Results tagged ‘ Eric Hosmer ’
Raise your hand if you foresaw a Baltimore-Kansas City ALCS matchup back in April. Anyone? Anybody at all? No? That’s what I thought. It’s a matchup that’s 30 years in the making and it features ball clubs that find a way to win in vastly different ways. The Royals stole more bases than any other team in the league while the Orioles plodded along the base paths, finishing dead last in baseball, 12 behind the next slowest team. Instead the O’s mashed their way to victory, racking up a Major League best 211 homers in the process, more than double the number of dingers hit by Kansas City. Both teams feature solid starting staffs and deep bullpens that have been dynamite this year when protecting a lead. This series has all the makings of a barn burner. So who’s going to win? Let’s take a run-through at some of the more salient points:
After spending the better part of the past decade lost in the baseball wilderness, the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians have finally found a way out. The two ball clubs sit 2nd and 3rd respectively in the AL Central and they’ve both been playing well of late, posting identical 7-3 records in their past 10 games.
Kansas City has been getting it done on the mound thanks in large part to a rebuilt starting staff that currently ranks 5th in baseball in ERA. New additions like Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, and James Shields have quickly made Royals fans forget the days when Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar were the best the franchise had to offer. A 17-11 start has only furthered the thought that the Royals might end their playoff drought, closing the door on a nightmare that began all the way back in 1986.
Cleveland is also enjoying a baseball renaissance of sorts, but they are getting the job done in a whole different way. The Indians have used their bats to rebound from last year’s 94-loss disaster, leading the American League with 40 homers already. Their own offseason acquisitions, which included the likes of Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds, are hitting balls out of the park at such great frequency that fans in the outfield must be alert at all times. New manager Terry Francona has Cleveland playing loose, winning 7 of their last 8.
Pool D should make for an interesting watch, as it is the home to the tournament favorite, Team USA, and three teams who hope to make some noise: Mexico, Italy, and Canada. Let’s take a look at each of the ball clubs:
The offseason is always full of surprises and none have been bigger in this first inning of hot stove action than the activity by the Kansas City Royals. General manager Dayton Moore has already moved quickly to acquire a pair of middling starters, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, to plug into what was a woeful rotation this past year, and he doesn’t appear to be done yet. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reported that the Royals my consider dealing Wil Myers, the consensus best hitting prospect in baseball, for some elite-level pitching if the opportunity presents itself.
Over the past season we witnessed a franchise tear down a 15 year streak of incompetence using nothing more than some internal improvement from home-grown players, a brilliant bullpen, and a patchwork starting rotation. The team I’m talking about of course, is none other than the Baltimore Orioles, a franchise who defied expectations and Pythagorean theories en route to 93 wins before bowing out in the ALDS to the New York Yankees.
The Royals have once again been reduced to playing out the string in 2012 after finishing the month of July with a 42-60 (.412 win %) record, while playing some of their worst baseball during the dog days of summer. Their record in the month of July was an atrocious 7-19 (.269) and at the Trade Deadline, the franchise once again became sellers rather than buyers. Over the past 2-3 weeks however, things have started to turn around again in Kansas City, with the Royals going 12-6, and in their most recent series, a 3 game set at Kauffman against the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox, the boys in blue were able to pick up the sweep. In the final game of the set, Jeremy Guthrie, yes the same one who had an ERA over 7.00 with the Rockies this season, twirled a gem for 7 innings and was backed up by Salvador Perez, who had 3 RBI to push Kansas City to a 5-2 win. There have been some encouraging signs in the Royals recent level of play that suggest better, more competitive times are just around the bend, and maybe with a few sly off-season moves, Kansas City could field a .500 team or better in 2013.
Before the 2012 season, nearly every baseball analyst, including yours truly, picked the Detroit Tigers to absolutely dominate what looked to be a weak division. Well half of that prediction has come true thus far, because the AL Central has indeed been the weakest division in baseball. In fact its been so bad its time to dust off the old nickname, the Comedy Central. Currently the slumping White Sox hold a slim half game lead over the win-a-game-lose-a-game Indians, and a 2.5 game lead over the struggling Tigers. If baseball abolished divisions and moved all teams into one league, no AL Central team would rank among the top 5 in the American League. So does anyone really want to win this thing? Let’s take a look to see which team has the best chance, starting with those White Sox.
With a quarter of the 2012 season in the books, many teams around the league are having an issue with the play of their 1st basemen. Over the past decade 1st base has been the strongest position in the Majors, boasting MVP candidates annually in both leagues. But this season many of these players have been black holes in their respective lineups, sucking up and wasting at-bats, contributing to losses. Lets take a look at some of the biggest culprits of bad play so far.
Hosmer has been terrible at the plate this season, ranking as the worst everyday 1st baseman in the American League thus far. He is still hitting under the Mendoza line, and none of his triple slash stats (.191/.260/.333) are even league average. A big part of Hosmer’s problem has been a drop in his line drive rate from 17% way down to 11%. Line drives drop for base hits more frequently than any other kind of hit, and having a rate 7% below league average makes keeping a decent batting average tough.
There is some good news for Hosmer however. His walk rate, which was elite for a rookie, has jumped again, to 8.5% of total at-bats, which is above the league average, and is a very difficult skill for a hitter to master. His BABIP is .191, which is almost criminally unfair and should come up with normal regression. Hosmer has been making solid contact but hitting the ball straight at fielders. Once some of these hard hit balls start dropping for hits, his average will come up. Hosmer is excellent at pitch recognition and has a good knowledge of the strike zone. His play will eventually improve and the Royals are wise to let him work out his issues.
According to the statistic Wins Above Replacement, Ike Davis has been the worst player in baseball this season, worth -1.2 wins. His problems are abundant so far this season, but his biggest issue is his 44-10 strikeout to walk rate. This issue has led to a triple slash of .164/.218/.295,, all of which are absurdly low for a 1st baseman. In addition to being abysmal with the bat, Davis has made 4 errors, which is 2nd most out of NL 1st baseman, and has otherwise looked mediocre with the leather as well.
Until Davis stops striking out in 28.2% of his at-bats and begins to draw more walks he will not improve much at the plate. Like Hosmer he has also been hurt by a BABIP under .200, but when you’re giving away more than a quarter of your at-bats, it’s tough to hit for average or power. So much has gone right for the Mets this season, leading to a 24-21 record in a tough division, but Davis has been a disappointment. The Mets considered demoting Davis a couple days ago, but have decided against the proposition, and will continue to give him chances at the plate.
For the most part the Toronto Blue Jays have enjoyed a successful start to the 2012 season, with the noted exception of Adam Lind. Lind was off to a putrid start, hitting .186/.273/.314, accumulating only 37 bases in 118 at-bats. Lind has never been the same player who won a Silver Slugger award at age 25, and he has declined each season since. Lind was demoted nearly 2 weeks ago, down to the Triple-A Las Vegas 51’s, and got off to a nice start, hitting .500 in his first 3 games.
Lind’s biggest issue has been his complete inability to hit left-handers. At the time of his demotion he was only hitting .129 in over 30 plate appearances with just 1 extra-base hit. The Toronto 1st baseman has never exhibited more than the normal, league-average platoon split, but this year it’s been severely noticeable. Hopefully he can get his issues corrected in Las Vegas and become a contributing member of the Blue Jays, rather than a black hole in the lineup.
The $180 million dollar man has only been worth his defense so far this season in New York. Teixeira is a notorious slow starter; with a career batting average 42 points lower than his norm in April. Unfortunately for the Yankees, those struggles have continued into May this season. Tex is hitting an anemic .226/.291/.381 with an OPS+ nearly 20 points under the league average. Part of this issue may be due to a bronchial infection, but it’s more than likely that some of Teixeira’s problems have to due with a drop in bat speed as well as walks.
