In 11 days, the Royals will open spring training in Surprise, Ariz. Later this month, they will play Cactus League games.
Will free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer be with the Royals for those events? That question is still in the air, of course.
Few expected Hosmer to be without a team when the calendar turned to February, and he’s been the center of a debate this offseason about advanced statistics and the so-called “eye test.”
On Thursday, an MLB Network discussion centered on Hosmer, who reportedly has contract offers on the table from the Royals and Padres.
“He is the polarizing figure of this free-agent class,” Brian Kenny said in an introduction to a segment that broke down Hosmer’s statistics. “He’s a World Series champ, All-Star Game MVP, Silver Slugger at first base, four-time Gold Glove winner, and in the World Baseball Classic, won the starting first base spot over Paul Goldschmidt. That’s some resume, but these days, Eric Hosmer is going through a different level of scrutiny.”
While Hosmer has a sterling resume, his statistics don’t reach the level of some of the top first basemen in baseball, such as the Diamondbacks’ Goldschmidt, the Reds’ Joey Votto, the Braves’ Freddie Freeman, and the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo.
One of the knocks on Hosmer is his high ground-ball rate. Kenny noted that Hosmer’s launch angle ranked 91st out of 94 players with at least 400 at-bats last year.
Kenny then sat down for a talk with former Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd, former Braves ace John Smoltz and Sports Illustrated’s John Tayler.
O’Dowd said Hosmer was “penalized” by playing in the Royals system.
“I do think he gets penalized for playing in a system that didn’t reward balls in the air,” O’Dowd said. “What did the Royals stand for? We are a tough out, we don’t strikeout, we put the ball on the ground. He did. He was a part of a winning team. He played like a player on part of a winning team.
“I do believe, BK, at 28 years old, the year that he had last year, which was his best year, I believe that’s the launching pad for him. He’s going to either be that player or continue to get better. I don’t see the risk in this guy that the rest of the industry may see...”
Smoltz agreed with O’Dowd’s assertion on ground balls.
“That ground-ball rate that you showed is not an accurate number, because we haven’t quantified how many of those ground balls were with two strikes and how many ground balls were before two strikes,” Smoltz said.
“Because what Dan said, the model of the Kansas City Royals was attack. Attack until you get two strikes, then put the pressure on the other team. He’s not going to want to drive the ball and hit the ball in the air in that ballpark...”
You can see the whole discussion here: