Prospects will rip your guts out. For every Trout and Harper, there are disappointments. There have been no bigger disappointments in the last year than Justin Smoak and Eric Hosmer. Both seemed to symbolize their respective team’s failures. Both play first base, a position that requires offense. Neither provided any in 2012. Smoak’s failures go back further than Hosmer’s. Eric Hosmer came in third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2011. He seemed like the next big thing until falling apart in 2012 and the first two months of this season. Smoak was given up by the Texas Rangers and has walked a tightrope of falling out of favor for the Mariners after years of disappointment. But both are showing a bit of hope in the last month or so. Maybe these two guys will pan out after all.
Both of these players finished with negative fWAR last season. Hosmer finished with a .291 wOBA and Smoak even worse at .274. Those are the kinds of wOBA you might expect from a shortstop and not a first baseman. If you prefer OPS+, Hosmer finished at 82 and Smoak at 86. That kind of lack of production will lead you into the doghouse with fans and become symbolic of an impatient and angry fan base.
But both have played really well since the start of June and suddenly, their respective numbers look pretty good. Smoak has a wOBA of .337, easily the highest of his young and sputtering career. Hosmer’s wOBA is up to .333 which is much closer to his final tally in 2011 than his woeful 2012. While those offensive statistics are still not what you want from a first baseman, June and July have shown promise for both and for that period of time, both players have produced at a more first baseman kind of level.
Since the first of June, Justin Smoak has slugged at a .553 clip with a .407 on-base percentage. That .960 OPS in that time period is the kind of production you want from a first baseman. His on-base percentage for the season sits at a very respectable .362 and his 13.7% walk rate for the year shows a guy who looks like he has figured some things out. His power numbers are not that great, but if his success continues, I have a feeling that it will come, especially since his homer per fly ball rate is below is career average.
The quality of Smoak’s batted ball contact has been much improved. His current line drive rate of 22.3% is very healthy and shows that he is getting good wood on the ball on a more consistent basis. This shows up in his BABIP. His batted balls have tallied up to the following averages from 2010 to 2012: .255, .273 and .242. Having that low a BABIP over that long a period of time does not seem due to bad luck but more due to bad contact. His BABIP this year is a much healthier .324.
Eric Hosmer has also been great since June 1. He has slugged at a .573 clip with a .356 on-base percentage. That comes to a .929 OPS in that time period. And his power has really been coming on. He has hit eight homers since June 1 and has hit five homers in his last six games.
Like Smoak, Hosmer’s line drive percentage is up this year. After two years at 18.7% and 18.5% respectively, his line drive rate is up to 21.7% this year. The line drives have offset what seems to be a very high ground ball rate. Hosmer has Jeter-like ground ball rates the last two seasons. I believe that if I dug further into the numbers, that ground ball rate dropped significantly in June and July over the early part of the season.
It will be very interesting to follow these two first basemen over the rest of the season. Both had really rugged 2012 seasons and looked like busts. Both started the season poorly to the point that the fans were screaming. But both have been terrific since the first of June and could be on the way to becoming viable big league players. I am rooting for them.