What’s happened to the Phillies best hitter in the last month?
Starting the season every Phillies fan was gearing up to see Rhys Hoskins continue his dominance of major league pitching into 2018. The 2014 fifth-round pick set the league on fire last year with 18 home runs in 50 games, including a stretch when he hit eight home runs in nine consecutive games.
Nothing slowed down Hoskins for the first 28 games of the season when he hit .303 with five home runs, a course that felt set towards an MVP-caliber season.
Even late in the month of April, he was adjusting his swing and making hard contact not just for power, but for base hits.
Ok, maybe with some power as well.
A turn of the calendar didn’t fare well for the 25-year-old, who’s hitting a measly .162 despite the warm weather, aka hittin’ season, rolling through. He’s cracked just two home runs this month and went on an 11-game dry spell with no home runs and six hits.
Yet despite that dry spell of offense from Hoskins, the Phillies are a half-game out of first place in the National League East and are averaging the fourth-most runs scored in the National League with 4.56 runs per game.
Hoskins has hit second in seven consecutive games heading into Saturday’s game against Toronto, and 15 times in the month of May out of 19 starts.
Looking closer, Hoskins is hitting .143 in 16 games when batting second this season and .303 in 30 games hitting cleanup. Yet despite this clear difference in production, the lineups appear printed and dried with Hoskins set in the two-hole.
Albert Einstein famously said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Insanity appears to be what manager Gabe Kapler is dealing with by starting Hoskins as the two-hitter during a near month-long slump.
The original thought of moving Hoskins made sense, and it drew from a tactic Kapler’s former manager Joe Maddon employs with his best hitters. By having the best offensively productive players in the lineup hit leadoff and second the team will get ahead and have more men on base.
Compare this to the “old school” method where you have two guys who hit singles with speed followed up by three power hitters to drive them in. Both methods have their strengths and flaws, and Kapler could argue in defense of hitting Hoskins second until the pigs fly.
Outside of where Hoskins hits, cause that can’t be the end all/be all of his slump, let’s look at his swings this season.
One of Hoskins’ best strengths are his eyes and knowledge of the strike zone, and while some have commented on how much better he is, I’m still skeptical based on what I’ve seen in games.
His numbers, however, back up the fact he’s swinging at fewer balls outside the strike zone.
FanGraphs notes Hoskins is swinging at 1.5% fewer pitches outside of the strike zone and swinging .7% fewer than his rookie season. However, they also note the diminishment of contact he’s creating, connecting with 5.4% fewer pitches he swings at both in and outside the zone.
I’ve seen a multitude of swings on pitches low and away from Hoskins, so while overall he’s taking pitches outside, the low and away breaking pitches are catching him.
Clearly, the league has adjusted to Hoskins, and that’s expected for any young player who makes a splash early in their career. Some made adjustments, and others are the Dominic Brown’s of the world.
Hoskins’ highest batting average last year came on 2-0 counts where he was 4-7 with two home runs. This season, he’s worked into 2-0 counts five times and is just 1-5. It’s a surprise, because he’s hitting about .20 points higher when ahead in the count compared to last year.
This season he’s 3-6 with a home run when batting with a 1-0 count.
Blame the slump on whoever, or whatever you will whether it be Hoskins, coaches, opposing pitchers, or just the ebbs and flows of a 162 game major league season. But something must change sooner than later with Hoskins, whether that means a benching, demotion (which I’m not advocating for), or something behind the scenes.
Personally, I give Hoskins two games off to clear his head and get both Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams on the field as starting corner outfielders.