Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer wasn't very good in 2012. But that doesn't mean he wasn't happy. Let me reword that: That doesn't mean he wasn't pull-happy.
After hitting .293/.334/.465 with 19 home runs, 66 runs, 78 RBI and 11 steals in 2011, Hosmer struggled in 2012, hitting just .232/.304/.359 with 14 home runs, 65 runs, 60 RBI and 16 steals -- a stark contrast to the rookie season that saw Hosmer hit his stride without a hitch. While the final numbers don't show it, Hosmer's second season wasn't totally different from his first. He essentially was the same hitter with a lot less luck, partly because of his tendencies to pull the ball on the ground to right field -- a problem that's been documented throughout Hosmer's professional career that I'll get into a little later on.
It's safe to say the Hosmer hype was high in 2012. Bill James' projections had the 22-year old hitting .311/.362/.494 with 23 home runs, 86 runs, 92 RBI and 14 steals, and the majority of leagues drafted Hosmer as a top-10 first baseman. But in the end, the hype didn't match the reality, which turned out to be yet another case of a second-year player caught in the throes of a sophomore slump. His downhill performance in 2012 -- in addition to the disappointing seasons of his teammates -- even resulted in Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer losing his job the first day after the regular season.
Hosmer struggled at the plate all year long, but a slow start in April and May really handcuffed him early, and he never recovered. He managed to hit five home runs by the end of the April, but didn't total five more until August 2 (a span of 303 at-bats between his 5th and 10th home runs). After hitting just .204 through the end of May, Hosmer got his average up to a very modest .241 by the start of September, but the increase in average didn't do much for fantasy owners as Hosmer managed just 10 extra-base hits in the final two months.
As I mentioned earlier, Hosmer's 2011 and 2012 seasons weren't all that different. His strikeout rate went up from 14.6-percent to 15.9, but so did his walk rate, from 6.0-percent to 9.4. His swinging strike rate and contact rates remained relatively intact, and Hosmer was actually a more selective hitter in 2012. The problem for Hosmer: a .255 BABIP, down from .314 in 2011. The finishing number is nowhere as low as it was during the early months (.161 in April; .241 in May), so it's safe to say it did correct itself some over the course of the year. Still, it ended up being the seventh lowest BABIP in all of baseball.
Now, throughout Hosmer's minor league career, he got the label of a somewhat pull-happy hitter, fairly or unfairly -- his numbers aren't terribly skewed that way. But it bears mentioning: Hosmer was at his best going the opposite way in 2012, hitting .442 in at-bats resulting with the ball left of center while hitting just .188 in at-bats with the ball pulled to his right (a difference of 254 points). In 2011, those numbers were .282 and .380, respectively (a difference of 98 points). So why the difference? Teams took notice and started using extreme shifts, and balls that routinely found outfield grass in 2011 weren't finding grass in 2012.
Compounding Hosmer's disappointing 2012 was a power outage that saw his ISO plummet from .172 to .127 -- the league average was .151. An MRI in late September revealed a small tear in his right rotator cuff, and it's possible the injury had something to do with his power decline. One should hope that's the case as Hosmer prepares to enter 2013 fully healthy and on the rebound.
Part of Hosmer's 2013 success will depend on his ability to make the proper adjustments at the plate. If Hosmer is healthy and able to make adjustments to beat the shift, ala David Ortiz, he should be able to approach his 2011 numbers. If Hosmer is unable to make adjustments at the plate, ala Mark Teixeira, another disappointing season might be in store.
On Monday, Fake Teams released its consensus first base rankings, and Hosmer was ranked 11th. Hosmer won't be as bad as he was in 2012, but temper your expectations. There's likely to be an adjustment phase early on as he learns to compensate with the shift, but he still has the ability to hit upwards of .300 with 25 home runs if everything falls into place. I'll be a tad less optimistic and project .285 with 22 home runs, 75 runs, 85 RBI and double-digit steals.
Statistics from FanGraphs.