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Padres Eight Year Risk Off To A Grim Start

Thearon W. Henderson- Getty Images

Eric Hosmer was the Padres’ big signing last offseason, but it’s looking like a major miscalculation after one year.

San Diego: a city known for its beautiful beaches, warm climate, and cultural diversity. Due to its mild climate year round, there is no such thing as bad weather in this California city.

There is, however, such a thing as bad baseball in this city.

Even for the most ardent San Diego Padres fans, the 2018 season was hard to watch. Bad baseball permeated the team all year: pathetic OBPs, few runs, and inconsistent pitching being are only a few of the most glaring problems with the team. From a statistical and results standpoint, the 2018 season symbolized a figurative dumpster fire that the team found itself burning in. 

These numbers cannot be made up.

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The Padres’ offensive and defensive statistics tell one grisly narrative: the Padres are still ways away from competing and it starts with needing vast improvements in the hitting department. This is a recurring issue with the Padres and one which effectuated a change in the team’s hitting coach for next season. Matt Stairs could not generate improvement in any of the Padres’ hitters, which accelerated his dismissal.

“We’re wanting a different message, a different voice,” Padres’ General Manager A.J. Preller said to ESPN when asked for the reason why the team dismissed Stairs.

But Stairs is just the tip of the iceberg. The Padres’ floundering offense is a multifaceted predicament. At the forefront of the Padres terrible play is their $144 million dollar man Eric Hosmer. He may be 28 and only completed year one of his deal, but the Padres signing him for eight years and $144 million is looking like a gargantuan mistake that can cripple the Padres’ salary cap resources they may need in order to improve.

At the end of year one, Hosmer has seen an overall decline in offensive production. He held a .253/.322/.398 batting line with 18 home runs and 69 runs batted in, all career lows. But that is only part of his story. During this era of advanced sabermetrics, Hosmer is seemingly unable to make adjustments to his swing. 

During his time in Kansas City, one criticism of Hosmer’s style of play was that he hits too many ground balls. Not getting the ball in the air, it was argued, negated his effectiveness as a first baseman. As a result, Hosmer, at least in regards to run producing, has consistently ranked below-average by first basemen standards.

Unfortunately for the Padres, Hosmer isn’t trying to lift the ball more. As the chart below shows, Hosmer’s ground ball rate in 2018 was a career-high:

Image titleConsidering that the gray line below represents the MLB average, Hosmer is in the upper echelon of major leaguers who hit grounders too frequently. In Hosmer’s case, there is a direct correlation between ground ball percentage and the amount of runs he creates:

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As the chart shows, Hosmer’s ground ball rate normally indicates his offensive value. What is particularly frustrating for Hosmer is that he does have spurts where his high ground ball rate does result in a few solid hitting months. However, most of the time this is not the case. July 2018 was particularly brutal: a negative-30 wRC+ was one of his worst ever offensive showings in his entire career and it coincided with an exceptionally high ground ball percentage.

But Hosmer is seemingly resistant to change. And according to his agent Scott Boras, modern-day analytics present a foreboding narrative of Hosmer that does not accurately display his value to San Diego.

“I’m so pleased our modern-day analytics are proven wrong,” Boras said of Hosmer at his introductory press conference according to FanGraphs. “The prestige he brings to the game is valued…he brings to the game a completeness. As we go forward, I think Eric Hosmer will be an example of how we need to do more to go beyond the algorithms and [look at] the human value a player can bring.”

Modern-day analytics, besides lamenting Hosmer’s ground ball rate, consistently bring up Hosmer’s low launch angle as another argument why the Padres overpaid for him. The launch angle is an accurate measure of how much lift a player is able to deliver onto a batted baseball. An ideal launch angle for a hitter is considered to be between 25 and 35 degrees. Hitters will not be able to achieve this launch angle every time they hit the ball, but their average should at least be over 20 degrees. The chart below shows all of Hosmer’s batted balls in the past two seasons:

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What is evident is that Hosmer is not getting many balls in the air and when he does, he rarely achieves an “ideal” launch angle. Instead, most of his batted balls are actually below zero degrees, which indicates that he is hitting the majority of baseballs right into the ground.

As a result, Hosmer achieved the third-lowest launch angle in 2018 with a -0.5 degree average launch angle, only beating out Ian Desmond and Dee Gordon for the lowest.

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Therefore, over the span of the next (probably) seven years, the Padres cannot be optimistic that Hosmer is suddenly going to become a power hitter. And unfortunately for the Padres, the historical data regarding aging ground ball hitters is not in their favor.

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So what does this mean for the Padres? It means that they need to temper their expectations when it comes to Hosmer. Maybe Scott Boras is right in the sense that Hosmer’s value to the club also includes his leadership and intangibles. However, strictly from a performance analysis, year one of Hosmer indicates that the Padres are closer to landing Bryce Harper this offseason than getting good value for their money invested in Hosmer.

Hosmer cannot be counted on to lead the team to the postseason in the near future. The Padres better hope that their young prospects fulfill their expected destinies. Otherwise, the Padres will need to rely on Hosmer turning back the clocks along with a little serendipity in order to achieve success in the near future. 

(All statistics and information originated from ESPN.com, FanGraphs.com, or Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.)


Edited by Brian Kang.

SQuiz
When did the Padres last win a NL West Division Title?
Created 11/6/18
  1. 2006
  2. 2003
  3. 2010
  4. 2009

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