“I’ve been through it too many times,” Hosmer said. “I’ve gone through a rough start. I’ve gone through a whole rough year. I know my abilities, and I know I can get hot.”
Slumps are a funny thing. Most baseball players incur at least one per season, some longer than others. It’s a long season and things aren’t bound to be perfect for anyone the entire time. But when do slumps curtail into a whole new territory, that of a player either losing playing time or being moved down in the lineup? To ask a more pointed question, why is potential sometimes rated higher than actual production? The Kansas City Royals are dealing with this very issue at the moment, with both Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer struggling. But while Butler’s slump has mainly been the last few weeks, Hosmer’s is closing in on two months. Yet Hosmer continues to bat near the top of the order, and Butler has been dropped down the order to 7th. But is this the smartest move for a team wanting to reach the playoffs this year?
“I can take it. I guess I’m a mentally tough guy. He could do it to somebody else, but I think he knows how I’ll take it.”
This was the sentiment felt by Butler after Friday’s loss to Cleveland. Obviously you can see the frustration from Billy, as well as the thinly veiled shot at Hosmer. With that being said let’s lay our truth cards out on the table; Billy Butler isn’t the Butler from 2012. At this point, Billy isn’t even the Butler from 2013. No, this Billy Butler has a combined 20 extra base hits and an OPS+ of 84(to judge against years past, since 2009 he has averaged between 138 and 116). His numbers are down across the board and even a red hot second half could probably not help most of his power numbers(slugging percentage this year is at an all time low). The biggest culprit is probably the rise in the amount of ground balls he has hit, as his ground ball to fly ball rate is at it’s highest this season(1.18). So by no means is this a declaration that Billy Butler is hitting the way he should nor is it saying that Billy is knocking the cover off the ball. But he has been producing more than Hosmer as of late.
“He’s a guy that can hit .220 one month, and .360 the next.”
Royals manager Ned Yost obviously has faith in Eric Hosmer and his potential. Potential is what is keeping Hosmer near the top of the lineup the last couple months despite his prolonged slump. It’s a slump that has seen his OPS to fall from .800 to .648 and his double in yesterday’s game against Cleveland was his first extra base hit since June 18th. Hosmer’s main issue has been a lack of plate discipline. He is hacking at a career high 38.3 percent of balls outside of the strike zone and has 9 walks over the last month compared to 15 strikeouts over that same span. During this same span, Butler is hitting .311, and has an OPS of .781. For a guy who is batting near the top of the order, Hosmer should at least be getting on base. Unfortunately his on base percentage is below .300 this year and he isn’t driving in runs either. Hosmer’s numbers across the board are eerily similar to his disastrous 2012 season yet not only has Hosmer not been given a day off as of late, he was moved from 3rd to 2nd in the order(which means he would get even more at bats per game). So why was he moved up but Butler moved down? Potential.
“I still feel he’s capable of being the Billy that we’ve had,” Yost said. “He hasn’t really been.”
Sam Mellinger wrote a great piece on this situation and why it is unfolding the way it is. The main thing to take from it is that the Royals see Hosmer filling his potential before Butler becomes the Billy of old. The problem is that doesn’t mean you can’t lower Hosmer in the lineup as well. I understand potential as much as the next guy, but when you need more offense it makes no sense to leave a player near the top of the order because of potential. What you need is actual, real production, not the possibility of production because that might never happen. My biggest beef to this whole scenario is this comment made here:
“The truth is that Hosmer’s spot in the lineup is being evaluated, but for now, the team sees Butler as an underperforming and now overpaid hitter on a roster in desperate need of consistent production…”
Hosmer’s spot is being evaluated? That is a sign that they just aren’t willing to face the reality that he isn’t producing. To add to that, if Butler is underperforming from his last month, what the hell is Hosmer’s last two months?? It’s obvious here that the club has soured on Billy and still considers Hosmer their “Golden Child”, despite the fact their true “Golden Child” is behind home plate. It’s a fairly well known fact that Butler has an option at the end of the year and Mellinger spoke what most of us have known for awhile now:
“For Butler, he must know there is little chance the Royals will pick up a $12.5 million option for next season. He is a full-time designated hitter in a modern baseball world that no longer values full-time DHs, and is having his worst career year at the worst possible time.”
Logic says that the Royals are smart in not picking up Billy’s option. I agree with that sentiment, especially since the club would like some more flexibility in the lineup and the ability to rest Salvador Perez’s knees from time to time by placing him at DH. With that being said, Billy is pretty untradeable at this point(I honestly don’t think the Royals would get a player in return that they feel would be at proper value) and even if they wanted to replace him, there is no one to take over the spot and produce even the below average numbers he has this year. Raul Ibanez? Please. There is a reason the Angels released him. Anyone in the minors? No one with near the pop Butler can have when he is on his game. Even the Royals understand this:
” So by now, even with both sides understanding they are likely breaking up at the end of the year, both sides also understand their mutual dependence. The Royals need Butler hitting to win, and Butler needs opportunities in the lineup to hit.”
“Neither team nor player can fully succeed without the other, and in a season that each side has spent so much time working toward, ultimate success will depend heavily on recognizing that simple fact.”
“That is what happens when things start to go south for him,” one American League scout said. “He tries to swing his way out of it.”
So Billy is going nowhere for now, same with Hosmer. But that doesn’t mean Hosmer shouldn’t be lowered in the lineup. At this point potential only matters in that Hosmer has a spot in the lineup. Without him producing and his inability to get on base it only makes sense for Kansas City to lower him in the lineup and insert someone who gets on base(like Alcides Escobar) in the 2nd spot of the order. It only hurts the Royals when Hosmer is allowed to get the second most AB’s every game when there are suitable replacements that can be shuffled. It’s also hurting Hosmer, as it has become glaringly obvious that dealing with pressure does not help his psyche. If the Royals are serious about winning then you put the best lineup out that that will produce.
Potential is a slippery slope that can suck you up and make people in baseball make stupid decisions. The honest truth is sometimes potential just doesn’t pan out. This is the third straight season Eric Hosmer has gone through a long stretch of a season where he has just looked lost. As much as myself and others want to believe that he can reach the potential most of us believe he has, it is starting to look as if the mental aspect of the game messes with his physical part. The Royals are insistent that Hosmer will just one day play at the caliber he did his rookie year or in the second half of 2013. The honest truth is that there are no guarantees in baseball and you realistically you have to produce. Both Hosmer and Butler aren’t producing the way the Royals need them too, and neither is truly reaching their true potential. If you ask me, I trust the guy with the track record(Butler) over the guy who has shown he isn’t a consistent hitter(Hosmer). The one thing both of them are doing is hurting the Royals chances of reaching the playoffs. The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Expecting Hosmer to live off potential is a mistake that needs to be rectified soon. Butler has been dropped in the order; now it’s time for Hosmer to do the same. Production is more valuable than potential in the present.
“It’s not the first time I’ve done it,” Hosmer said. “So it’s not panic, or nothing like that. You realize what you’ve got to do, and how you get out of it.”