About six weeks ago, my buddy Cardinals Fan was in KC visiting for a long weekend. The two of us sat down and talked baseball with our buddy Jayson and the Royals’ summer of excitement was the topic of conversation. At that time, the Royals were fresh off their losing streak heading into the All-Star break that had us all thinking that the Royals season had ended. Always liking to get the perspective of outside fans that isn’t as simple as “the Royals suck,” Cardinals Fan made a simple statement that resulted in a pretty healthy discussion: “By the way, Eric Hosmer is a stud.” Jayson and I kind of sat there for a few seconds in stunned silence. WTF was THIS? A Cardinals fan is complementing a ROYALS player?!! I don’t think we knew what to do at first (ah, the charmed life of the scarred post-1995 Royals fan). Realizing that this was not sarcasm or the kind of backhanded complement Royals fans are used to receiving (“You guys could be really good in 5 years if 18 differently things line up right for you….”), I quickly agreed with Cardinals Fan. Jayson would not have any of it; hemming and hawing about Cardinal Fan’s statement. We discussed it for awhile and, over Jayson’s continued protest, we came to the conclusion: Eric Hosmer IS a stud.
In Jayson’s defense, his sole point was not that he disliked Hosmer or that didn’t think he was talented. Jayson didn’t really try to point out anything Hosmer couldn’t do as his reasoning. Instead, his point was simple; he had only seen Hosmer perform as everyone had expected for roughly 6 weeks in 2013-or from June 1st on. So what was holding Jayson back? Hosmer had not performed at his post June 1st level consistently, and for a sustained period of time, since his 2011 season as a rookie. He did it all at the plate that year. In 128 games he hit for a nice average (.293), he got on base a little bit (.334), he hit for a lot of power (.465 with 27 2Bs and 19 HRs), and he drove in runs (78 RBIs) while playing average defense at 1B. His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was .314. The MLB average for BABIP is generally around .300, so his numbers were not just the result of him getting extremely lucky with hits that dropped in all the holes. And this was all as a 22 year-old rookie! If he did this well this early, we had an absolute stud on our hands (barring major injury). It could only get better as he got more experience.
Hosmer followed up that fabulous rookie season by hitting .232/.304/.359 with 22 2Bs and 14 HRs in 2012. His average went into the toilet after an incredibly slow start and, despite a .270 June and a .287 August, he never came around in 2012 and finished with a very poor September; a weak and incredibly disappointing season overall. Royals fans’ breaths shortened the more we watched Hosmer play that year. You could see him overswinging, trying to hit a 6-run HR nearly every time he was at bat. His swing was long and violent and the smooth, controlled, power stroke we saw in 2011 was gone. While fearing we had another Michael Tucker, Bob Hamelin, or Angel Berroa on our hands, we quietly hoped for Carlos Beltran (who also endured the Sophomore Slump with a horrible second season). Despite his dropoff, Hosmer still played a decent 1B-but he was still not living up to the reputation he had as a draft pick and in the minor leagues of being a well above-average 1B in the field. As Royals fans, we could hope for Beltran but also knew that the chances were good that we were stuck with an average 1B who didn’t get on base very much and didn’t hit for power anymore as a cornerstone to dreams of a return to glory. About the only thing to support this hope was that Hosmer’s BABIP was roughly .250 in 2012. Maybe he just got unlucky and the bad luck wore him down early? we all remembered seeing him hit a TON of line drive outs right at guys early in the year. Fingers crossed……. “please be Carlos Beltran, please be Carlos Beltran,please be Carlos Beltran,please be Carlos Beltran…….”
2013 didn’t start much better for Hosmer. While his average on June 1st was in the mid .200’s, he still wasn’t hitting for much power (and especially not much power for a 1B). If he was hitting .265 it was pretty empty: low .300s On Base Percentage, 8 2Bs, 1 HR, and 16 RBIs in 49 games. In short, it looked like a continuation of 2012 with a little bit better Batting Average. How much longer could the Royals go before they either had to start talking about sending him back to AAA to find his 2011 swing or, even worse, start talking about finding Hosmer’s replacement at 1B? If the season had ended on June 1st, Jayson was dead-on. Not a stud; the promise of 2011 was gone. Enter George Brett as the Royals’ interim hitting coach.
Look, I’m not sure what exactly George Brett did for the Royals as a whole. When you compare their team hitting stats before/after George, there wasn’t much difference (unless you want to point out that they scored slightly FEWER runs per game for a long portion of George’s tenure). However, I am entirely certain of two things George was there for: (1) as more of a “psychological coach” for the entire team; and (2)as a special project manager for Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. In short, George’s jobs were to rub off on the team in the clubhouse and “to fix Moose and Hoz.” Because he is George Effing Brett, he did both at the same time with great success. (Moose since June 1 is worth an entirely separate post and discussion).
At the time of the above mentioned conversation, the Royals were about six weeks into George’s tenure. And both Hosmer and Moose were on fire. They were hitting for high average, getting on base and hitting for power. Hosmer suddenly looked like 2011 Hosmer: hitting for high average, spraying the ball to all fields with power, hitting monster HRs to all fields and driving in runs. Despite this, Jayson spoke for the guarded, scarred, and often left at the altar Royals fan, “This is nice and all, but I just watched 2012 and the first 2 months of 2013. 6 weeks doesn’t erase all that. SHOW ME.” Hey, the Royals do play in Missouri (The Show-Me State) after all. We needed to see it. Jayson was still right and we both knew it. Even though I agreed with Cardinals Fan that Hosmer LOOKED like a stud, I needed to see it for a longer time period before I was sold.
That time period has now come to an end and I’ve seen what I needed to see. Through the end of August, Hosmer has continued on exactly the same path he started down when he began tearing it up on June 1st. It is the same path he was on in 2011 and I’m now comfortable saying that the 2011 Hosmer is back and that 2012 was the bump in the road. For the entire 2013 season, Hosmer is hitting .294/.345/.444 with 27 2Bs, 15 HRs, and 64 RBI. That is nearly the same number of extra base hits he had in 2011 and there are still 30 games left in the season. Add to it that he’s already got 7 more walks than he did in 2011 in only 16 fewer at bats and, again, there are still 30 games left. In short, Hosmer’s 2013 numbers not only are better than his 2011 numbers, but he’s done the majority of this damage since June 1st and still has 30 games remaining. Add to this the fact that Hosmer’s defense has REALLY started to flash this year and we have ourselves an interesting situation in KC.
The 6-week “small sample” size that had taken place when Cardinals Fan, Jayson, and I were first discussing it is now twice as long. It has been 3 months of the same thing and it shows no signs of letting up. Even Jayson has now come around at this point; all Royals fans have seen the scorching pace at which Hosmer is producing. The Royals 2013 playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. As they look to start one last hot run to finish the season, there is no question that Eric Hosmer has attained full-blown stud status.
Even if the Royals end up missing out on the postseason, we can all rest easy this offseason knowing that we have a stud First Baseman hitting in the middle of the lineup in KC.