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What’s “wrong” with Rhys Hoskins?

He hasn’t....homered.....since <heavy panting>....when? <dies>

Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

It was bound to happen.

Starts like the one Rhys Hoskins found himself on are notoriously hard to maintain. Hitting home runs with the type of regularity that Hoskins did in his first 34 games is really hard. Like, so hard, no one else had done what he had done. He also knocked in more runs during that time span than anyone else. For goodness sakes, he was hitting .314/.442/.805 in his first 34 games! That slugging percentage is not only drool worthy, but I’m pretty sure it could make people question themselves and who they truly love. The most improbable part of that run: he managed to get Philadelphia sports radio to pay attention to the Phillies during the Eagles season. It really is the kind of stuff that people write books about.

Since we know that baseball is gonna baseball, we knew there was no possible way that Hoskins could maintain that kind of pace through even his next 10 games, let alone the rest of the year. So as we watch the Phillies slog through these final remaining contests, the inevitable seems to have happened: Rhys Hoskins has been found to be mortal after all. Since September 14 (the date of his last home run), Hoskins has only managed to hit .135/.256/.216 with no home runs, three extra base hits and twelve strikeouts in 43 plate appearances (through Thursday). Yes, it’s a much smaller sample size, but Philadelphia being Philadelphia, sweating and hallucinations might be beginning to set it when it comes to the team’s newest star attraction. So it begs the question:

What’s wrong with Rhys Hoskins?

Well, my best guess is nothing at all. There are signs that Hoskins is still the same hitter, just without the Thor-like power he was displaying for a month. I’ll go over that in a bit. But that doesn’t help the panicked Phillies fan, who’s hoping that Hoskins doesn’t turn into another once-top-prospect-who-shall-remain-nameless. So, again, we strive: what’s wrong?

I think we can break it into two possible answers: the league adjusted to him, and he’s tired. Let’s look at both of these possibilities

1. The league has adjusted to his ability to obliterate baseballs

With the way that Hoskins was being pitched, it was only a matter of time before the pitchers in the league figured him out. Take a look at where opposing hurlers were feeding him from August 10 (his debut) to September 14:

That’s a lot of missing down the middle of the plate. Sure, it’s in the lower half of the zone, but a hitter like Hoskins, who has worked to make himself into a guy who doesn’t miss these types of mistakes, can be expected to take care of business when he sees pitches like this. Now, though, pitchers seems to have a better plan of attack when he comes to the plate. This is the same type of chart, only from September 15 through September 25:

It’s a much smaller sample size of course, but you can see the difference in location of the pitches. Down and away is the where he is being attacked, which lessens his ability to pull the ball. I’ll remind you that only one of his home runs thus far has been of the opposite field variety. It’s not a bad plan that pitchers have right now. In fact, you almost might expect it. However, until he can show the ability to go the other way with power, this is where he will see pitches.

2. It’s a long season and he might just be tired

Last year, Hoskins played in Lehigh Valley for the entire season, then followed that with a Dominican League stint. All in all, in the 2016 calendar year, he had around 650 plate appearances. In 2015, he had more, getting around 700 plate appearances between the minor leagues and the Australian winter league. This year, he has about 660 plate appearances with a few games left to go.

That’s a lot of baseball.

Players train a lot during the offseason, but from the looks of it, Hoskins didn’t have much of an offseason the past two years to physically prepare for the season since he’d been playing baseball. Couple that with:

  • the uncomfortable travel he’s faced with in the minors
  • the lesser nutritional choices available to minor leaguers
  • the meager pay and the worrying that comes with that
  • the increased media attention his streak brought him

It becomes easier to understand why he might be wearing down. This is purely speculation on my part, but I think it is certainly possible that everything is starting to catch up to him.

A good offseason of no baseball will be good for him. He knows he will be on the Opening Day roster, therefore he can train accordingly. He might be able to pick up a sponsorship or two this winter, which along with his expected major league minimum salary, will be a marked increase in money that could alleviate concern with that (again, speculating).

Now, in researching this, I did stumble across three points that might put your mind at ease.

First, he’s still walking a good amount of the time. While he was going strong for that month plus, Hoskins displayed an on base ability this team isn’t used to, particularly the ability to take a walk. During that Ruthian run he had, he walked 17.7% of the time. That’s really good. In the 43 plate appearances, he’s walking 14% of the time - STILL REALLY GOOD! He hasn’t lost his ability to take a walk. It’s just gotten a little smaller. We’re okay with that.

Second, his BABIP has gone from a low .257 in that month to a Murphy’s Law-bad .200. He could just be getting really unlucky on balls in play. It could explain why everything is just down. Sometimes, baseball just comes to get ya’.

Third, and to me most convincing, he’s not losing anything off of the bat. Now, this might fly in the face of my “he’s tired” argument, but according to some of the StatCast numbers, Hoskins is actually hitting the ball harder in this small stretch of struggles than he has during his awesome run. Check this out:

Hoskins’ exit velocity and launch angle

Date Range Avg. Exit Velocity (mph) Avg. Launch Angle (deg.)
Date Range Avg. Exit Velocity (mph) Avg. Launch Angle (deg.)
8/10 - 9/14 83.4 22.8
9/15 - 9/25 86.2 15.6

Does the launch angle tell us much? That remains open to interpretation, but the fact that he is actually hitting the ball slightly harder than he was before has to be encouraging to anyone watching him struggle right now. We, of course, might be a little jaded when it comes to trusting in exit velocity right now when it comes to evaluating young hitters on this roster (see: Franco, M.), but this type of statistical evidence points us to the possibility that we are simply seeing a young hitter that is still hitting very well. It’s just that he is in need of an adjustment or two.

So, is there anything actually “wrong” with Hoskins? No, probably not. As I said, he’s seeing all of these pitchers for the first time and they now have a detailed scouting report on him. They are pitching according to it; it’ll just take Hoskins an offseason of video preparation and work in the batting cage to see if adjustments he makes can lead to more success in the majors. If you believe that he is able to (as I do), then you’ll take these last few games to take a breath, accept that the run he was on was magical and enjoy what is the ending debut of one of the more exciting prospects this team has had in quite some time. You’ll look back on these last two months and realize: this was just a blip on the radar and Rhys Hoskins is still really, really good at hitting baseballs.