If the pundits had predicted that Eric Hosmer would be near the top of the leaderboards in multiple offensive categories or that his glovework would improve measurably, many fans of the San Diego Padres would have scoffed at the notion. However, through the first month of the season, Hosmer has produced gaudy batting stats (.397/.468/.574/ OPS 1.041, OPS+ 214) while also guarding first base.
The San Diego Padres will undoubtedly continue their non-stop search for a taker for the first baseman. But Hosmer has obviously come to play–and to prove his critics wrong. Most of his teammates (aside from third baseman Manny Machado at .388) are hitting under or just above the Mendoza line (.200), including center fielder Trent Grisham .134, Jurickson Profar .197, Austin Nola, and .200, Jake Cronenworth .213.
In the April 14 home opener, the Padres beat the Atlanta Braves by a score of 12-1 behind Joe Musgrove. Machado (five hits, two RBI) and Hosmer (four hits, four RBI) led the team in scoring. In fact, before Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Eric Hosmer’s average led all of baseball. Earlier in the season, he’d even flirted with a .400-plus average. Manny Machado leads the league with 31 hits, but Hosmer is not far behind with 27 (tied with Nolan Arenado of the St. Louis Cardinals).
In OBP, Hosmer (.468) trails Mike Trout of Los Angeles Angels’.472, and he’s fifth in OPS at 1.042 ahead of Machado’s 1.038. According to FanGraphs’ the first baseman is fourth in BABIP .446 behind second-place Machado 0.452. Machado leads baseball with a 2.1 WAR, and Hosmer is tied with Trout 1.4 in seventh place. In the unlikely event that Hosmer (and/or Machado) continue at this pace in BABIP, they would challenge the records of Babe Ruth .423 (1923), Rogers Hornsby (1924) and George Sisler .422 (1922) of .422, and present-day Yoan Moncada of the Chicago White Sox .419 last year.
Since he began his career with the 2011 Kansas City Royals, Hosmer has excelled at hitting ground balls. As the launch-angle craze took over baseball, Hosmer continued his ground-ball tendency. In fact, the rate actually increased by five points in San Diego. However, during the Covid-shortened 2020 season, Hosmer began to change his approach and produced a 4.73 ground-ball rate, seven percent below his average over his career. In 2020 he began to increase his launch angle.
So far this year, Hosmer is having success with ground balls (.371 average) as well as fly balls (.400) and line drives (.769), a vast improvement over last year’s results: grounders .246, fly balls .287, line drives .689. He’s apparently laying off breaking balls and looking fastball.
For the first half of the month, Padres played error-free baseball, a streak broken in the final game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, April 24. Hosmer, not known for his defense (despite the multiple Gold Gloves in his possession), has yet to make an error and has two DRS. He’s no threat to Keith Hernandez and his 11 career Gold Gloves and total of 1.682 assists, but he’s been steady at first.
Although hard work and a brand new season can account for Hosmer’s improvement on both sides of the ball, other factors are also involved. No matter how glorified they may be, baseball players are actually human beings. The unusually outspoken support of his fellow teammates(https://www.eastvillagetimes.com/padres-players-defend-eric-hosmer-amid-trade-rumors/) undoubtedly lifted Hosmer’s spirits. On New Year’s Eve, Hosmer married former Kansas City reporter Kacie McDonnell, and the two are expecting a baby this year.
For the Padres, Hosmer’s share of the $150 million payroll will decrease from $20 million (of his total $144 million) to $13 million next year. If Hosmer can continue to show improvement offensively and defensively, the team just may pull back on the constant search for a trade partner.
*stats through April 29