To Hos And Hos Not

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

“Hosmer is a bust. Sorry.”

The text was cold. No easing into it, no light touch, just the Band-Aid being ripped away.

Apparently Eric Hosmer is a bust. (The “sorry” was because I was considering keeping Hosmer for 2013. Poor me.) After the 2011 season, when Hosmer managed a 118 OPS+ and a third-place Rookie of the Year finish despite only about three-quarters of the season spent in the big leagues, he was an MVP in the making. And now, after a relative disaster of a 2012 season, he’s a bust.

Is he, though? Can we give up on Hosmer? Did it take only a year to go from The Next Votto to The Next Marte? Or was 2012 just a small-sample-size blip, a bump on the road to superstardom?

The Hosmerphile in me wants to say that it was obviously just a sophomore slump. It’s an easy argument to make. Everyone’s heard of the sophomore slump, the rookie who comes up and dominates, only to slide back for a year as the league figures him out. But the greats make adjustments of their own and bounce back in year three. At least, that’s the story we’re sold.

I was curious, though. I like to question the truisms we come to rely on, as they can quickly go from “Hey, this happened once” to “This is a fact of life and we must never question it.” Just ask the people who still think you should let your phone battery run all the way down before you charge it. If you’re one of those, do me a favor and Google “memory effect.”

I’m always cautious of those traps, so I thought I’d check the history of the sophomore slump. I marked down every offensive player who has ever finished in the top three in the Rookie of the Year voting, figuring anyone who couldn’t do even that well couldn’t really have a level to fall to that would be a significant “slump.” From that list, using OPS+, I identified every player who dropped off 30 or more points from Year One to Year Two (for Hosmer, this was 118 to 82, a dropoff of 36). I then tracked the OPS+ of these players in Year Three, to see if there was a rebound.

This is an imperfect study. Anything that lumps Ozzie Smith and Jason Heyward into the same hitting pool is bound to have its flaws. I am admittedly no statistician. But it at least paints a picture.

And the picture it paints is an optimistic one.

There were 38 players who qualified for the list before Hosmer. Of those 38, 30 saw their OPS+ rise again in Year Three, including future Hall of Famers and should-bes like Smith, Tim Raines, Gary Carter, and Carlton Fisk.

On average, the 38 players rebounded from a 44-point OPS+ drop (125.13-81.45) with a 16-point gain (81.45-97.71). Now, that’s not MVP level. And there are the Kevin Maases of the world who dropped 50 points from Years One to Two and compounded that with another drop in Year Three. In the worst case, there is Danny Valencia. His three-year OPS+ reads like a line graph of the quality of the first three Die Hard movies: 119-86-35. Lord help Valencia if he makes it to A Good Day To Die Hard. His OPS+ will be negative-infinity.

Can we say Hosmer is likely to surpass his rookie year, though? Or are we just hoping he improves on 2012? There’s a significant difference there; the difference between Hosmer as a sixth- or seventh-round pick and a mid-level starting first baseman and Hosmer as a thirteenth-round pick and a backup flyer.

Alas, the picture becomes less rosy.

Among the aforementioned 38, only three players managed to surpass their rookie OPS+ in Year Three: Carter, Geovany Soto, and Carlos Beltran. Several, including Raines, Fisk, and Rich Gedman, got close, but by and large the players were Goldilocks — Year One was too high, Year Two was too low, Year Three was juuuuuuust right.

Is Hosmer a bust? We won’t know for some time yet. He might be Valencia or Maas; he might be Carter or Raines. The scouts and smart guys haven’t given up on him yet. I haven’t either. I still think he’ll be a stud.

That said, he didn’t end up being one of my keepers. I can’t say I’m that sure.

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