christian Yelich 0 91.5 0
2017 Dee Gordon 0.2 79.4 0.2
2015 Norichika Aoki 0.6 84.7 0.6
2015 Howie Kendrick 1 90.1 1
2016 Yunel Escobar 1.3 88.8 1.3
2016 Howie Kendrick 1.6 90.1 1.6
2016 Norichika Aoki 1.8 85.7 1.8
2015 Cameron Maybin 1.9 87.7 1.9
2016 Cesar Hernandez 2.3 84.2 2.3
2015 Cesar Hernandez 2.4 82.7 2.4
2015 Ichiro Suzuki 2.5 82.3 2.5
2016 Christian Yelich 2.5 92.4 2.5
2018 Mallex Smith 2.5 82.9 2.5
2018 Jon Jay 2.6 84.1 2.6
2018 Dee Gordon 2.7 80.4 2.7
2015 DJ LeMahieu 2.8 90 2.8
2017 DJ LeMahieu 2.8 88.8 2.8
Baseball Savant

And Hosmer doesn’t seem very wiling to change, even though the launch angle issues are severely holding his offensive ceiling back. Over at FanGraphs, Travis Sawchik grabbed this good quote from him during early Spring Training action.

“‘A lot of guys like to look at the numbers and judge a player based off of that stuff. [Other] guys like to watch the game, have that eye, and judge it off that,’ Hosmer said. ‘Analytically, the stuff doesn’t add up in my favor. Me, as a player, I’m not going to change who I am because of what the analytics say.’”

At this point, it seems unlikely for Hosmer to make any adjustments. He’s currently in his third straight season of posting a GB-rate higher than 55 percent. With this, you have to worry how his offensive profile will look once he gets further away from prime age.

To get some sort of sense on how maybe Hosmer will age, I took every hitter with a GB-rate greater than 50% since 2002 and separated by season and age. I found the average wRC+ for each age bucket and compared accordingly to the standard aging curve. It seemed that predominate ground ball hitters can have a bit rougher aging curve.

Once the Padres and Eric Hosmer committed to each other long term, I was interested to see if he would make any improvements to his swing in a new environment, with new coaches, and with a different organization and situation. The opposite of that has happened, as he’s taken a big step backwards. This leaves of plenty of reasons for concerns and help confirms some of points against signing him to a large contract. If improvements aren’t made, this contract easily turns into a mistake. A $144 million mistake.