Eric Hosmer has failed to provide Gold Glove-caliber defense in his time with the San Diego Padres.
In Friday’s 9-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Eric Hosmer committed his 13th and 14th errors of the season. In the fourth inning, he made an error on a pickoff attempt, in the seventh on a fielding attempt that allowed Carson Kelly to reach third. This shoddy defense combined with a Manny Machado mental lapse and 12 strikeouts, provide the perfect microcosm of the second half of this season and certainly didn’t help former manager Andy Green’s cause.
This year Eric Hosmer leads all regular first baseman in errors, followed by Josh Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates with 13 and Pete Alonso of the New York Mets with 12. By contrast, Yuli Gurriel of the Houston Astros has committed three errors in 105 games, Paul Goldschmidt of the St. Louis Cardinals five errors in 154 games.
When the Padres signed Hosmer in February of 2018, the team touted his defensive skills among the attributes that made him a desirable addition. Aside from the Kansas City Royals, the team that drafted Hosmer in 2008, agent Scott Boras found no takers until the Padres stepped in and signed Hosmer to an eight-year deal worth $144 million. At the time, that represented the largest contract in the history of the Padres’ existence and dwarfed that of resident first baseman Wil Myers (who has since operated in limbo as a player without a position).
During his nine-year career, Hosmer has had a penchant for up and down seasons at the plate and has continued that pattern as a Padre. However, he had a reputation as a solid defender. After all, he won Gold Gloves in 2013 and 2014 and 2015 and 2017, didn’t he?
First base may require less mobility and skill than other infield positions especially shortstop but has its distinct requirements: holding runners, throwing to second, flipping to first, and picking balls out of the dirt. In fact, the best first basemen save their fellow infielders from errors. Defense at first becomes more crucial on a team fielding players out of position as well as rookies or younger players.
But errors tell only a small part of the story with more advanced metrics revealing below-average defense throughout Hosmer’s career. According to FanGraphs, Hosmer has had only four seasons with positive numbers. Last year he did have eight DRS (defensive runs saved), but his year he’s gone backward (-4 DRS). During his nine-year career he rates -17 DRS, -27.9 UZR -27.9, -2.9 UZR/150.
Despite the Gold Gloves, Hosmer’s substandard defense has not gone unnoticed. In June, 2016 FanGraphs featured an article by August Fagerstrom on Hosmer’s defense which noted that “The advanced numbers, the traditional numbers, the video scouts all say the same thing: Eric Hosmer is a perfectly ordinary defensive first baseman, likely one whose below-average range is canceled out by a penchant for scooping balls in the dirt.”
In 2017, Hosmer received the Gold Glove despite the fact that Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins ranked first in UZR and first in DEF. It’s hardly a secret that the award often resembles more of a popularity contest among the voters than a thorough examination of actual performance.
In October 2018, Sean Thornton of SBNation Royal Preview discussed Hosmer’s award:
The one name that jumps out on this list is an old friend of ours, Eric Hosmer: Hosmer won his 4th Gold Glove last year but as most of us are aware of, the defensive metrics aren’t kind to Hos. Hosmer was 10th in the American League in Defensive Runs Saved among first baseman with 900 innings or more, 8th in UZR and 10th in Fangraphs DEF.
At the plate, Hosmer’s batting line of .273/.319/.433/.752 this year does show an improvement over last year’s .253/.322/.398/.720, but his defense has frankly cratered. Even if he deserved one or more of his Gold Gloves, he certainly didn’t bring any to San Diego.