How to Rationalize an Eric Hosmer Mega-Contract by Jeff Sullivan February 21, 2017 In the middle of last July, rumors started to spread that, come free agency, Eric Hosmer could seek a 10-year deal. Then, in the second half of the season, Hosmer batted .225, with a 76 wRC+. Now, in a new article from Ken Rosenthal, it’s expressed the Royals believe Eric Hosmer could seek a 10-year deal. Hosmer is represented by Scott Boras, and you can see here how Boras effortlessly presupposes Hosmer’s significance: “We all know that Hos is a franchise player, a world champion. He’s done all this at a very young age,” Boras said. World champion? Sure, that happened. Very young age? Hosmer is still only 27 years old. But, there’s that first thing. We don’t all know that Hosmer is a franchise player. The majority of people would actually disagree with that notion. This is a phenomenally easy idea to argue against. It’s certainly true that Hosmer is a recognizable player. He’s part of what’s considered the Royals’ core, in terms of both performance and leadership. The Royals like Hosmer plenty, but there’s no getting around the statistics. Here’s an excerpt from the leaderboards covering the last three seasons. I calculated everyone’s WAR per 600 plate appearances, and here’s Hosmer, with the two names above and the two names below: Michael Taylor, 1.1 WAR/600 Robbie Grossman, 1.0 Eric Hosmer, 1.0 Caleb Joseph, 1.0 Mitch Moreland, 1.0 Similarly, I calculated WAR/600 for all the 2017 projections. Because Hosmer’s still young, right? The same sort of excerpt: Chris Carter, 1.3 projected WAR/600 Adam Duvall, 1.3 Eric Hosmer, 1.3 Mike Napoli, 1.3 Alex Dickerson, 1.3 Hosmer has played six full seasons. In just two of them has he posted a total WAR north of 1.0. In three of them, he’s been replacement-level or worse. Over the past three seasons, Hosmer has a combined WAR of 3.2. Before he signed his big contract, Prince Fielder had a three-year WAR of 13.3. Joey Votto had a three-year WAR of 18.1. Adrian Gonzalez had a three-year WAR of 16.1. Chris Davis, 13.4. Mark Teixeira, 14.8. Even Ryan Howard was at 7.1. Hosmer, statistically, does not measure up. His age is the best thing he has going for him. So it’s easy to say two related things: Players and agents can seek whatever they want, but Hosmer doesn’t deserve a giant contract. There, we’re finished! But we’re not finished. See, I think this is interesting. This isn’t just a player and a team not yet having agreed to multi-year terms. This isn’t the Royals expecting Hosmer to seek, say, six or seven years. Reports say they’re expecting 10. Hosmer’s agent referred to him as a franchise player. His most recent WAR was literally below zero. This screams for further investigation. How could we make sense of Hosmer and Boras staking out such a position, if we are to assume they’re not stupid? Okay, let’s start with defense. Hosmer is a first baseman, and he isn’t about to move up the defensive spectrum or anything. Relative to a middle infielder, Hosmer is not defensively valuable. But here there has been disagreement. Hosmer has been below-average, according to both DRS and UZR. At the same time, from 2013 – 2015, he won three consecutive Gold Gloves. And over the past three years, by the Fan Scouting Report, Hosmer rates as one of the better defensive first basemen in baseball. His three-year DRS is -2. His three-year UZR is -8. His three-year FSR is +13. Fans think he’s about as good as, say, Anthony Rizzo. Almost always, the numbers are more dependable than subjective perception. I don’t know where this truth actually lies. But I can concede that Hosmer could well be better than his statistical record. I’m not willing to take a bullet for the metrics. Switching now to offense, there is some reason to believe Hosmer has been more productive when you put his performance in context. His three-year wRC+ ranks 101st out of 235 players. His three-year WPA/LI ranks 81st. However, his three-year WPA ranks 46th, because his Clutch score ranks 18th. A less complicated way to put this: Eric Hosmer, to this point, has been a legitimately clutch offensive performer. Since he debuted, he ranks second among all hitters in offensive Clutch. According to Baseball-Reference, out of all active players with enough playing time, he’s been the fifth-biggest over-performer in high-leverage spots. Here are some career FanGraphs splits: Low leverage: 91 wRC+ Medium leverage: 118 High leverage: 136 In the important spots, walk rate is at a high, and strikeout rate is at a low. Power is at a high. I’m not saying this is something to definitely believe in, but it’s possible to be both skeptical and interested. Eric Hosmer, the hitter, has demonstrated excellent timing. It’s made him more valuable, so far, than his overall numbers would suggest. And now we should talk about the upside. The talent that Hosmer hasn’t entirely tapped into. This goes along with Hosmer still being fairly young — there could be more in there than the career wRC+ of 107. If there’s one thing that’s held Hosmer back at the plate, it’s that he’s hit too many balls on the ground. His career grounder rate is 53%. Last season he set a new career high, while achieving the same average launch angle as Adam Eaton and Ben Revere. You don’t have to squint too hard to recognize the unflattering Billy Butler comp. Over the last three years, however, when Hosmer has hit the ball in the air, his wRC+ ranks in the 77th percentile. He’s right there with Hanley Ramirez, Yoenis Cespedes, and Mark Trumbo. When going up the middle or the other way, Hosmer’s wRC+ ranks in the 87th percentile, and he’s in the 90th if you look at the opposite field alone. Hosmer has shown that he has hitting ability and power to all fields. He just hasn’t been consistent about it. But there should be no denying the strength. Your browser does not support iframes. On air balls, in 2015, Hosmer ranked in the 78th percentile in average exit velocity. By the same measure, in 2016, he ranked in the 91st percentile. Right above him: Edwin Encarnacion. Right below him: Trumbo. Hosmer has been too much of a ground-ball hitter to be a consistent power hitter, but we’ve seen that change with other players before. The strength and bat speed are there. Whether it’s an issue of swing mechanics or timing, Hosmer so far has topped too many baseballs, but it’s not hard to imagine him blossoming. I’ve said hardly anything about Hosmer’s alleged leadership skills. Can’t address ’em, can’t quantify ’em, can’t vouch for ’em. Based on my very limited understanding, Hosmer’s clubhouse presence is more good than bad, so that would provide him a small value bonus. It’s not something that would convince a team to spend way overboard to land this one specific player, especially because every clubhouse is different, but Hosmer doesn’t seem to be a bad dude. He’s supportive and experienced and all the stuff that goes along with those traits. Eric Hosmer, right now, is not a 10-year-contract kind of player. WAR is our best measure of value, and it’s no fan of Hosmer’s. Teams know that, and their own systems would mostly agree. At the same time, you can see how Hosmer could be close to being one of those cornerstones. He could definitely be a better defender than he’s given statistical credit for. It’s hard to ignore the offensive timing he’s had. And the offensive upside is also a selling point, even if Hosmer has been hitting ground balls for six years. There’s more power in there, and some hitters have managed to set theirs free. It could be a matter of making one tweak. No team in baseball would give Hosmer a mega-contract today, even if they believe him to be a little underrated. What Boras might be taking for granted, publicly, is that Hosmer can consistently be his best self. Deep down, Boras knows there’s work to be done, but there is a legitimate chance here. Eric Hosmer’s best self is a star first baseman. Several months from now, that mega-contract idea might not seem so far-fetched.