For Eric Hosmer, Not Trying To Lift the Ball Means Better Results

Eric Hosmer
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Hosmer’s numbers have declined since Jay Jaffe wrote about him in early May. That was inevitable. At the time, the San Diego Padres first baseman was slashing a stupendous and wholly unsustainable .382/.447/.579. As my colleague pointed out, the question at hand was whether Hosmer “can still help a team that was close to unloading him just a month ago.”

His overall numbers remain solid. Even with the inevitable downturn, the 32-year-old Hosmer is slashing .312/.378/.435 on the season, with his .354 wOBA and 132 wRC+ both ranking second-best on the club behind Manny Machado. The Padres would be more than satisfied if Hosmer were to finish the season with those types of numbers.

Hosmer, a career .278/.337/.431 hitter who has incurred more than his fair share of peaks and valleys since breaking into the big leagues with the Kansas City Royals in 2011, talked hitting prior to a May 1 game at PNC Park.


David Laurila: Let’s start with your formative years. How did you grow up learning to hit?

Eric Hosmer: “I grew up basically wanting to stay inside the ball. You’re kind of taught that approach when you’re a kid, and as you advance, particularly in pro ball, you get the timing involved. You want to be in a ready position while you’re reading the pitch and then pull off a good swing from there.”

Laurila: How many times have you tried to change as a hitter?

Hosmer: “A couple of times. As you get older in your career, you might try to do certain things. The game went heavy to home runs and all that. It went to slugging. So you kind of try to change a little bit. You notice if it works, or doesn’t work, for you. You maybe end up trying to change back to what got you here.”

Laurila: You found that a particular approach doesn’t work for you.

Hosmer: “The trying to lift the ball? No, I don’t think that works too well for me.”

Laurila: People have often criticized you for not driving more balls in the air, but it’s not as though you haven’t put up numbers. You’re approaching 2,000 hits and 200 home runs. You’ve had a pretty solid career.

Hosmer: “Thank you.”

Laurila: Outside of your aborted attempt to hit for more power, what adjustments have you made over the years? I assume some things have evolved?

Hosmer: “Yes. I’ve definitely lowered my hands as as my career has gone on. But again, I think one of the biggest things was trying to hit for more power — trying to get more lift on the ball — and realizing that swing just didn’t shape out well for me. Even during my good years in Kansas City, my ground-ball rates were up. But I still had pretty decent years over there. Basically, I’ve learned that I need to stick to my natural swing, which is what got me to the big leagues in the first place. Trying to get under the ball to the pull side just doesn’t work well for my swing.”

Laurila: Why do you think it doesn’t work?

Hosmer: “I don’t know. Certain type of hitters have certain swings that work for them. For me, personally, it didn’t. Any time I tried to get under and lift the ball, I would kind of pull off. Conversely, when I tell myself to swing down on the ball and stay more through it… I think I actually get more lift that way. I definitely learned the hard way in terms of the lift-side. At the end of the day, I realized that I have to preach myself down and through the baseball.”

Laurila: Do you think there is a mental component to that, or is it mostly just a physical issue? For instance, does your body not naturally move in a way that is conducive to lifting the ball pull-side?

Hosmer: “There are certain things to that. I think that’s where the K-vest helps a lot. It kind of takes the question out of it. You can identify the problem right away and be convicted on what the issue is — what’s causing something not to work.

“I rotate really well; I rotate at a really good level. Sometimes my body puts me in a position to where my swing comes in steep, and being steep is down through the ball. If my body is in the right position, then I can get lift that way. But if my body is out front, crashing a little forward, then I become too steep and everything I hit hard is right on the ground.”

Laurila: You don’t want to hit the ball on the ground, and at the same time, you’re not trying to hit the ball in the air.

Hosmer: “You just want to create line drives. Not necessarily backspin, but you want to stay through the ball and hit line drives. You definitely don’t want hit the ball on the ground, but you also don’t want to hit the ball too high in the air. What I’m looking to do — what’s always worked best for me — is hit line drives.”

Laurila: Have different hitting coaches given you different messages over the years?

Hosmer: “Yeah. I mean, I’ve tried to pick some brains of certain hitting coaches. One of the things that [Padres hitting coach] Michael Brdar does really well is [talk about] how to match the the angle of the pitch coming in — your biggest margin of error on matching that plane. That’s something he’s really helped us with, those certain angles that we weren’t really aware of until now.”

