Eric Hosmer is Lifting Off

Eric Hosmer is finally making that change you wanted.

It’s well-documented by now that Eric Hosmer hits the ball plenty hard. It’s just that, even when they’re hard hit, they’ve often been spiked into the ground. For years, it was Hosmer and Christian Yelich who many suggested could benefit greatly from lifting the ball into the air. Before he signed his contract with the Padres, that was mostly a non-issue. Or at least a lesser issue. Sure, he probably hit the ball on the ground too much, but they (for the most part) managed to find their way through the defense. Well, after two down years, it’s looking like Hosmer is following suit and barreling balls into the air like Yelich.

In February, Hosmer talked about how he was intentionally trying to drive the ball into the air. Like many preseason stories, it was something that piqued my interest, but not something I was taking too seriously. We’ve heard Hosmer talk about trying to hit more fly balls before. It’s just never happened. We’ve also seen Hosmer essentially bully people for even talking about ground balls and fly balls. So, while it was something I’ve been keeping an eye on, it wasn’t exactly something I expected to hold much weight.

Now, for the first time, it seems like Hosmer might actually be joining the so-called fly ball revolution. A tweet, from Devan Fink:

This is two games in a row now where Hosmer has been putting the ball into the air. His first game was impressive enough; all four of his at-bats ended with the ball at the warning track, and he drove home six runs. But then, in his second game, Hosmer doubled down by hitting a home run to right-center field too. This is pretty unprecedented for Hosmer. In the Statcast era, he’s never eclipsed a 6-degree average launch angle or higher over a season, and he’s even had a season where he averaged below zero degrees. He’s still hitting the ball hard, but now, he’s hitting it at optimal launch angles, too. And that’s a big deal.

I wrote a similar thing about Ben Gamel the other day, but one thing about Hosmer is that he doesn’t do much when he’s pulling the ball. Like Gamel, he makes his money by going up the middle, and he’s really, really good going the other way. But, historically, he hasn’t impacted the ball to his pull-side.

Since 2015, Hosmer’s xwOBA by batted ball direction:

Hosmer Versus League Average, xwOBA by Batted Ball Direction

Now, Hosmer goes the other way more than most hitters. He ranks in the 87th percentile since 2015 in the percentage of his batted balls to the opposite field. The thing is, over his career, he’s hit roughly an equal amount of balls to his pull-side and to the opposite field. Combined with a strikeout rate that’s crept up and a career-low walk rate, Hosmer was in need of a change.

To start, he’s really subtly altered his pre-pitch setup. A screengrab of 2019 on the left, and 2020 on the right:

It’s hard to capture his (literal) moving parts in a still frame, but on the left, you can see that he’s holding the bat vertically, with a more active and pronounced pre-pitch toe tap. It’s just a few slight tweaks, but already, we have fewer moving parts.

As he gets into his swing, you can see that he’s quieted down his leg kick ever so slightly:

Now, this is really subtle, but I have to imagine that it’s helped Hosmer maintain greater balance while still getting some power out of his lower half. It’s still a big leg kick, but he’s not hinging above his hip anymore — he’s stopping around 90 degrees. While some hitters add a bigger leg kick to achieve more swing rhythm, Hosmer has gone the opposite way and quieted his leg kick to achieve better rhythm and balance.

Consider the following slo-mo videos. First, Hosmer in 2019:

And then Hosmer in 2020:

These are practically identical pitches. The difference here is that, in 2019, Hosmer’s load was really inefficient. His timing was off in general, but as his foot strikes, his hands and lower half are really out of sync. The result is him chopping down at the ball with a really top-heavy swing, punching it to the other side. In 2020, he’s attacking from a much better angle in better sequence. He’s able to drop the barrel at a steeper angle, which is the difference between a ground ball to the shortstop and a fly ball that hits the bottom of the fence in left field. Aside from better rhythm, you can see that he’s doing a better job of staying postured over the plate and keeping his back shoulder down so he can stay through the ball rather than chopping at it like in 2019.

Let’s consider some slower pitches in a similar location. First, a grounder up the middle from 2019:

Another grounder from 2019, this time pulled to the second baseman:

And finally, a double from the other day:

Before, I showed you that Hosmer is lifting balls the other way that he used to pummel into the ground. That’s pretty cool! But what I’m most excited about is that he’s now driving balls into the air on his pull-side. Let’s compare images again at the point of contact.

First, comparing the second and third videos:

On the left, it appears that Clayton Kershaw has fooled Hosmer. He was probably thinking fastball, which is why he’s already flying open on his upper half. He manages to get his bat on the ball, albeit at a really flat angle where he’s really out of sync — all upper body. On the right, though, he does a much better job of staying tilted over the plate and keeping his back shoulder down. This way, he’s working more up through the zone as opposed to hitting it at a flat angle as he did on the left.

And then, comparing the first and third videos at the point of contact:

On the left, Hosmer is fully extended and the ball travels in on him. On the right (which is the same swing as above), Hosmer has much better rhythm and posture, and he catches the ball out front, allowing him to drive it to deep right field.

It’s hard not to be really optimistic now. Hosmer was already good going to the opposite field and up the middle, and now it seems like he’s folded in the ability to pull balls into the air with authority. In the past, Hosmer’s issues pulling the ball were more than just his launch angle. He ranked in the 45th percentile in exit velocity when pulling the ball during the Statcast era. Now that he’s cleaned up his mechanics, I think that he can (and will) pull the ball into the air with more frequency, and more authority. That’s going to make him a much more dangerous hitter.

If you’re the Padres, you have to be excited about what you’re seeing out of Hosmer. He looked like he might be slipping by the wayside after signing an eight-year deal with them. For the past two years, no one has put the ball on the ground quite like him. Now, he’s starting to look like the player they thought they were getting when they signed him. But he might be an improved version of that player, too. There was already a good hitter somewhere in there, but now, Hosmer might be able to take a step forward like he never has before. It might be early, but we’ve never seen Hosmer quite like this. The Padres might have a brand-new hitter on their hands.

Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire

Michael Ajeto

Michael writes about the Mariners at Lookout Landing, while doing other analysis here at Pitcher List. You can follow Michael on Twitter @dysthymikey, or you can not.

  • Avatar Yants says:

    This was so ill. Whoever wrote it is obviously very smart and handsome.

  • Avatar Mario says:

    While I have a comment thread going, I should say that all your articles here at PitcherList have been really, *really* GOOD.

  • Avatar Mario says:

    Thank you for so clearly labeling all the pics and videos so we’d know which were 2019 and which were 2020.

    Totally not necessary any more, but appreciated. :P

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