Ever since reports surfaced that the Rockies may actually be interested in free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer debate has raged. On one hand, Rockies fans should be encouraged by this development: It shows that the Rockies are willing to spend money in order to supplement this young core as they enter a legitimate contention cycle.
But on all of the other hands this specific development should be quite worrisome. Hosmer's combination of age, track record, and contract demands should seriously dissuade the Rockies from pursuing him, especially since there is an even better option out there.
First, consider the bare numbers:
|Career (7 seasons)||4393||127||566||60||.284||.342||.439||.316||-21||9.9|
There are a lot of okay-but-not-great numbers in there. First, note that Hosmer hit a career-high 25 home runs in an era where a guy named Scooter hit 27 home runs. A career .284/.342/.439 is a little less than what 2016 Mark Reynolds produced. And considering his word-of-mouth reputation as a good defender, the numbers are unanimous: He just isn’t that great with the glove relative to his peers. This is a player who is looking for a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 years/$200 million.
“So what?” says the Hosmer Apologist in the back. “He’s 28 years old and coming off a career season.” Funny thing is, Hosmer’s career-best 2017 was heavily fueled by a .351 BABIP, well over his career mark of .316.
But it’s not just the results, it’s the process that makes Hosmer a scary potential-sign. Two weeks ago Travis Sawchik of FanGraphs masterfully laid out the questions surrounding signing Hosmer, but it’s worth quoting one section in particular at length:
You could make the case that no hitter ought to begin elevating pitches more than Hosmer. After three years of Statcast data having been available to him, Hosmer keeps pounding balls into the dirt. He posted a career-high 2.5 GB/FB ratio last year. Since 2015, Hosmer’s average launch angle (4.3 degrees) ranks 379th out of 399 hitters to have put at least 300 balls in play. In 2017? Hosmer ranked 371st among hitters with at least 100 batted balls. He recorded a 3.8-degree launch angle.
In short, unless you are literally one of the fastest players in baseball, hitting a lot of groundballs is bad news. And Eric Hosmer was well above league-average (as he has been his whole career) in ground ball rate.
In 2017 grounders resulted in a .244/.244/.265 line, good for a 30 wRC+. Compare that to fly balls: .252/.246/.754 with a 147 wRC+. But simply, fly balls not only lead to slightly more hits, but they lead to way more bases, which lead to way more runs.
Now take a player who hits primarily fly balls and put him in Coors Field—a ballpark that rewards hitters who can get the ball to the expansive outfield or into the thin air—and you have the makings of a bona fide slugger. Put a grounders hitter like Hosmer there, and he’ll manage a few more singles. Maybe those singles will come in timely situations! But they probably won’t.
This quality is especially haunting for a Rockies team that had the seventh highest ground ball rate and fourth lowest fly ball rate in 2017. This is because among the 14 players who had at least 100 at bats, eight of them had ground ball rates above the 44.2% leage-average, including projected 2018 regulars Gerardo Parra (46.8%), Tony Wolters (54.7%), DJ LeMahieu (55.6%) and Ian Desmond (62.7%!). Adding Eric Hosmer’s 55.6% ground ball rate would only exacerbate the Rockies’ run-scoring issues. (This also shows why the previous two big free agent acquisitions have been trouble for the Rockies, but that’s for another day).
Again, this player is looking for $25 million per year over most of a decade. And because he rejected a qualifying offer, signing him will cost the Rockies a pick. Granted, under the new CBA it will only cost the Rockies something between a third round pick and their pick for where to go out to eat with all the other GMs at the Winter Meetings. Worrying about lost picks really only comes into play when everything else is unappealing, and everything else is unappealing with Hosmer.
If the Rockies actually want to upgrade their lineup with a first baseman, they should try to sign Carlos Santana instead. He’ll also cost a pick, but it will be for a lot fewer years and a lot fewer dollars—dollars that can then be used to lock in Nolan Arenado for the rest of his baseball-playing life. His profile is also more appealing. In other words, there’s a lot more that’s appealing with Santana. The last thing the Rockies need is another expensive free agent signee who can’t produce even while playing half his games at Coors Field, and that sure looks like what Hosmer would bring.