Laurila: How do you go about doing that, given that there is a specific swing that works best for you?

Hosmer: “You just want the biggest margin of error to make contact — to make solid contact. For instance, if it’s a two-seam and you’re trying to hit it the other way, and you miss, it’s called X-ing the ball. So, if you have a two-seam that’s coming this way, and your barrel is coming from that way, that angle gives you the biggest margin of error to make contact solidly.”

Laurila: Is your swing as conducive to hitting the elevated fastball that’s been so prevalent in today’s game? A lot of hitters swings aren’t conducive for that, although it seems like more guys are trying to adapt.

Hosmer: “I do think my swing is, because I come down on the ball. The high pitch is something I’ve always hit pretty well in my career. And yeah, there was definitely a time where the pitchers were doing that high strike with the VA [vertical approach] fastball. I think hitters are certainly catching wind of that and trying to make those adjustments.”

Laurila: Your career has had an up-and-down trajectory in terms of statistical performance. Have you ever come up with an explanation for why that is?

Hosmer: “No. That’s something we all want to solve, we all want to figure out. I’ve never really gotten to where I can pinpoint it on one certain thing. In the end, I think it all comes down to swinging at good pitches and finding a pitch in your zone that you can drive.”

Laurila: One last question. How satisfied are you with your career at this point in time?

Hosmer: “I’m very satisfied. I’ve had over 10 years in this game, which is a great accomplishment. I’ve won a World Series, which is also a great accomplishment. And like you said, I’m not too far from 2,000 hits and 200 home runs. I’m more than satisfied with my career.”


Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Rhys Hoskins, Tim Hyers, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Brent Rooker,, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, Luke Voit, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Nick Yorke.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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1 year ago

This is a lot of what the “swing-change revolution” proponents were missing–changing your swing is really, really hard. Some people can do it, and some can’t.

Granted, his swing is sub-optimal, but changing his swing took him from an inconsistent player with some good years and some replacement-level years to just being a replacement level guy.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

And for all the crap we give him, this shows that he’s clearly thinking about the technical details in a way I hadn’t given him credit for before.

I always assumed he was a “see the ball, hit the ball” kind of hitter, but he’s really thinking about things much more technically.

And he has had a really solid career, probably better than 85% (90%?) of big league players.

1 year ago
Reply to  dl80

“Barrels, [Eno], barrels….”

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

In hindsight, it’s pretty clear that Hosmer was pretty close to fully-formed as a hitter by the time he signed with the Royals – his minor-league numbers were flat-out obscenely good. But it’s enough work to keep up with all the changes in pitchers’ approaches over the last decade or so without also trying to change your swing mechanics. Keeping that part of his game consistent is probably what’s kept Hosmer’s hitting from going into a full-blown Jason Heyward type free-fall.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Chasing line drives just isnt a super sustainable approach, especially with Hosmers natural tendency for groundballs (and footspeed).

His best years were BABIP spikes, not sure they were really much more than that. The only reason hes still in the league, and able to double, triple, and quadruple down on his archaic ideas about hitting is because SD swooped in and paid him.

1 year ago
Reply to  KJL

Why, oh why, did my Padres not simply let the Royals win the bidding???

1 year ago

We would still Have Ty France.

1 year ago
Reply to  KJL

His good years were years he hit some line drives, and his bad years were years he barely hit any at all. His good years are something like at the 70th percentile for % line drives, and his bad years were like the 3rd percentile. It’s not hard to see how that shows up in BABIP.

Admittedly, he doesn’t seem like he can do it consistently from year to year, but since inconsistency with some good years and some bad years is better than all bad years I think it’s a better fit for him.

Last edited 1 year ago by sadtrombone
Tanned Tom
1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

So your argument is to take the infrequent lucky streaks and not try to improve? That is the worst comment you have ever posted. Good players are always working to improve. It’s the bad ones who fabricated convoluted arguments for why it can’t or doesn’t work for them.

1 year ago
Reply to  Tanned Tom

He did indeed try for more lift, and it clearly didn’t work for him. Going back to going after line drives *IS* an improvement for him.

Meanwhile, nobody said he wasn’t trying to improve in any other ways.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

He just put an 80 WRC+ up in May with a .300 Babip.