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Can Hosmer post bounce-back season in '19?

First baseman has history of strong odd years following weaker even years
January 7, 2019

With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Padres, breaking the team down position-by-position. Today, we preview the San Diego first basemen.SAN DIEGO -- There are no questions surrounding who mans first base for the Padres in 2019. Eric Hosmer played 157 games

With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Padres, breaking the team down position-by-position. Today, we preview the San Diego first basemen.
SAN DIEGO -- There are no questions surrounding who mans first base for the Padres in 2019. Eric Hosmer played 157 games there last year, and he has seven years remaining on his record-setting contract.
But there are quite a few questions surrounding what the Padres might get from their enigmatic first baseman in 2019. No doubt, Hosmer's debut season in San Diego was a disappointment. He posted a .253/.322/.398 slash line and accrued just 1.4 Wins Above Replacement.
But Hosmer has a history of bouncing back. In fact, he's currently in the midst of a wacky eight-season stretch. Since entering the league, Hosmer has posted an OPS+ of 118 or higher in every odd-numbered season. He's posted a mark below 102 in every even-numbered year. Check out these splits:
Odd-year Hosmer: .303/.359/.468, 12.6 WAR
Even-year Hosmer: .255/.318/.397, 2.9 WAR
One guy's a perennial All-Star. One guy isn't worth a win per season.
Of course, Hosmer's struggles shouldn't be written off as cyclical. But we'll get into the reasons behind those struggles in a second. First, here's a look at how the Padres figure to line up at first base next season:
Projected starter: Hosmer
Potential backups:William Myers, Jose Pirela, Allen Craig, Josh Naylor, Austin Allen
Top-30 prospects: No. 15 Naylor, No. 25 Allen
Hosmer's got the job, with any number of available backups. It's unlikely that Naylor or Allen crack the Opening Day roster, but they're options for later in the season. Allen has a small chance to make the roster as a third catcher -- which could line him up to spell Hosmer, if that's ever necessary. But it usually isn't. Hosmer has averaged 154 games per season since his first full year in 2012.
As for Hosmer's 2018 struggles, the culprit is pretty clear. No one in the Majors posted a lower average launch angle than his -1.3 mark, and his 60 percent ground-ball rate ranked second.
Hosmer's still hitting the ball hard, though his 88.8 mph average exit velocity last season was a drop of one mph from his career average. But when he hits it into the ground, he leaves himself at the mercy of the opposing infielders. His 2019 success will likely hinge on his ability to get the ball into the air so he can drive it.

"I want to lift the ball, and I want to hit the ball to the opposite field," Hosmer said on the season's final day. "When I'm doing that, those are my strengths."
Hosmer has spent the offseason working in Florida, where hitting coach Johnny Washington has visited on more than one occasion. Manager Andy Green indicated Hosmer wouldn't be going through a major overhaul at the plate, but he did hint at some changes.
"He's definitely working to do some things that he's passionate about doing more consistently this year," Green said. "He's most excited, in my time talking to him, about having a normal offseason. Last season was anything but that, where he's getting paraded around in the free-agency game, and waiting to land in a place, and basically landed with us the first day of Spring Training."
General manager A.J. Preller echoed that sentiment.
"The first year here in San Diego [was] just a big change, a big difference," Preller said. "Signing the big contract, as much as you tell him, 'Be yourself, relax,' I think it's pretty natural that a guy's going to want to show up here and impress. ... He's going to learn from it, and we have a lot of faith that we're going to look up next year, and it's going to be an All-Star-caliber season for him, just because of the type of person he is."
The Padres better hope so. They've invested an awful lot in Hosmer, and they're looking for the odd-year version to become the everyday version.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.