Eric Hosmer is one of those guys you either love or hate. His career, which includes one World Series championship and two American League pennants, has been just as polarizing.
First, who Hosmer is. Consider his WAR each season since 2011:
Interesting pattern; let’s look into that. The chart below is Hosmer’s career plate discipline (bolded data are positive WAR seasons).
Nothing appears to be out of sorts, no obvious clues to suggest a divergent plate approach.
Moving on, I noticed his BB/K rate did relate to his productive seasons; that alone can’t possibly explain his offensive oscillations. While his strikeout and walk rates did vary, the differences were a matter of two or three percentage points, at best.
So, I decided to look at his batted ball contact trends and found that his line drive rate directly correlated with his higher WAR seasons; 22%, 24%, 22% in 2013, 2015, and 2017 respectively with 19%, 17%, 17% in 2012, 2014, and 2016 accordingly.
OK, so his launch angle must be skewed. But, like his plate discipline, no outliers were demonstrated; his 2017 season should be easy to pick out. The below animation is a glance at Hosmer’s three-year launch angle charts, in chronological order.
How about his defense? Well, something seems off about that, too.
He’s won a Gold Glove at first base four out of the last five years. He looks great on the field, but unfortunately his defense reflects the same way as a skinny mirror; his UZR/150 sits at -4.1 and his defensive runs saved are -21. Since 2013 (the first year he won the award) he ranks 13th in DRS and 12th in UZR/150 out of all qualifying first basemen. So, middle of the pack basically but worth four gold gloves? Probably not.
As we could have surmised, he’s simply an inconsistent player. Falling to one side of the fence yet?
One thing is a certainty; his best season was, oddly enough, his walk year with the Kansas City Royals in 2017. Now, I’m not about to speculate that Hosmer played up his last year with the Royals to get a payday (which he most certainly got). Looking back at his WAR in the first part of the article, you can see his seasonal fluctuations suggest he was due for a good year.
Keeping with the wavering support of Hosmer, is the contract he acquired to play first base with the San Diego Padres. His eight-year deal (with an opt-out in year five), will net him $21 million each season. He will draw 25.8% of team payroll. When his option year arrives in 2022, he’s due for a pay cut of $13 million in the final three years.
A soundly contructioned contract as, according to Sportrac’s evaluation, his market value is set at $20.6 million a year. To note, the best first baseman in baseball, Joey Votto, signed a ten-year deal in 2015 for $225 million dollars (full no-trade clause). Starting in 2018, Votto is slated to make just $4 million more than Hosmer will in the early portion of his deal. Did San Diego overspend? It all depends on what their future plans are for him.
In any case, Hosmer will join a team that, following his arrival, is currently 24th in team payroll. In 2019, they will hop to 23rd. It could go down further upon the arrival of their handful of prospects who look to be the core of the team.
So who will the Padres have going forward? Using wOBA, probably the most encompassing offensive statistic, I decided to forecast what the coming years will look like for Hosmer. It goes without saying that defense is nearly impossible to project. So, for argument’s sake, we’ll continue to assume Hosmer will be an average defender at first.
Since Hosmer’s rookie year in 2011, the league average wOBA is approximately .315. Hosmer should stay above that through the majority of the contract. But, let’s be more accurate. Using both progressive linear and polynomial trend line data (based on both Hosmer’s past performance and league average wOBA by age), I was able to formulate a projection for Hosmer through age 35 (no, I’m not going to lay out any of my gory math details).
OK, I lied. Here is the equation I used to come to my prediction :
From age 28 on is what we want to look on from. Hosmer is expected to take a dive offensively in 2019 with a bounce-back year in 2020, sticking with his past trends. A year before his opt-out clause (where he’s slated to make $13 million), his wOBA is expected to regress at a stable rate. He’ll continue to be league average or better during the twilight years of his career.
Hosmer seems to be appropriately compensated. You could argue that he’s making too much, but the Padres had the money to give him and they are banking on Hosmer to be highly productive at Petco. But, chances are (according to his history), he won’t maintain (or exceed) his 4.1WAR in 2018. He’ll be labeled as a bust but ought to have a few good years in him during the $21 million salary period. And, as my forecast chart shows, his 2022 pay cut comes at just the right time.