What is Hosmer's future vs. lefty pitching?

First baseman's splits becoming more pronounced

August 14th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- is practically the definition of an everyday first baseman.

In his first seven full seasons, he averaged 154 games. This year, he's played in 118 of the Padres' 119 contests. It's rare that Hosmer's name isn't on the lineup card.

And yet, there are two distinct versions of Hosmer. There are days when he's a legitimate middle-of-the-order, run-producing threat. And there are other days where, statistically, he's something of a liability.

We're talking about Hosmer's platoon splits. Entering play Tuesday night, the lefty-hitting Hosmer had posted an .829 OPS against right-handed pitching. That number had dipped to .592 against lefties, with all 17 of his home runs coming against right-handers.

Hosmer proceeded to make something of a statement, pounding out two hits against Rays lefty Brendan McKay. Both came against curveballs -- an encouraging sign, given that Hosmer has struggled immensely against left-handed breaking pitches in the past two seasons.

Still, since he arrived in San Diego last season, Hosmer's splits have grown significantly more pronounced.

As a Royal
vs. RHPs: .293/.358/.467
vs. LHPs: .265/.310/.382

As a Padre
vs. RHPs: .295/.356/.472
vs. LHPs: .204/.259/.301

Hosmer has been basically the same hitter against righties that he was in Kansas City -- a very productive one. But he's been significantly worse against lefties. He couldn't quite pinpoint a reason for that gap, but he also isn't putting too much emphasis on those splits.

"It's just something that you as a hitter don't really realize or think about," Hosmer said. "There are a lot of tough lefties coming out of the bullpen, and it's a division where we face some tough left-handed pitching."

Hosmer isn't the only Padres hitter with significant left/right splits. But for the most part, the club platoons the other options. Manuel Margot and Josh Naylor, for instance, have shared time in the outfield.

The Padres didn't commit eight years and $144 million to Hosmer to platoon him. They remain confident that Hosmer can be a much better hitter against lefties. He likely won't ever be much of a power threat, but he's at his best when he does what he did against McKay. Hosmer worked two tough at-bats and sprayed two bouncers through the infield (two of only 15 hits against left-handed breaking pitches since he joined the Padres, according to Statcast).

"We've always believed he can hit lefties," Padres manager Andy Green said. "We believe that that's coming. He's done really well against right-handed guys this year.

"He's had a lot of key hits against lefties, even though the slash line doesn't look great. He's just that type of competitor that digs in and competes, has quality at-bats."

That's true to some extent. In high-leverage spots against lefties, Hosmer owns a .710 OPS this season. But his numbers on the whole aren't good.

When the Padres dealt Franmil Reyes to Cleveland at the July 31 Trade Deadline, it negated any immediate platoon options. Wil Myers could've shifted to first base, allowing for an all-righty outfield alignment of Renfroe-Margot-Reyes.

But a Hosmer-Myers timeshare never materialized during the first half, in part because Margot and Myers were slumping. But more so because the Padres were determined to see Hosmer get through his struggles against left-handed pitching.

"We have all the confidence in the world in Hoz," Green said. "There was a point in time where we were trying to let Wil step back and breathe, too, and there was a point in time where Manny [Margot] wasn't on fire earlier in the season. All those things lined up, and it never made a ton of sense. But we have confidence in Hoz and the belief that he's going to hit."

Hosmer has sat three times this season -- all against left-handed pitching, and all games in which Myers started at first. It's safe to assume that Hosmer will get another rest day or two this season. But when that happens, it'll presumably be Ian Kinsler filling in for him. Kinsler, a lifetime second baseman, has been getting pregame reps at first lately for that purpose.

Still, for the remainder of the season, the Padres plan to ride Hosmer against left-handed pitching. The bigger question is: What happens next year when the Friars believe they'll be opening their contention window?

If Hosmer continues to struggle against lefties, the Padres can't be beholden to his contract. They've made it clear that the reins are off next year, and development is no longer a priority. If that win-first mindset applies to their rotation and their bullpen, why wouldn't it also apply when they're choosing a starting first baseman?

Ty France, who sports a .402/.481/.780 slash line at Triple-A El Paso, is currently knocking on the door of the big leagues. He owns a 1.329 OPS against lefties in the Minors this season, and he's a favorite to win a bench job next season.

Another option is catcher Francisco Mejia, who spent some time in the outfield in the Indians' Minor League system and even started a game there for the Padres this season. Backup catcher Austin Hedges, a far superior defender, could start behind the dish, with Mejia in left and Myers at first.

Across the Majors, teams are leaning less on everyday players and more on matchup advantages. In that regard, San Diego has options, and Hosmer would still obviously receive the bulk of the starts.

The Padres remain hopeful that it doesn't come to that -- or that Hosmer's splits improve enough to where it isn't quite a platoon. It could merely mean a few extra off-days against certain lefties.

But right now, Hosmer has the rest of the season to make a case as an everyday left-on-left lineup option. He made a nice one on Tuesday.