Rhys Hoskins has quietly established himself as a one of the better hitters in the National League.
Among NL hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances since 2017, Hoskins ranks 11th in OPS (.862), slugging percentage (.502) and wRC+ (126). He’s got power, on-base skills and is one of the more respected players in the Phillies clubhouse. For a franchise that has struggled to develop cornerstone talents, the Phillies have struck gold with their fifth-round pick from 2014.
So what’s the problem? There are a few things that are preventing Hoskins from reaching his full potential.
Injuries are one of them. An unlucky elbow injury prematurely ended his 2020 season and a serious core/abdomen issue limited him to just 75 plate appearances in the second half of 2021. The Phillies’ playoff hopes took a massive hit in each of the last two seasons when Hoskins went down with a season-ending injury.
Streakiness is the other. In the first six games of 2021, Hoskins went 10-for-24 with a 1.208 OPS. In the next five games, he went 1-for-18. After posting a 1.035 OPS from May 14 to June 5, Hoskins went 0-for-33. It’s easy to wonder just how much better of a player Hoskins could be if he didn’t have the tendency to hit rock bottom twice a year.
This is where new Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long comes into play. His long list of success stories over his 14-year MLB career reads like an infomercial. Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Yoenis Céspedes, Daniel Murphy and Kyle Schwarber are among the hitters whose careers were revived thanks to Long’s guidance.
Hoskins isn’t in need of reviving. What he does need is a hitting coach who could quickly snap him out of an ugly slump. Manager Joe Girardi always admired how Long was able to make quick adjustments with hitters in order to get them out of the funk dating back to their time together in New York.
Some associate Long with the “launch angle revolution” but that isn’t a fair way to summarize his philosophy on hitting. He preaches what he calls “BLD” or boring line drives.
When Bryce Harper was in the midst of a slump in his final season with the Nationals, Long noticed that the soon-to-be free agent was trying too hard to hit the ball in the air. The home runs and walks were there, but the strikeout rate went up and his batting average suffered. Harper, who has talked in the past about not getting caught up in analytics, became infatuated with launch angle hoopla in the 2017-2018 offseason. Long essentially brought him back to his strengths and got him to hit more line drives. In the second half of 2018, Harper slashed .300/.434/.538.
Unlike Harper, Hoskins is a fly ball hitter. In each of the last four seasons, Hoskins finished the year with a fly ball rate over 50%, according to FanGraphs. When he’s at his best, Hoskins is consistently finding the barrel and pulling balls over the fence. When he’s struggling, Hoskins is either missing pitches over the plate or trying too hard to implement an all-fields approach, which usually leads to him hitting weak pop-ups or fly balls the other way.
Hoskins could benefit from turning a few of those fly balls into line drives. If Long could get the Phillies first baseman to buy into “BLD” while ensuring he doesn’t drift too far away from his strengths, Hoskins could be an even more dangerous hitter in 2022.
In a way, 2022 is an opportunity to build on a 2021 season in which Hoskins evolved from a walk machine who hits homers to a legit clean-up hitter. He led the National League in walks in 2019, but too often, he would let a pitch to hit go by, get into a pitcher’s count and either strikeout or swing at a pitch that wasn’t in his wheelhouse and make an out. His walk percentage dropped all the way from 16.5% in 2019 to 10.6% in 2021.
|Pitches per PA||Strikes Looking %||% of Pitches Swung At||3-0 Take %|
Hoskins’ on-base percentage dipped to .334 in 2021 due to a lack of walks, but his slugging percentage rose to a four-year high of .530. It looks like Hoskins found a balance between working the count and swinging early when he gets a good pitch to hit. He still worked an above average 4.24 pitches per plate appearances in 2021.
The weird thing about Hoskins is that outside of his 2017 hot streak, he hasn’t put together an all-around incredible season. Yet he still has managed to put up numbers that suggests he’s one of the better hitters in the league. His 127 OPS+ since 2017 is tied for 30th in MLB (min 2,000 plate appearances). Some notable hitters around him include Kris Bryant (128), Carlos Correa (127), Michael Conforto (127), Manny Machado (127), Cody Bellinger (126) and Nolan Arenado (126).
This isn’t to say that Hoskins is a better player than a Bryant, Correa or Machado. All three of them are considerably more valuable on the defensive side. It should be noted that Hoskins graded as average to above average in defensive metrics like outs above average (+1) and defensive runs saved (+3) in 2019, the year Bobby Dickerson was the Phillies’ infield coach. Dickerson was re-hired to fill that same role in October.
It says a lot, however, that he grades out similarly to a ton of fantastic hitters in a stat as telling as OPS+.
For Phillies fans, it’s OK to dream about what Hoskins’ best season as a pro could look like. With the adjustments he made this year along with the advantage of having a highly regarded hitting coach, 2022 could be a career year for Hoskins if he stays healthy.
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