Eric Hosmer Isn’t Special

Eric Hosmer is currently ranked 96th on our site’s fantasy baseball rankings, but I have him at 144th overall, the lowest among our writers by over 50 spots. In turn, Hosmer’s current ADP according to Fantasypros is 107th, which means he is a 9th round pick in a 12 team league. Hosmer would be a solid utility or a center Infield play if he was going five rounds later, but he’s not worth tying up that spot when you could get Danny Duffy, Danny Salazar, or Evan Longoria in the same area.

In 2016, Hosmer finally had the power “breakout” that we’ve been waiting for since his debut. His career high 25 home runs seems like a big step forward, but underneath that number, we see signs that reflect something different. One might point to his .301 BABIP and say that he got unlucky, however his groundball rate spiked up to 58.9%, the highest among qualified first basemen, and his line drive rate plummeted to 16.5%, the second lowest among qualified first baseman (only Carlos Santana was lower at 16%). This batted ball profile matches other sluggers like Dee Gordon and Jarrod Dyson. His home runs were the product of an outlandish 21.4% HR/FB rate. In a pitcher friendly ballpark, with nearly 60% of batted balls being grounders, I’d expect his home run totals to dip back to the 17-20 range.

Hosmer believers might point to Freddie Freeman’s big power breakout and think Hosmer is next in line. They’ve had similar career arcs. They were both big left handed first base prospects that debuted in the same year, they have a few years of good average and counting stats with moderate power, and the fantasy community has been predicting their breakouts for years. Both had career highs in home runs in 2016, but Freeman’s leap was the product of a great batted ball profile, while Hosmer’s was the product of a high HR/FB ratio. Freeman’s breakout was years in the making, he always had line drive rates around 30% and flyball rates around 35-40%, while Hosmer has never sniffed those percentages. Let’s compare their statcast exit velocity and launch angle charts from 2016.

These graphs show the player’s exit velocity relative to their launch angle on batted balls. The half circle works like a protractor, while the red indicates the exit velocity of the ball. The farther the red is to the border of the chart, the harder the ball was hit (You can find these graphs for all MLB players at baseballsavant.mlb.com). The ideal launch angle is between 10º-30º. We can see that Freeman was squaring up the ball and getting loft on his hits, while Hosmer, for the most part, was rocketing the ball directly into the ground. Freeman’s career high of 34 homers was bound to happen, while Hosmer’s was the product of fortune.

Obviously Freeman and Hosmer are in different tiers of first basemen and no one is drafting Hosmer over Freeman however, there are some first basemen being drafted behind Hosmer that I think could have similar or better numbers in 2017.

Brandon Belt is 165th per Fantasypros ADP and has a similar skillset. Belt has routinely had higher isolated power, line drive rates, and walk rates than Hosmer, but AT&T Park swallows up his power. If you play in a points league or a league with total bases as a category, Belt will reward you with doubles and a high OBP. The downside though, Belt had a 9.3 HR/FB rate, which is low even for a lefty in AT&T Park, if it bumps up modestly to even 13%, he could rival Hosmer in total home runs. Why would you reach for Hosmer in the 8th when you could have Belt in the 14th?

Both Tommy Joseph and Justin Bour are going towards the ends of the draft, and in some cases never picked at all. Joseph’s ADP is at 238th, while Bour’s is criminally low at 364th, behind the likes of David Wright and Joe Mauer. Joseph smacked 21 homers in 347 PAs, a rate of 16.5 PAs per HR. Bour’s career PA/HR rate is 21.8 Hosmer’s career rate is at 33.2. In addition to Bour’s superior power he has a better K/BB ratio than Hosmer, whom is often regarded for his contact skills. Bour won’t be a full time player, but he can be drafted in the last round in 10 or 12 team leagues and with diligent management you can mitigate the downsides of the platoon. Joseph should be a full time player for the rebuilding Phillies, and could have a 30 home run season if the power rates are similar. Of course Joseph and Bour both have greater risk than Hosmer, but given the cost to acquire I’d take Joseph or Bour in the 20th instead of Hosmer in the 8th.

Eric Hosmer is not a bad player, but the fantasy baseball market has put him in an awkward position. If you miss out on a top tier first baseman or even a second tier first baseman, don’t panic and pick Hosmer at 85th. He doesn’t excel enough in any category to be a difference maker. He isn’t special. He’s a middling CI being drafted right outside the top 100.