Eric Hosmer Wasn’t Built in a Day (or a Year)
There has been plenty written in all corners of the interwebs about Eric Hosmer and his struggles between 2012 and 2013. And while some of it has just been hyperbolic and unnecessary, some of it has been really interesting. Case in point, Sam Miller wrote one of the most interesting pieces I’ve seen on Hosmer’s struggles ($) on Wednesday at Baseball Prospectus. Sam watched every Hosmer at bat for a full week and broke down his results and mechanics–coming to the conclusion that despite a few more hits recently, Hosmer was still the same bad Hosmer he’s been of late. And it’s showing in fantasy leagues, as the disappointment among fantasy owners is high and getting higher. Even in dynasty leagues, where Hosmer’s value should still be very high, owners are wavering.
And as we’ve talked about plenty, where there’s wavering, there’s opportunity. I’m not going to sugarcoat it (as it doesn’t need to be sugarcoated), but Hosmer has looked lost out there this season–and his statistics back that up. It’s inexcusable for a first baseman to have a sub-700 OPS, and this is now the second year in a row that Hosmer has done this. But moving to a more macro level, there are two important things to understand about where we are right now with Eric Hosmer: 1) He still has the talent to be the player he was supposed to be, and 2) He’s still only 23 years old. The former wouldn’t be so important to point out if the latter wasn’t true. And that’s not even taking into account his .293-19-11 season as a 21 year old in 2011. We’re ignoring that for the purposes of this exercise.
To showcase this, we’re going to take a close look through the top-10 first basemen for fantasy right now, and take a look back to see what they were doing in their age-23 seasons:
1) Chris Davis
In 2009, Davis spent 44 games at Triple-A destroying the ball (as Chris Davis was wont to do), but the time he spent at the major league level was far from eye-opening. A top-100 prospect prior to the 2008 season, Davis hit .238/.284/.442 with 21 homers in 113 games for the Rangers. Not quite as bad as Hosmer from a raw numbers perspective, but because he played in Texas, this translated into a healthy 85 OPS+.
2) Paul Goldschmidt
2009 was Goldschmidt’s comparable season, and he spent the majority of it in Double-A. Of course, he raked when he was in Double-A (.306 with 30 homers in 103 games), but then again, I don’t have much doubt that Hosmer could put up some pretty ridiculous stats right now if he were in Double-A. In the 48 games Goldy did get in Arizona, he hit .250/.333/.474 with eight homers in 158 at bats. He also had a 30% strikeout rate. The edge here goes to Goldschmidt, but it’s not a huge disparity.
3) Joey Votto
Votto is one of the best hitters of this era we are living through. He was a top prospect coming up through the minors (top-50 in baseball two separate times), and during his age-23 season, he hit .294 with 22 homers and 17 steals. In Triple-A. Yes, Votto got a September call-up that year, and he was impressive in a short burst, but yes, Joey Votto spent the entire Triple-A season when he was Eric Hosmer’s age in Louisville.
4) Edwin Encarnacion
We’ve all come to love E5 over the last one and a half seasons, but until 2012, his age-23 season (2006) stood as the high-water mark of his career–hitting .276/.359/.473 with 15 homers in 406 at bats for the Reds.
5) Mark Reynolds
For his age-23 season, Reynolds hit well for the first month and a half in Double-A before earning a call-up to the Diamondbacks in May. He then proceeded to have a relatively similar season to Encarnacion, hitting .279/.349/.495 with 17 homers in 366 at bats. And both of those seasons were right in line with what Hosmer did as a 21-year old.
6) Michael Cuddyer
Before his age-23 season, Cuddyer was ranked as a top-20 prospect in all of baseball. He spent that year in the Pacific Coast League for his first 89 games, before accumulating a 740 OPS in 112 at bats in Minnesota. In fact, Cuddyer did not register an OPS that started with an eight until his age-27 season: 2006.
7) Anthony Rizzo
Rizzo is the same age as Hosmer, and he has an 829 OPS so far this year. Rizzo wins this round.
8) Mark Trumbo
Trumbo is the worst (best?) example on this entire list, though he was never considered anywhere near the prospect that Hosmer was. In his age-23 season, Trumbo hit .291/.333/.452 with 15 homers in 533 at bats in Double-A. He wouldn’t make his major league debut until the age of 24, and wouldn’t hit his first major league home run until the age of 25.
9) Prince Fielder
Fielder is the true outlier on this list, as he hit 50 homers in his age-23 season. In case you were wondering, that is the most home runs ever hit by a 23 year old in major league history. Moving on.
10) Adrian Gonzalez
Gonzalez was the #1 overall pick in the 2001 draft, and was a two-time top-50 prospect (four-time top-100 prospect as well). He also spent his age-23 season mostly in the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .338/.399/.561 in 84 games. He did get some time in the majors that season with Texas, but it was not particularly successful, as his 678 OPS is right around where Hosmer’s is right now.
So what’s the point of retelling these stories? It’s to remind everyone that just because Eric Hosmer hasn’t turned into a star by the ripe age of 23 doesn’t mean that he’s not an exciting player you should want on your dynasty league roster. And just because he’s been pretty bad at the major league level over the past year and two months doesn’t change that statement at all. Of these ten players we examined, the only one who was actually performing at a high level in the majors at Hosmer’s age was Prince Fielder–and he’s kind of a freak. Everyone else moved slowly and developed into the players they are today at their own paces, and I still believe that Eric Hosmer will follow suit.
So bench him for now if you own him (and he should be benched, unless you’re in a very deep league), but sell him off at your own risk. And if you’re not a risk averse owner, now might be a great time to call up that Hosmer owner in your league and see if they’ve pulled out all of his/her hair by now. They may be looking to salvage what is left, and you can take advantage.
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