Judging the Royals

What Eric Hosmer wishes he knew as a rookie

Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) waited under watchful eyes to head onto the field to begin his first game with the team on May 6, 2011 against Oakland at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) waited under watchful eyes to head onto the field to begin his first game with the team on May 6, 2011 against Oakland at Kauffman Stadium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Eric Hosmer sat by his locker, surrounded by cardboard boxes, on Wednesday afternoon. During the season players collect stuff — clothing, shoes and memorabilia. At the end of the season, that stuff needs to be shipped home.

While Hosmer sorted through what went in what box, he was asked what he knows now that he wishes he knew as a rookie.

Eric answered immediately: “How to have a game plan at the plate.”

Why good hitters take bad swings

We see someone take a big hack at a slider in the dirt and wonder how a professional hitter took a swing like that at a pitch like that.

Turns out, it might actually be smart hitting.

Having a game plan at the plate means studying pitchers and their tendencies: What does the pitcher like to throw for the first pitch? What does he do when he’s ahead 0-2? Or 1-2? What does the pitcher throw with a runner in scoring position?

And if a pitcher likes to throw a fastball away in a 2-0 count and does it 70 percent of the time, are you going to bet on the thing that happens 30 percent of the time?

So a hitter bets fastball away and starts his swing early but gets a slider and, when he swings at it, looks foolish.

The results were bad, but the game plan was good.

Selling out: it keeps a hitter from being caught in-between

Early in his career Hosmer didn’t want to look foolish, so he’d hedge his bets: in that 2-0 count he’d be thinking fastball away, but he’d still try to be ready if he got a slider.

And that kind of thinking puts a hitter right where a pitcher wants him, in-between: late on the fastball, ahead of the slider.

So Hosmer would get his fastball and foul it off or, or worse yet, take it. He didn’t stick to his game plan or trust the process and it cost him. That’s when he’d get mad at himself. He gave away an at bat because he didn’t stick with a plan.

Then one day Hosmer saw David Ortiz take a hack at a 2-0 pitch nowhere near the zone and thought if Big Papi wasn’t afraid to sell out and look foolish, he shouldn’t be either.

If you’re going to get a fastball seven out of 10 times, take the bet. And if you get that three out of 10 slider, don’t worry about it.

Taking a bad-looking hack at a slider is the cost of being right on time for a fastball.

Why fans love “our boys”

When you think of the 2015 World Series, do you think of Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist?

Me neither.

I’ve heard people argue that Kansas City Royals fans are emotionally attached to this team because this team won a championship, but I think that’s only part of the story. I think Royals fans are attached to this team because they watched these guys grow from rookies to champions.

Cueto and Zobrist played key roles in the 2015 season, but those guys were hired guns and fans don’t have the same kind of emotional attachment to players who were only here for a short while and only here for the best part of that World Series story.

Royals fans are much more attached to the players who started here in 2011 and suffered through losing seasons, but worked their way to the top.

It’s one of the reasons Royals fans refer to “our boys” so often. They’ve watched these guys grow up.

Eric Hosmer has grown from a rookie who was just hacking to a veteran who studies scouting reports, video, pitcher tendencies and then goes to the plate with a plan.

What’s next?

Earlier this season, when Hosmer got his 1,000th hit, I congratulated him and he said: “You probably saw every one of them.”

Hosmer’s right, I did.

Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by cardboard boxes, watching Hosmer pack up and get ready to leave, I said I felt like I was sending one of my kids away to college. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next — and after talking to him, I’m convinced that includes Hosmer — but wherever he winds up, he’ll be OK.

Because these days, Eric Hosmer has a plan.