Years ago, before the playoff berths and postseason runs, before the seasons numbed him to the unpredictability of baseball, maybe Eric Hosmer would be panicking. Tinkering with his swing. New approach every day. Anything to break out of a nasty slump.
But now, at the age of 27, Hosmer remains confident that such an approach can be the worst course of action. He says this now, even as his production lags in the final week of April, even as the Royals entered a three-game series against the White Sox coming off one of their worst seven-game offensive runs in club history.
“As a younger player, I think that’s where you learn you get yourself into more holes when you try and change things up and play that game each and every day,” Hosmer said. “So I think we’ve all been through it long enough.”
Hosmer entered Monday batting .203 with a .267 on-base percentage and two extra-base hits. As the slump took root, his ground-ball rate spiked and the grounders to second piled up. But as he stood inside the visitors clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field on Monday afternoon, Hosmer sought to reinforce the lessons of the past. Sometimes, he said, you just have to continue to grind.
“I know I’ve been through it long enough now to realize you’ve just got to stick with your approach and it will change,” he said.
A few moments later, Hosmer exited the clubhouse and headed to an indoor batting cage to work with hitting coach Dale Sveum. The work has continued all month, the routine mostly the same. Yet Hosmer said he doesn’t see any need for wholesale changes — just continued diligence with his preparation and daily plan.
“Having a couple of years of experience under all of our belts,” Hosmer said, “I think that’s what keeps us sane … knowing that it will eventually happen.”
The numbers themselves have not been pleasant. This is evident with a cursory glance. In 75 plate appearances across 18 games, Hosmer entered Monday slugging just .261. According to Weighted Runs Created Plus, an advanced metric that measures total offensive value, he has been the fourth worst hitting first baseman in the American League, ahead of only Seattle’s Danny Valencia, Minnesota’s Joe Mauer and Chicago’s Jose Abreu.
The symptoms of the slump are visible. Hosmer is hitting the ball on the ground 58.6 percent of the time, which nearly matches his career high from last season and is higher than his career average of 53.2 percent. His infield fly ball percentage, a solid indicator of weak contact, is more than double his career high.
The sample size is still fairly small, of course. And the root causes of the slump are harder to decipher. Opposing pitchers are pounding Hosmer with inside fastballs and off-speed pitches. For now, he has been unable to drive the baseball on a consistent basis.
“It’s just baseball, man,” Hosmer said. “You go through stuff like this. I think every team goes through spurts like this at some point throughout the year. Ours just happen to be through the beginning.
“Obviously, it’s not the way you want to start as a team and individually. But I think we’ve all gone through enough seasons now to realize how long the season actually is, and how this can change so quickly.”
Hosmer is not the only Royal mired in an April skid. Alex Gordon entered Monday hitting .169 with no homers this season. Shortstop Alcides Escobar was batting .190. The Royals were averaging 2.55 runs per contest.
The struggles came to a head in a four-game sweep in Texas over the weekend. By late Monday afternoon, Royals manager Ned Yost sat inside his office and braced for another round of questioning about the quiet productivity. As a reporter lobbed another question about Hosmer’s ground-ball rate, Yost offered a wry response.
“I don’t notice anything,” Yost joked. “I sleep through the whole game. I don’t even know what happens. I’m just like, ‘Wake me up in the eighth inning, if we have a lead, I can figure something out.’ ”
Moments later, Yost paused.
“It’s been a struggle for us,” he conceded. “But again, you can snap out of it quick.”
A few minutes later, Hosmer stood in a mostly-empty clubhouse. It was just past 4 p.m. A large collection of Royals had already headed for the batting cage. Hosmer grabbed a bat and prepared to join them.
“I think everyone is just realizing this is just part of the process, and we just got to continue to grind,” Hosmer said. “And that’s what we do best as a team, is grind it out together.”