When Eric Hosmer signed an eight-year, $144-millionA�contract with the San Diego Padres last month, reception wasa��to put it politelya��less than positive. Keith Law at ESPN called it “inexplicable.” Over at Sports Illustrated, Jack Dickey said it was an “old-school [Scott] Boras swindling.” Critics cited Hosmer’s lousy defensive metrics, lack of consistency over the course of multiple seasons and just the general disappointment to the start of his careera��given what he was expected to do when Kansas City drafted him No. 3 overall in 2008.
All of these arguments are valid, but seem a little dismissive given that Hosmer is only 28. And not to mention, almost a month from even stepping to the plate for the first time in a Padres uniform.
A big knock on Hosmer is the odd assumption that he’ll automatically regress this season. That Jack Dickey column pointed out that he has a pattern of alternating good and bad seasons. That’s true. His OPS has bounced from .716 to .822 to 761 to .882 since 2014. But that doesn’t mean we should automatically assume this pattern will continue. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, after all. And just because Hosmer’s been mediocre in even years doesn’t mean he’ll keep being mediocre.
In recent years, the baseball world has seen more younger players taking the league by storm. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper winning MVPs before their 23rd birthdays come to mind. With that said, it’s easy to forget that it’s more common to be more successful later in a career. This decade, three quarters of the MVPs in either league have been over the age of 25. I bring this up because while it’s easy to label Hosmer a disappointment six years into his career, recent history says we haven’t seen the best of him.
In 2017, Hosmer swatted .318/.385/.498 with 25 homers during what was easily the best season of his career. Now he’s entering his prime. Any other player with that year would have been considered a premiere free agent. Nobody would have blinked at such a large contract. But the consensus is that he won’t repeat that this season. Of course, there is no real evidence to this other than a trend that is quite possibly a coincidence.
Despite Hosmer’s four Gold Gloves, advanced fielding metrics don’t rate him particularly highly. But there are a few things to keep in mind here. One is that sabermetrics like Defensive Runs Saved adjust the numbers based on what position someone plays, figuring shortstop or center field is tougher than first base, and then normalizing the numbers. So while Hosmer rates poorly compared to all fielders, he’s much closer to average while looking at just first basemen.
Also, the job of the first baseman is different from anyone else on the field. Most advanced fielding stats are based on range, because the most important thing a fielder can do is get to a ball. First base is different. Most of the action comes via other fielders’ throws. One of the most important things a first baseman can do is make life easier for the other infielders, which Hosmer has excelled at. Nobody consistently keeps track of scoops, but a study at the end of the 2013 found that Hosmer had ranked fourth in baseball in total scoops the previous season. So even if he isn’t great by traditional fielding numbers, he’s still bringing something to the table defensively.
Eric Hosmer didn’t do what he was anticipated to do in Kansas City. He had a very good start to his career there, but didn’t quite meet expectations. With that said, he’s still young. And there’s no reason to give up on the possibility of him becoming a bona fide star sometime in the near future.