Eric Hosmer: Is Now the Time to Buy?

May 16, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) connects for a single in the first inning of the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer came into the 2012 season full of hype based on his solid 2011 rookie season. Many fantasy writers, myself included, saw a hitter who was ready to break out this year, building on his strong 2011 season. But American League pitchers had a different plan, and Hosmer has struggled to start the season.

Will he turn things around?

Let's start by taking a look at his 2011 season. Hosmer hit .293-.334-.465 with 19 HRs, 66 runs scored, 78 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 523 at bats. His BABIP was .314, so he really did not have the benefit of luck to explain his 2011 performance. It was all skill. He struck out in only 14.6% of his at bats last season, while taking the free pass 6.0% of the time. In addition to his 19 HRs, he also had 27 doubles and 3 triples, for a total of 49 extra base hits, not bad for a hitter seeing major league pitching for the first time.

Looking at his Line Drive/Ground Ball/Fly Ball batted ball data, courtesy of FanGraphs, we see he tends to hit the ball on the ground a bit too much for a power hitter. Last year he hit the ball on the ground just under 50% of the time the bat struck the ball. His line drive rate was 18.7% and his fly ball rate was 31.7%. Not the type of numbers you want to see from a hitter who is expected to approach 30 home runs and hit around .290 in 2012 (my projections)

Moving on to his 2012 performance, we see that Hosmer is hitting just .174-.237-.319 with 5 HRs, 16 runs scored, 18 RBI and 1 stolen base in 144 at bats. Despite the horrible triple slash line, Hosmer has REDUCED his strikeout rate from 14.6% to just 11.5%, and he is walking more this year-7.7% of his at bats vs. 6.0% in 2011. So, he has improved his plate discipline, yet has started the season in a horrible slump.

So, what has gone wrong for Hosmer in 2012? Well, his batted ball data, courtesy of FanGraphs, tells us he isn't hitting many line drives, as his line drive rate has dropped to just 16%, and the dreaded ground ball rate has jumped to 52.8%, while his fly ball rate has remained relatively constant. So he has traded some line drives for more ground balls. Not good for a hitter who doesn't utilize speed to get on base,

What really jumps out on his player page,though, is his BABIP. It has been virtually cut in half, from .314 in 2011 to just .165 this season. One-sixty-five!!! That's absurd, but it won't last. Know this, Eric Hosmer will break out of this season long slump. He is too good of a hitter to hit under the Mendoza line. He is not injured as far as we know, so injuries are not a factor in his poor performance. It is just bad luck. His .165 BABIP is the worst among qualified hitters in all of baseball. Adam Lind, who just got sent down to AAA by the Blue Jays, had a better BABIP (.209) than Hosmer.

I think it is a perfect time to trade for Hosmer now, assuming his owner has become fed up with him, before he gets hot and his owner is asking for more than 80 cents on the dollar for him. Hosmer has sat out the Royals last two games to clear his head. He should come back refreshed and ready to see more of his batted balls dropping in for base hits.

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