02 May 2018

Hosmer Hitting Without "Producing"

Today is the second of May, 2018.  Due to quirks in early season schedules and the fact that Albert Hammond was a prophet, the San Diego Padres have played the most games in MLB, which happens to be 31.  (For the record, so have the Rockies, Astros, Brewers and Rangers.  The fewest is 25, by the Twins.)

Despite that, the Padres have the 10th fewest runs scored overall, and the 9th lowest average runs scored per game, thanks to having the second worst OBP and the third worst slugging percentage in MLB, respectively.  Only the Orioles and the "We Will Be Competitive" Marlins are below the Padres in OPS.  They're really pitiful.

Well, most of them.  There are two (and only two) exceptions.

The first is Christian Villanueva, a 27-year old rookie who came out of the Mexican Leagues after spending several years in the Rangers' organization, hitting for some power, if not for much average, speed or patience.  His brief, 36-game career has already included 13 homers, which means he's on a Ruthian pace of 59(!) over 162 games.

He's also leading the NL in slugging percentage at .707(!)  I don't expect that to continue, of course.  No Padre has ever led the NL in slugging percentage.  Not Dave Winfield,.  Not Adrian Gonzalez.  Certainly not Tony Gwynn.  Not even Ken Caminiti when he was winning his chemically aided MVP award in 1996.  San Diego is just too tough a place to hit homers consistently.  But in short, Villanueva is not the problem.

Anyway, the other exception - well, sort of - is Eric Hosmer, famously signed to a much discussed 8-year, $144M deal back in February  He's hitting a quite robust .298/.402/.500 right now, having played in all but four of the Padres' games to date.

He's got a very respectable slash line.  He's been pretty healthy.  He hasn't made too many bone-headed plays at first base.  (OK, well there was this one.) So what's the problem?

Despite the respectable slash line, Eric Hosmer has five RBIs.  F-I-V-E. 5. Three of those came on solo homers.  Which means he has driven in another runner twice, and none in the past month.  It's really pretty remarkable.

In the Padres' second game of the season, Hosmer hit a double in the bottom of the 8th that scored Hunter Renfroe, though Matt Szczur, trying to score from first, got thrown out at home plate, presumably because he hoped there might be some vowels there.

Then, the very next day, in the bottom of the third, Hosmer hit a double that scored Jose Pirela.  Though the Padres lost all three of their games in March, Hosmer was performing as advertised.  He was "on a pace for" 108 RBIs (also 108 doubles and 108 walks, but who's counting?)

And that was the last time Hosmer drove in somebody other than himself.

Not that it's his fault, exactly.  Hosmer has only 16 at-bats with RISP, which ties him for 211th place in MLB.  Most of the guys down there are injured, part-timers or just terrible players.  Being this early in the season, there are a few other RBI-deprived outliers:

  • Eric Sogard also has 16 at-bats with RISP, but has no hits in any of them, though he does have one RBI, presumably on a sacrifice.  
  • Joe Panik and Jonathan Schoop are both 2-for-17 with RISP, each with only 2 RBIs, though they're both injured and hence have not gotten much of a chance to pad those numbers.  
  • Carlos Gomez has only two RBIs in 22 at-bats with RISP, largely because he has hit just .227 in those situations.  Of course, unlike Hosmer, Gomez has been pretty terrible overall, hitting just .178 for the year.  
  • Brandon Crawford has been even worse, with just two hits in 20 AB's with runners in scoring position, for one lousy RBI.  He's hitting just .191 overall, though.  

Hosmer, by contrast, has hit .313/.389/.438 with RISP, by far the best in all three categories among players who have had at least, say, 15 chances to drive in a run but only done so twice.  Admittedly, I'm cherry-picking the data here, but you can see how unusual it is for him to be simultaneously so successful without having much actual, you know, success.

Looked at another way, Hosmer currently has 3 HR and 5 RBI, which puts him on a pace for 16 HR and 26 RBI for the year.  That would be the second lowest RBI total in history for any player who slugged at least .400 over 502 plate appearances.  The lowest was the inimitable Frank Baumholtz, who managed to drive in only 25 runs for the 1953 Cubbies, despite hitting .306 and walking more than he struck out, though he hit only three homers all year.  Nobody who slugged at least .440 (Hosmer's career mark) for a season ever drove in fewer than 33 runs.

Even more interesting, perhaps, is that only a handful of players in history have hit at least ten homers without driving in twice as many RBIs as homers.  Joey Gallo missed it by two RBI last year (41 HR, 80 RBI).  Curtis Granderson missed it by one the year before (30 HR, 59 RBI).  And Barry Bonds did it twice, hitting 45 HR with exactly double that total, 90 RBI in 2003, and driving in "only" 137 runs when he set the record with 73 homers in 2001.  Hosmer has never hit more than 25 HR in a season, let alone 73, so I think it's safe to say that his season won't be quite like that.

Now, with all of that said, it is of course still early in the season, and this trend probably won't last.  The Padres aren't doing their "proven run producer" any favors by batting him second in an NL lineup that doesn't run (nobody on the roster has more than 3 steals) and has an out-machine like Manuel Margot leading off.  Presumably some combination of Wil Myers et. al. will eventually provide a few more opportunities for Hosmer to drive in runs, and he'll take advantage of those.

But at this point he could have a much more normal looking rest-of-the-year and still end up with only 50 or 60 RBIs.  Heck, Myers led the team last year and he only had 74.  He had 5 RBIs by April 9th!  So if the first year of this contract winds up and writers start calling it an albatross because Hosmer somehow forgot how to drive in runs while he was on the plane from Kansas City, remember that it's not really his fault.  He can only work with what they give him.


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