A couple of weeks ago, I talked about why Rhys Hoskins‘ early process should give Phillies fans a reason for real excitement. His combination of frequently hitting the ball in the air while still making above-average contact is the foundation for high-level offensive production.
At that point, though, Hoskins had just 47 plate appearances in the Majors. Anyone can have a good 47 plate appearances, so I tried to emphasize that the results of his first 10 or so games shouldn’t have changed your opinion of Hoskins much. There were encouraging signs in the approach, and other hitters with similar skillsets also got overlooked by prospect rankings on their way to stardom, but I tried to avoid making a big deal about Hoskins running a 159 wRC+ for a couple of weeks.
Well, it’s been three weeks since that post went up, and now the results themselves are worth paying attention to.
Since that post, Hoskins has accumulated exactly 100 more plate appearances, and over that stretch, he’s hit .350/.470/.887, good for a 236 wRC+. He’s drawn 18 walks against just 20 strikeouts while launching 13 more home runs. Instead of the league adjusting to Rhys Hoskins, Hoskins has just continued to obliterate his opponents. And even over a five week sample, this level of dominance suggests that Hoskins can really hit.
At this point, everyone knows how to make a “small sample size” argument. Guys can run hot and cold, and it isn’t unusual at all for mediocre players to look amazing for a month or two, before reverting back to who they were before.
But mediocre hitters don’t do this. In 147 PAs, Hoskins has a 211 wRC+. To see what other hitters have had similar types of runs like this, I used our Splits Leaderboard tool, and looked at every Sunday-to-Sunday six-week stretch throughout the season where a player ran had at least 140 PAs and ran a wRC+ above 200. It’s not that it’s all that rare for a hitter to put up numbers similar to what Hoskins has done; it’s that the guys who have done it are all really freaking good.
Here’s the list of guys who have had similar stretches of offense this year. You’ll note that a bunch of the names repeat, as particular impressive performances stretched over several consecutive six-week averages.
Including Hoskins, there have been 25 such stretches this year, the most dominant of which belonged to Giancarlo Stanton, when he went off for a 246 wRC+ over 147 PAs. Aaron Judge did it a bunch of times early in the year. Ryan Zimmerman’s crazy start to the year is there, as is Freddie Freeman’s April run, when he looked like the best hitter alive. But note the complete absence of anything resembling a bad hitter here.
Zimmerman’s probably the worst hitter in this group, and he projects for a 110 wRC+ over the rest of the season. He’s certainly cooled off quickly after his monster start, running a 99 wRC+ in 412 PAs since May 8th, and he’s a reminder that 150 great plate appearances don’t guarantee continued offensive success. But when Ryan Zimmerman is the worst case scenario, well, you’re in pretty good company.
And of course, Zimmerman had some good fortune to get in that group, running a .407 BABIP during his early season stretch of dominance. Getting balls to fall in is almost a requirement, as 22 of the 25 stretches like this involved a BABIP over .350, and 13 of them included a BABIP over .400. Since no one is a legitimate 200 wRC+ guy, there’s always going to be some luck involved in running this kind of hot streak, and for most hitters, that shows up in a highly elevated BABIP. Here’s the same list as above, but with the components replacing the results, and sorted by BABIP.
There’s Hoskins down at the bottom with a .257 BABIP. That isn’t to say he hasn’t gotten lucky, as he’s hit a few balls that have turned into homers that could have easily been outs. His 40% HR/FB rate is obviously not all skill either.
But I think it’s fair to say there’s been a bit less good fortune in Hoskins’ run than there were in some of these others. His extreme pull and fly ball tendencies means he’s never going to be a high BABIP guy, so don’t look at his .257 mark and think he’s gotten unlucky, but his run of offensive dominance is built more on the types of skills that are sustained over longer periods of time.
Since Hoskins’ debuted, people have been trying to find a comparison for him. Paul Goldschmidt comes up a lot, since he was also an overlooked right-handed first base prospect who put up big numbers in the minors but didn’t get much recognition for it, but Goldschmidt is a pretty different kind of hitter, spraying the ball all over the field and hitting many more line drives. His hitting coach, Matt Stairs, recently compared him to Jason Giambi, based on his understanding of the strike zone.
But if we look at the core traits that somewhat define Hoskins right now — extreme grounder avoidance, extreme pull tendencies, but without the strikeouts that usually go along with those things — using our Splits Leaderboard tool, one name shows up more often than the rest; Frank Thomas.
To be clear, since our splits only go back to 2002, we don’t have pull and groundball data on Thomas in his prime, so we’re talking about The Big Hurt’s decline phase here. Late-career Frank Thomas was the epitome of a guy who controlled the strike zone, hit everything in the air, and focused primarily on pulling the ball. And despite being a slow runner with a pretty obvious plan at the plate, late-career Thomas was still a monster of a hitter.
From 2002 to 2004, he racked up 1,601 PAs, and hit .262/.387/.526, good for a .391 wOBA and a 138 wRC+. His pull and fly ball tendencies held his average down — his BABIP over that span was just .269 — but the walks and homers carried him to a high level of offensive performance.
In-his-prime Frank Thomas was one of the best hitters who ever lived, so it’d be unfair to compare anyone to him, much less a guy with just 150 career plate appearances. And it’s not like Thomas is the only name that shows up if you look at extreme pull/fly ball guys who avoid strikeouts; there’s also a Trot Nixon season and this year’s version of Matt Carpenter, along with Rafael Palmeiro.
So don’t take Hoskins’ first five weeks, the prior few paragraphs, as proof that Hoskins is about to go down as one of the best hitters of all-time. But based on the core skills he’s shown, a sustained run with a 140 wRC+ shouldn’t be ruled out. Even with old-player skills, Frank Thomas was one of the best hitters in baseball. Hoskins’ might not be an elite athlete, and he’s definitely got more old-player skills than most other rookies, but as long as he keeps making contact while elevating the ball, he might just ride those old-player skills to be one of the best hitters in the game.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.