Eric Hosmer could earn the biggest contract of any free-agent hitter on the market this offseason.
Hosmer is in his prime, only 28 years old and coming off a career year at the plate for the Royals. Just two years ago, he led Kansas City to its first World Series championship in 30 years.
With free agency underway, MLB.com is taking a closer look at some of the top names available on the open market this offseason. Here are five reasons why teams would want to sign Hosmer.
1. He's an All-Star who just had his best season
Hosmer's 2017 season was unquestionably his best as a Major Leaguer. He has the hardware to show for it, winning the American League Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards at first base.
Hosmer hit .318 this season -- among first basemen, only Cincinnati's Joey Votto was better -- with a .385 on-base percentage and a .498 slugging percentage. All of those were career bests. Hosmer's 25 home runs tied his career high from a season prior. His 192 hits were a career high, as were his 57 extra-base hits. And given his age, the best may be yet to come.
Highest batting average, MLB first basemen, 2017
- Joey Votto: .320
2. Eric Hosmer: .318
- Freddie Freeman: .307
- Joe Mauer: .305
- Jose Abreu: .304
2. The advanced metrics look good, too
It's not just his slash line and other traditional stats that painted Hosmer as an excellent hitter in 2017. Hosmer's weighted runs created plus, an overall measure of offensive performance, was 135 this season -- meaning he was 35 percent better than league average. His 135 wRC+ was second best among AL first basemen. (Carlos Santana, the other top free-agent first baseman, had a wRC+ of 117).
Hosmer was also second among AL first basemen in weighted on-base average, another all-encompassing offensive metric that's scaled like OBP, but weighs the value of different outcomes (e.g. a home run is worth more than a single). His wOBA was .376, just outside the top 10 percent of hitters with 300-plus at-bats in 2017. (Santana's was .350.)
Highest wRC+, AL first basemen, 2017
- Jose Abreu: 138
2. Eric Hosmer: 135
3-T. Justin Smoak: 132
3-T. Yonder Alonso: 132
- Logan Morrison: 130
3. He rips the ball
Statcast™ defines a hard-hit ball as one that has an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. Hitters have by far the most success on batted balls above that threshold. Since Statcast™ started tracking in 2015, Major Leaguers have posted a .544 batting average and .677 wOBA on balls hit 95-plus mph, and a .218 batting average and .206 wOBA when hitting them 94 mph or softer. Hitting the ball hard is a batter's top priority, and Hosmer is one of the best at it.
Hosmer had 194 hard-hit balls in 2017, 19th among all Major League hitters. He had 213 in '16, 14th most in MLB. And he had 203 in '15, 15th most. All told, Hosmer's 610 hard-hit balls over the past three seasons tie him with Nolan Arenado for 10th most in the Majors since Statcast™'s introduction.
Most hard-hit balls (95-plus-mph exit velocity), since 2015
4. There's the potential for more
Hitting the ball hard is the first step for hitters. Hitting the ball hard and in the air is next -- hard line drives and fly balls do damage, going for extra-base hits and home runs. Yet, Hosmer managed to produce at a well-above-average level even as one of the heavier ground-ball hitters in the Majors -- 56 percent of his batted balls were ground balls.
There are many examples of hitters retooling their offensive approach to better drive the ball in the air -- Justin Turner, Josh Donaldson and Daniel Murphy to name a few -- and it's not hard to imagine that a hitter of Hosmer's caliber might be able to do the same.
It even happened to a small degree this season. Through April 25, Hosmer was hitting .195 with one home run. His ground-ball rate was 63 percent. On April 26, he knocked three hits, and his average never fell back below .200. His ground-ball rate from then until the end of the season was 55 percent, nearly 10 percent lower. Meanwhile, his combined line-drive/fly-ball rate jumped from 29 percent through April 25 to 41 percent the rest of the season.
5. He produces while staying on the field
Hosmer didn't miss a game in 2017. It's not easy to play all 162 -- no more than five players have done so in any season in the last decade. Hosmer was one of five in 2017, and he and Votto were the only first basemen to do it.
Hosmer has played more than 130 games in all six of his full MLB seasons (he debuted in May 2011 and played 128 games that year), and more than 150 in five of six. Only 13 Major Leaguers have played 150-plus games at least five times in that span.
Hosmer doesn't just hit, he hits every day. That makes him even more valuable to the team that ends up signing him.