There's a natural ebb and flow to the career of a player. At least that's what we tell ourselves about the athletes we watch in any sport. Younger players get better. As they age, they begin to decline. We naturally anticipate the ascension that comes toward a player's climb in age from the late teens into their mid-20s. We celebrate their prime years as they experience the peak years of production. We also realize they will eventually decline as age takes over and the speed of the game overtakes them.
The predictable trajectory of a player is one of the built-in expectations of being a sports fan. We latch onto a promising young athlete and watch the stats rise and fall. When things do not move according to the expected bell curve, then we begin to search for the anomaly. In the case of Kansas City Royals' prospect Eric Hosmer, the search is for the anomaly as to why he is not performing up to expectations. Namely, why is the celebrated first baseman having a poor sophomore season in the Majors.
When an anomaly appears, it can either be the good or bad season. In Hosmer's case, when the slump began to linger and it was clear that he would not approach, let alone exceed, his rookie numbers, fans and analysts began to ask one of two questions: Was Hosmer's just enduring a "sophomore slump" (is the bad season the anomaly)? Did Hosmer just enjoy a ridiculously good first run in the Majors (was the good season the anomaly)?
We search for such reasons because we are all trying to adjust our expectations. If this season is the anomaly then we will still expect eventual 30 home run seasons in the heart of the Royals order for the next 5-7 seasons at least. If the rookie season was the anomaly, then comparisons to Lyle Overbay types will begin to emerge. But rather than allow each year to live unto itself and surprise us, we are obsessed with fans to try to figure out what Hosmer will do in the future by changing expectations and looking for the anomaly. This is what we do.
For those searching for an answer, the news will likely turn out quite positive for Royals fans. Simply stated, Eric Hosmer will be just fine.
The Royals invested a third overall choice in the 2008 MLB Draft to select Hosmer as a high schooler out of Florida, so it's understandable that fans expect Major League impact. His numbers in the minors did nothing to adjust such expectations by jumping through every level of the farm system in just four seasons. The sum total: a .312 batting average and .886 OPS in his minor league career. He only played 26 games at AAA before the Royals came calling.
His rookie season in 2011 was everything the Royals could have hoped for. He finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting with a .293 average and 19 home runs and 78 RBI in only 128 games. He even stole 11 bases along the way and was a plus defender. In other words, the Royals had an all-around first baseman succeeding over the course of a full season at the age of 21. They had found their offensive cornerstone and the likely face of the franchise for the next decade.
Heading into his first full season in the bigs, the only questions about Hosmer that remained were about how quickly he would succeed. Could he hit 30 home runs at the age of 22? Would he start a streak of seasons of hitting over .300? Could he finish as a finalist for MVP? Before the season, many MLB analysts had him as a darkhorse for the award. Unfortunately things haven't proceeded that way.
Instead Hosmer has struggled to find his rhythm at the plate in 2012. He is currently hitting .236 and has been dropped in the order to eighth overall instead of filling out the heart of it. He's slugging a full 100 points less than his rookie season (.465 to .363) and he's already near last season's strikeout total. In other words, it's clear that pitchers around the Majors have learned how to attack Hosmer at the plate and he hasn't made the proper adjustments.
So which is the anomaly? That's the question. Was it the stellar rookie season or is it the present reality of the 2012 campaign?
The bottom line is that there's no way of knowing for certain in the present time. But an educated guess looking at the numbers suggests that Hosmer will be just fine in the end. Hosmer's even finding a rhythm in the last two weeks at the plate with a .294 average in the last 14 days. Even with such a small sample size, it's clear that Hosmer holds the natural talent and perspective at the plate to eventually turn things around.
No one questions the long road that Adrian Gonzalez took to turn into near-MVP form. Pedro Alvarez's power is finally showing in Pittsburgh after two miserable seasons in the Majors. Sometimes the leap to the Majors takes an adjustment the player can't quite handle and sometimes it's the second go-around that presents the issue.
In Hosmer's case, my guess is that he coasted on talent alone last year and that he never had to really work to become a great hitter given his glorious first turn around the league. The numbers were there in high school. They continued through every year of the minors. They even showed up at the Major League level.
BABIP arguments and defensive shifts have been cited as the cause for some of the downfall but it's also likely a case of mental frustrations and adjustments that need to be made. In the end, Hosmer will make them and turn things back around because there's very little evidence for the rookie season to be the anomaly. If anything, 2012 will be looked upon as the statistical hiccup that somehow refused to obey the natural, expected curve.