Hosmer breaks out but Padres lose 6th in row

April 21st, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- went into the offseason knowing he needed to make changes. His debut season in San Diego was a disappointment, and the Padres needed more production from their 29-year-old first baseman.

So Hosmer made those changes. And still, for the first three weeks of the 2019 season, there was no tangible improvement in his results.

Ultimately, it’s the results that matter -- nothing else. Hosmer acknowledges that. But there's reason to believe his April numbers aren’t as dire as they seem on paper. There’s reason to believe that the 2019 version of Hosmer might turn out very differently from the ‘18 edition.

In a 4-2 loss to the Reds on Saturday night, Hosmer might have broken through. He launched a solo home run into Petco Park’s beach area in the second inning. Then, he pounded out two more hits, including an eighth-inning single in a big spot against a left-hander -- an encouraging sign.

The Padres didn’t get enough offense elsewhere, and they dropped their sixth straight. They’re back to .500 after racing out to an 11-5 start. But if Hosmer has turned a corner, it might prove hugely important to a slumping San Diego offense.

“It's different than last year,” Hosmer said. “Because I thought last year I was really searching for that feeling, that groove, to get going. The weird thing about this year is I've felt that -- especially here on this homestand. I've felt like I've been seeing the ball really good, putting some good swings. I'm just not really getting results from it.

“That's why I want to keep with this approach. I'm just confident that the results will end up coming.”

Right now, they aren’t. Hosmer is hitting .213 and his OPS finally cracked .600 on Saturday night. But, for an offense that clearly needs more production from its only regular lefty, there are underlying reasons to believe Hosmer’s slow start isn’t quite so disastrous. He’s been making better contact early this season than he did all of last season.

Hosmer struggled in 2018 mostly because he was so ground-ball oriented. He hit the ball hard. But too often, he put himself at the mercy of infield defenses. In the offseason, he worked to lift the baseball. It didn’t take an overhaul, but he entered the year feeling as though he’d accomplished that goal.

Sure enough, entering play Saturday, Hosmer’s average launch angle was up nearly eight degrees from his -1.2 mark last year (the worst mark in the Majors). Per Statcast, he’s hitting “topped” grounders at a 35-percent clip, which is 11 percent below his career average.

“He's worked hard, man,” said Padres manager Andy Green. “He cares. He wants it really badly, not just for himself, but for the group of guys in that clubhouse. He puts a lot on himself to be great. It was good to see him have some success today.”

Statcast also says Hosmer’s numbers should be better than they are. Entering play Saturday, his expected average, slugging percentage and wOBA were all much better than his actual marks. (Those numbers are based around quality of contact, and Hosmer’s is much better than it was last season.)

That doesn’t vindicate Hosmer. Other factors have contributed to his slow start. Hosmer is striking out too often (23 percent), and he’s not walking enough (8 percent). But if Hosmer takes his success from Saturday and carries it forward, it’d be a serious boost for the Padres.

“He's a huge, huge piece for us,” Green said. “He's the only left-hander we have in the lineup consistently. It's rare to see that today, but that's what we have right now with the injuries we've been through.

“He's the guy everybody follows, the guy everybody respects. He brings energy, he brings life. It's good to see him swing the bat like that. Guys feed off what he does.”

In February 2018, the Padres committed eight years to Hosmer, a franchise record at the time. Year one was, without question, a letdown. But after 21 games, it’s far too early to write off year two as such.