The Yankees 1st baseman is picking up fewer free passes than at any point in his career, walking only 8.1% of the time, the 1st time he’s been under 10% since 2005. His line drive rate has also been steadily dropping since 2010, and now it’s at a career low 14% this season. While Teixeira is still playing his trademark Gold Glove defense, the reason he is so highly compensated is that he is expected to drive in runs and slug the ball. If he can get his bat going again, the Yankees could evolve into a legitimate threat to the Texas Rangers for AL supremacy, if not, they may struggle to get to the playoffs in a deep AL East.
Justin Smoak has now accumulated over 1000 career major league plate appearances and is a .224/.306/.373 hitter, good for an 89 OPS+. His best batting average in any of his major league seasons has been an anemic .239. He has only hit above the league average in OPS+ once in his career and is having his worst season in 2012 by far, hitting only .209/.251/.316 with 5 homers and 15 RBI. Smoak doesn’t draw walks, receiving only 9 this year in 167 plate appearances, and whiffs a ton, going down swinging in 24% of his at-bats.
Its worth asking if the Mariners should move past Smoak and begin looking for another 1st baseman, because he doesn’t look like he will ever develop into a league average player. The Mariners don’t have many options in at the big league level or in the minors. Dennis Raben has hit well in the low minors, but its tough to project a hitter that hasn’t been above high-A ball yet, and is so far away from the Major Leagues. Smoak will probably be given many more at-bats, because he is only 25, but he needs to start producing soon, especially if the Mariners want to turn around their losing ways.
One trend I noticed and paid special attention to over the weekend was the use of defensive shifts by the Royals and Yankees. Both teams used a variety of shifts, mostly on left-handed hitters, successfully and frequently. These teams came into the series ranking in the top-5 in baseball in defensive shifts, using the tactic over 50 times apiece, nearly 100 shifts less the Rays. I was able to capture a few of the defensive setups and I want to discuss the variety of factors that go into playing shifts.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals frequently shifted on the Yankee lefties all series long. More than not they used the standard overshift, which looks something like this, which was used on Mark Teixeira:
The Royals played an overshift on Mark Teixeira every time he came to the plate. Teixeira was unfazed by the shift, although he had little success against it, drawing a walk and flying out a couple of times. The Royals’ defense isn’t shifted as severely as some teams shift Teixeira, (Tampa Bay would be one, playing their 2nd baseman about 20 feet deeper) but they place a fielder, in this case 2nd baseman Chris Getz, right in the hole and the shortstop plays up the middle. 3rd baseman Mike Moustakas was typically playing about 25-30 feet off the line against the lefty sluggers, and as you can see the base isn’t even in the picture.
Here’s another look at the shift they used against Nick Swisher, which was also somewhat effective:
The shift worked on Swisher once, taking away a ground ball single into hole on the right side of the infield. Swisher also hit a mammoth solo homerun in the game, so its evident that the shift didn’t bother him too much.
The shift the Royals used on Robinson Cano was even more drastic.
Kansas City played him very deep all around the infield, and pulled all of their fielders about 8-12 steps right. Cano has been a little more pull happy this season and defenses are catching on. The Royals took away a couple hits from Cano over the course of the series with the shift, but on Sunday he was able to get a fat pitch from Luke Hochevar and deposit it into the seats.
Hochevar’s poor performance, allowing 7 runs in less than 3 innings again proves that one of the most important aspects to the shift is a quality pitcher. Without one it just doesn’t work, just like on Sunday in Kansas City.
New York Yankees
The Yankees used the shift as well during this series, although not as much as Kansas City. The Yankees have used defensive shifts much more this season, ranking in the top-5 after finishing around the middle of the league last year. They have even begun to use the shift on right handed hitters like they did against doubles machine Billy Butler on Sunday.
The struggling Eric Hosmer also saw a form of a shift from the Yankees defense. When he came up to the plate the Yankees shaded him to pull the ball left. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter each moved about 5-10 feet left, giving Hosmer the 3rd base line and taking away more up the middle. Cano and Teixeira played fairly standard on the right side, and they Yankees were able to continue Hosmer’s frustrating season. Here’s an example of the shade the Yankees played:
Hosmer appears to be uncomfortable at the plate right now, so it was tough to tell if his struggles were due to a mechanical problem, or if the scouting report has caught up to his talent. The Royals should still continue to play Hosmer every day and let him work through his struggles in order to regain his .300 hitting ability.
