If the Philadelphia Phillies are going to get to the postseason, they will be need their big three hitters to carry the offense on their back. Right now, Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto are holding their own as the Phillies continue to contend for a Wild Card spot in the National League. While two of the stars are shining, Rhys Hoskins is in the middle of a dreadful slump. It hasn’t mattered who the hitting coach is, Hoskins has struggled. There are a few things the Phillies should be concerned about, but that can also be fixed.
Phillies fans have been treated to the power of Hoskins since he first joined the Phillies in August of 2017. The young slugger set out on a torrid pace and it seemed like he was hitting a home run every night. Those bombs carried into last year, as Hoskins launched 34 home runs in his first full major league season. As he entered 2019, there was some thought that Hoskins could benefit so much from hitting between Harper and Realmuto that he could flirt with 40 home runs and be a serious player in the National League MVP race.
While the MVP candidate part may have been a bit eager, prior to the All-Star Break, Hoskins seemed to have a chance to push for 40 home runs after hitting 20 in his first 315 at bats. For reference, at the All-Star Break in 2018, Hoskins had 14 home runs before getting hot in the second-half and hitting an additional 20.
The second-half of 2019 has been a different story for Hoskins. Since the midsummer classic, the 26-year-old is slashing .168/.315/.336 with just four home runs, 11 RBIs and an a .651 OPS. What’s the cause of the worst stretch of Hoskins’ young career?
Hoskins began to flourish in the minors when he overhauled his approach and started to focus on putting the ball in the air more often, so that’s always where we should start with Hoskins when struggling. Starting with his remarkable short season in 2017 and working through today, there is a noticeable change in Hoskins’ average launch angle:
The trend is obvious when looking at the chart and it’s a good place to start with Hoskins. Since he entered the league, the average launch angle for Hoskins has jumped 6.5 degrees—which is quite a large jump.
It’s also important to find out if there is a point in 2019 where the launch angle started to take a jump and whether it coincides with Hoskins’ issues. Below is Hoskins rolling launch angle for the 2019 season:
As the season has gone on, Hoskins’ launch angle has increased very noticeably over his last 50 to 60 batted balls. Over that same time period, there has not been an increase in exit velocity, which means some of those balls that were previously getting out may no longer be. Hoskins has been hovering around league average in exit velocity over his last 150 batted balls so there hasn’t been a massive change in that department.
Since Hoskins puts the ball in the air so often, it’s important to see where he stands in terms of exit velocity when doing so. When hitting a line drive or fly ball, Hoskins has an average exit velocity of 93.1 mph, which is ranked 196th out of 436 hitters with at least 50 batted balls. A league-leading launch angle and average exit velocity on line drives and fly balls is a little concerning, but it isn’t something that cannot be fixed.
Along with putting the ball in the air, one of Hoskins philosophies is to do that to the pull side. Hoskins pulls the ball at an extremely high rate and hits a good amount of home runs that flirt with the left field foul pole. He is struggling in the month of August and it’s probably no coincidence that his pull rate is 29.6 percent for the month. In every other month of the season, Hoskins posted a pull rate of at least 48 percent. Hoskins is at his best when he is pulling the ball and the numbers reflect that:
Adding to the pull rate standing out this month, Hoskins is trading line drives for ground balls, which never happens to him. In August, Hoskins has a 38.6 percent ground ball rate. On ground balls, Hoskins has a 27 wRC+ (100 is the league average) for the season, so it’s clearly not a strategy Hoskins is looking to deploy. The first chart below is Hoskins’ spray chart by batted ball type for the month of August, while the second chart is prior to August. The difference is pretty clear:
The other portion of Hoskins struggles may be coming from results on different pitches. The biggest difference this season is that Hoskins isn’t doing the same damage against fastballs. In both of Hoskins’ previous two seasons, he posted at least a .600 slugging percentage against fastballs, which is the pitch he gets most often. This season, Hoskins is slugging just .487 against fastballs. To no surprise, he is also posting an all-time high launch angle of 27 degrees against the pitch, with a lesser exit velocity than previous years.
The positive in this is that August is the first month Hoskins has posted a slugging percentage below .500 against fastballs this season. The negative is that in 34 batted ball events against the pitch, Hoskins has just four hits and a .214 slugging percentage. His expected slugging percentage however is .495, which provides some hope that he is still hitting the pitches better than the results have shown.
The Phillies and Hoskins will have to put work in to correct these issues. Most notably, if Hoskins wants to generate the results of the previous two seasons, he may need to find a way to correct his launch angle by a few degrees. It has been a growing issue as the season and his career have gone on that is a little concerning. While the approach of hitting the ball in the air is the correct route for a hitter like Hoskins, the Phillies may benefit from a slight reduction in launch angle and getting back to his pull side.
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