Eric Hosmer, Freddie Freeman and the Question of Ceiling
There’s a good chance that we here at The Dynasty Guru have an Eric Hosmer problem. Maybe it’s just me, because while I can type just fine, the only thing I can actually verbalize is “Hosmer”. I’m basically Hodor at this point and Ben is shouting at me like Bran during that thunderstorm telling me “NO MORE HODORING”.
But I can’t, and neither should you. Despite another dormant April and May, Hosmer has pulled his season line up to .303/.357/.450. That actually outpaces his impressive rookie year in terms of OPS and wRC+, though they’re close enough not to make a big deal about that. Even more exciting is his slash line and overall production since May 30. I know, I know, arbitrary endpoints and all that but sometimes endpoints aren’t so arbitrary. May 30 was the date that George Brett received the interim hitting coach job and while it’s far too simple to reduce Hosmer’s improvement to “Brett became hitting coach and fixed him”, it’s not unfair to suggest that whatever Hosmer and Brett worked on…is working. Since that date, Hosmer has hit .321/.372/.504 with 15 of his 16 home runs on the season. He’s also added 11 stolen bases on the year, down from 16 last year, but a reasonable tradeoff given the tremendous improvement everywhere else. All this is great, but not necessarily cause for yet another article on Hosmer. So what gives? This gives:
That right there is my former employer, Ray Guilfoyle* of FakeTeams tossing out an intriguing question followed by FakeTeams/Beyond The Boxscore writer, Andrew Ball, answering in a way that ignited the gasoline in my brain and turned everything red. Andrew and I (along with Ray and Alex Kienholz of BtB) had a fairly lengthy discussion on the topic and Twitter, and it made me think this would be a good post, because Andrew made some great points. I was tempted to Storify the entire thing but that would involve reading Alex’s tweets and homey don’t play that. What follows will be my reasoning for preferring Eric Hosmer to Freddie Freeman for future seasons, as it’s quite clear that Freddie has been better to date. I’ll start with the caveat that it’s close, and there’s no reason not to like Freddie. #Hugs.
*Ray actually wrote about Hosmer/Freeman yesterday, in case you weren’t tired of the subject
Here’s my big issue with Andrew’s approach, and one that we discussed over Twitter. I don’t think it’s reasonable to take their career numbers and call it a day. First, there’s the issue with Hosmer’s incredibly bad 2012. Now, we can’t entirely throw that out because we know that he has that type of bad year in him. That said, we can acknowledge that a horrid BABIP (.255) played a dramatic role in his overall numbers given that his BABIPs the year before and the year after are .314 and .331 respectively. His career number sits at .301 even with 598 plate appearances of a .255 BABIP. Second, there’s the issue with Freddie Freeman’s 2012. What issue could there be, right? He put together 620 plate appearances, mashed 23 home runs and hit 39 percent better than league average. Obviously all good things. My issue is that I don’t think this is the real Freeman, for good and for bad.
2012 saw a 23 point dip in Freeman’s batting average, which artificially raised his ISO from .166 to .196, despite his slugging percentage remaining mostly the same. What did change, for the better and seemingly to stay is that Freeman upped his walk rate from 8% to 10% and he’s held it there this season. All this is positive aside from the fluke drop in batting average that Freeman has corrected this season, thanks to a rebound in BABIP. He’s also seen his HR/FB hold consistent at 14% but has seen a one and a half percent dip in his FB%, which decreases his chances of hitting home runs, of course. Again, the point of this exercise was not so much to denigrate Freeman, who is a great option at first base, both now and in the future. The point was to positively compare Hosmer to Freeman, so let’s do that.
2012 was an abomination. Let’s get that out of the way. Hosmer’s .232/.304/.359 line wasn’t salvaged by his 16 stolen bases, so much as it was propped up, and poorly at that. April and May of 2013 seemed to imply another lost season in the works for Hosmer, or, more concerningly the continuation of a lost career. He was hitting .262/.323/.331 as of May 29 this year. We know of his .321/.372/.504 slash line since then, but I retyped it anyone because that’s how important I think it is. The most important thing to me in all of this is seeing that slugging percentage. A .504 SLG puts his previous career high to shame, and given the talent we knew/anticipated as he tore through the minor leagues, seeing his adjustment at the plate (a change in hand position, as RJ Anderson so ably explains here), it’s not unreasonable to think that something close to that number is sustainable. A counterargument to Hosmer surpassing Freeman’s value in the power department going forward is that he has an equal HR/FB% (14%) while sporting a significantly lower FB%, coming in a 24% in 2013. One of the most compelling statistics in favor of Hosmer, at least for me, is the difference in strikeout rate. Freeman’s career average is 21%, though he’s improved on it every year, so I’d be inclined to give him the 19% he’s at in 2013. Hosmer on the other hand checks in at a shade under 15% for his career. Even in his off year he didn’t crack 16% and he’s under 14% in 2013. While Freeman does walk more, Hosmer’s career walk rate in a touch under 8%, and he’s shown the ability to get close to 10% with a 9.4% rate in 2011. So if we believe that Hosmer’s average is going to be .300+, even if Freddie matches that average, Hosmer’s additional hits, thanks to his contact rate, will help your team more.
What this comes down to is that I believe that 2011+May 30 through today is what Hosmer really is, and more than that, that he can build on it. I’m essentially discarding 2012 and the first two months of 2013, which might not be fair but it’s because he wasn’t the same player. I believe, similarly, that Freeman is the player he was in 2011 and 2013, which is my mind is a better player than he was in 2012. I don’t buy a .300 average from him year in and year out, but a slash line in the .280/.350/.460 range seems reasonable to me. That’s a really valuable player, and Freeman is part of a lineup that aids him in the counting stats as well. Perhaps it’s my stubborn streak (don’t act like you didn’t notice), but I can’t let go of the player we all thought Hosmer would be when he destroyed the minor leagues and had a great debut season. Perhaps it’s wishcasting for me to think the player he’s become the in the latter half of 2013 is only a platform for him to reach the heights we once thought possible. But I’ve been a believer in Hosmer for a long while now, and I can’t stop quite yet. If we’re taking bets on higher ranking player in 2014? I probably side with Freeman. In a dynasty league though, I’ll take Hosmer and his ceiling, as he continues to build on the impressive second half of 2013.