Teams across the league seem to be catching on to what Tampa Bay has been doing for years. Its not just the little guys either. The most expensive baseball franchise, the Yankees, are also seeing the value in defensive positioning and is taking advantage of the new information available. It should also be a positive sign in Kansas City that the front office is using the information available and is actively trying to get the Royals back to the playoffs. It was interesting to watch in person how the defenses were moving and adjusting based on scouting reports, and its just another sign of the information age in baseball.
I will be attending the next two Yankees-Royals games at Kauffman Stadium, and could not be more excited to be doing so. While the pitching match-ups are nothing spectacular, Kuroda-Paulino and Hughes-Hochevar, the games should be exciting anyway. Here’s a quick look at what to expect:
Derek Jeter is a man on fire.
Jeter, at age 37, leads the American League in batting average at .404, hits, on-base percentage, and total bases. He also has 5 homers after hitting a bomb to deep left-center last night, 1 short of last year’s total. He hasn’t hit the ball with this much authority since 2009, when he finished 3rd in the MVP vote for hitting .334 with 18 homers and 30 steals. If Jeter sustains this level of production, he will be a threat to finally win a (much-deserved) MVP award.
He has also destroyed Royals pitching during the first 2 games of the series, going 6-10 with a homer 2 RBI and 4 runs scored. Jeter also loves hitting in Kauffman, batting .321/.374/.443 in 62 career games, so look for the Captain to carry his hot streak through the weekend.
Can Eric Hosmer get things turned around quickly?
Hosmer has been mired in a major sophomore slump this year, producing a meek .198/.270/.396 line. The early power numbers have been solid however, as Hosmer has mashed 5 homers while knocking in 15. Hosmer hit a very solid .293 a year ago, and the sooner he brings his average up the better for Kansas City. Hosmer is counted on to be the big bat right after on-base machine Billy Butler, and so far he has been a bit underwhelming. He’s had 3 hits so far in the series, including his first triple of the year, so maybe as the weather warms up, so will Hosmer.
How many homers will be hit on Sunday?
Batters have absolutely been lighting Phil Hughes up in the early going this season. He’s allowing 1 homerun every 3 innings, and he has only made it to the 5th inning in one of his 5 starts. With Andy Pettitte due to return to the majors over the next couple of weeks, this may be one of Hughes’ last chances to stay in the rotation. An ERA above 7 and a WHIP above 1.6 just won’t cut it in the big leagues. The only saving grace for Phil is that Kansas City hasn’t hit too many long balls, ranking 11th in the American League with only 21 homers hit. Luke Hochevar hasn’t been great this season either. His ERA is over 7.00 as well, but he has yet to allow a homer. His issue has been command. Hochevar is either leaving too many hittable pitches over the plate, or walking batters. And with the Yankees once again leading baseball in homeruns hit, with 40 already, so expect that trend to continue as well. Even so, if you’re sitting in the outfield be ready, because Hughes and Hochevar will probably allow at least 1 gopher ball on Sunday.
Can David Robertson successfully take over the closer role?
In a bit of good news for fans everywhere yesterday, The Great Mariano announced that he will be back to pitch again in 2013. But for the rest of 2012, the Yankees will be without Rivera, and are turning to David Robertson to close out ballgames. Robertson threw 1 inning last night, striking out the side, to seal the Yankees 6-2 win. It wasn’t a save situation due to CC Sabathia’s excellent 8 inning start, but it was reassuring to see that Robertson didn’t change his approach in any way. The right-hander has excellent stuff, and gets more extension on his release than any other pitcher in baseball, which allows him to pile up strikeouts. His numbers this year are Mariano-like, maybe better so far. In 12 innings he’s yet to allow a run, piled up 21 strikeouts, while only allowing 7 hits and 3 walks. So far, so good if you’re a Yankee fan.