Hosmer would do well hitting sixth

After the Royals’ 8-7 walk-off victory against the Mariners on Wednesday, manager Ned Yost said first baseman Eric Hosmer would be moved from third in the order.

Hosmer, who was zero for five with a strikeout Wednesday, has two hits in his last 22 at-bats, and his average has dropped to .222.

Hopefully, Hosmer’s new spot in the lineup will be as the No. 6 hitter.

The evidence for a move to the six-hole begins on May 27 in the final game of a road series against the Baltimore Orioles. Hosmer, who was hitting .206/.270/.347 at the time, was moved to the sixth in the lineup in an effort to get him back on track.

He went zero for four with three strikeouts that day. But over the next 11 games, Hosmer warmed up considerably, going 13-for-38 (.342) with four doubles and two homers during an 11-game hitting streak in games against the Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates. The streak was enough to bump his season average from .201 to .226 and improved his OPS from .604 to .676.

Given the marked improvement, Yost moved Hosmer back to the middle of the lineup on June 10 where he started nine of the next 12 games batting either third or fourth in the order.

(Because the designated hitter was dropped during the interleague series in Houston, Hosmer appeared in three games against the Astros, once as a defensive replacement and twice as a pinch-hitter. He was zero for two with a strikeout in those three games.)

After moving to the meat of the order, Hosmer’s struggles returned as he hit .146/.239/.220 with one extra-base hit (a home run) during a two-week stretch against the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and Astros.

The low point came in a home series against the Cardinals when Hosmer was one for nine in the first two games. That extended his slump to two for his last 18, and Hosmer went to the bench for the final game of the series.

After the Cardinals series, Yost decided on June 25 to move Hosmer back to the six-hole against the Tampa Bay Rays. Hosmer responded immediately, this time slugging to the tune of a .423/.483/.615 slash line over seven games.

The 11-for-26 performance in two series between the Rays and Twins saw Hosmer get at least one hit in each game and included three multi-hit games, two doubles, a home run and a three-for-four night against the Twins. The week-long streak was strong enough to push Hosmer’s batting average from .213 to .233, which at the time was highest his batting average had been since after the fourth game of the season.

When the Royals began a four-game road series against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 2, Yost unveiled his “future lineup” that included shortstop Alcides Escobar batting second and the hot-hitting Hosmer returning to the three-hole. It was Yost’s plan to develop Hosmer as the three-hole hitter of the future.

Hosmer went two for four with a double, a walk and two runs scored in that game, but he has managed just six hits in his last 46 at-bats since.

However bad things look now, this story may still have a happy ending in 2012.

The three most frequent spots Hosmer has hit in the lineup this season has been third (137 plate appearances), fourth (94 PA) and sixth (85 PA).

Here is the breakdown:

Batting third: .165/.263/.248

Batting fourth: .172/.234/.345

Batting sixth: .338/.388/.532

It is possible his numbers are skewed based match-ups or bad luck. And it is worth noting that the sample sizes are not very large and research says a hitter will hit the same no matter what spot in the order he bats.

This is not to say that Hosmer won't develop into a productive No. 3 hitter in the future, but for now the stark differences in the numbers between hitting third and sixth this season is difficult to ignore.

| Ben Nielsen, bnielsen@kcstar.com