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Changing Tides: Rhys Hoskins and the Bedeviling Changeup

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The last two weeks have been a struggle for the young sophomore, largely due to difficulty handling offspeed pitches

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Playing Major League Baseball, you may have heard, is incredibly difficult. Not only is it a years-long slog to even make it to this highest level of professional baseball, you then have to continue working to adjust and compensate to a league constantly trying to make you fail.

For nearly all of his 2017 cameo and the first three weeks of 2018, Rhys Hoskins made playing baseball at an elite level look easy. Preposterously easy. Too easy. Sure enough, the last two-and-a-half weeks have exposed a newly-human Hoskins, one struggling to make hard contact and reach base the way he had previously with aplomb. What’s got the Phils’ cornerstone bat so twisted and hollow lately?

The problem, for better or for worse, looks relatively simple. Granted, a sentence like that is far easier said than fixed, but it does appear as though there is a singular problem child: Changeups.

We’ve all had a pretty good chance to observe Hoskins at work during his time as a Major Leaguer. There are a couple of essential truths to his game:

  • He is incredibly patient
  • His patience often allows him to get ahead in counts
  • He punishes pitchers who try to get back in counts by throwing in the zone

It’s a pretty good plan of attack, and by-and-large, it’s worked almost flawlessly for the majority of Hoskins’s time up. He’s got a .331/.558/.743 line in hitters’ (2-0, 3-0, 2-1, 3-1, 1-0) counts, and even when considering two-strike counts while ahead, he’s still got a .284/.566/.696 line to boast about. Those are monster numbers, and proof of concept for his approach.

Pitchers, as you might expect, weren’t content to try and bait Hoskins into getting himself out forever. They’ve studied, and now they’re trying to outflank him by employing a new strategy: Throwing offspeed when Hoskins is expecting something straighter.

The line in the sand for Hoskins’s struggles this season is April 28. From that day on, Rhys has hit just .145/.260/.258, with 26 strikeouts in 73 plate appearances. Prior to that, through April 27: .346/.495/.603 with 25 strikeouts in 103 PA. That’s an alarming difference, so that date is where we’ll start the discovery process.

Entering Saturday afternoon’s game, Hoskins had seen exactly 100 changeups in all counts, according to TruMedia. Here’s a breakdown of how he’s seen them, split by count:

Hoskins vs. the Changeup By Count

Count P Swing% Miss% Contact% Strike% InPlay% Foul% InZone% Chase% CallStrk% SwStrk% CompLoc% NonCompLoc%
Count P Swing% Miss% Contact% Strike% InPlay% Foul% InZone% Chase% CallStrk% SwStrk% CompLoc% NonCompLoc%
0-0 12 0.00% - - 50.00% - - 41.70% 0.00% 50.00% 0.00% 91.70% 8.30%
0-1 11 27.30% 33.30% 66.70% 36.40% 33.30% 33.30% 18.20% 22.20% 12.50% 9.10% 45.50% 54.50%
0-2 7 42.90% 33.30% 66.70% 42.90% 0.00% 66.70% 28.60% 20.00% 0.00% 14.30% 57.10% 42.90%
1-0 7 14.30% 0.00% 100.00% 42.90% 100.00% 0.00% 28.60% 0.00% 33.30% 0.00% 42.90% 57.10%
1-1 14 14.30% 50.00% 50.00% 28.60% 0.00% 50.00% 28.60% 10.00% 16.70% 7.10% 64.30% 35.70%
1-2 10 50.00% 20.00% 80.00% 60.00% 40.00% 40.00% 30.00% 42.90% 20.00% 10.00% 50.00% 50.00%
2-0 5 40.00% 50.00% 50.00% 40.00% 50.00% 0.00% 40.00% 0.00% 0.00% 20.00% 100.00% 0.00%
2-1 17 64.70% 63.60% 36.40% 64.70% 18.20% 18.20% 52.90% 37.50% 0.00% 41.20% 82.40% 17.60%
2-2 5 80.00% 25.00% 75.00% 80.00% 50.00% 25.00% 20.00% 75.00% 0.00% 20.00% 60.00% 40.00%
3-0 0 - - - - - - - - - - - -
3-1 3 66.70% 0.00% 100.00% 66.70% 50.00% 50.00% 66.70% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 100.00% 0.00%
3-2 9 66.70% 33.30% 66.70% 66.70% 16.70% 50.00% 33.30% 50.00% 0.00% 22.20% 66.70% 33.30%

I’ll call attention to the two bolded cells in the table above. In 2-1 counts, Hoskins is being baited. He’s waiting for a fastball, and instead he’s getting the string pulled on him fairly frequently. And when that string gets pulled, well, you see what’s been happening.

Now, that’s not an AB-ender. A 2-1 whiff gives you another shot, and Hoskins has been more than capable of handling himself in two-strike counts. Lately, though, the changeup has been used with incredible effectiveness against him in those two-strike counts. Let’s widen the funnel back up a bit and look at all two-strike counts - not just 2-2 - and the striking difference in changeup usage against Hoskins starting on April 28.

Changeups to Hoskins in Two-Strike Counts

G P Swing% Miss% Contact% Strike% InPlay% Foul% InZone% Chase% CallStrk% SwStrk%
G P Swing% Miss% Contact% Strike% InPlay% Foul% InZone% Chase% CallStrk% SwStrk%
25 14 42.90% 16.70% 83.30% 42.90% 16.70% 66.70% 14.30% 33.30% 0.00% 7.10%
17 17 70.60% 33.30% 66.70% 76.50% 33.30% 33.30% 41.20% 60.00% 20.00% 23.50%

From 14 to 17 in a smaller number of PA; swings up across the board. You can see the jump when comparing pitchers’ approaches across those two time periods.

Pitches Thrown to Hoskins, 2 Strikes

G PA P Fast% Change% Curve% Slider% Cutter% Sinker% Split% Spec% Hard% Soft% Break%
G PA P Fast% Change% Curve% Slider% Cutter% Sinker% Split% Spec% Hard% Soft% Break%
25 61 124 29.80% 11.30% 13.70% 26.60% 5.60% 11.30% 0.80% 0.80% 46.80% 53.20% 41.10%
17 49 92 22.80% 18.50% 7.60% 20.70% 0.00% 28.30% 2.20% 0.00% 51.10% 48.90% 28.30%

There’s also a large jump in two-seam fastball use, but Hoskins has slugged .857 against sinkers in both date range splits, so that hasn’t changed much.

To his credit, Hoskins has put a few good swings on two-strike changeups. Here are the two hits he has on those occasions, both doubles:

May 1 vs. Jarlin Garcia
May 13 vs. Robert Gsellman

Quick swings, pretty good on both counts. The Gsellman double barely stayed fair, though the Garcia double stayed more comfortably in play.

TruMedia Networks

So he’s out in front, as you’d expect to be the case with a changeup. But good swings are good swings, and those aren’t bloop doubles. Both pitchers were trying to go low - note the extra crouch and low glove target from J.T. Relamuto and Devin Mesoraco, respectively - and left the pitches up just enough for Rhys to do damage. They were aiming low, though, because that’s where Hoskins misses them: He’s whiffed on 15 of 39 swings against changeups thus far, and 13 of those 15 whiffs have been on pitches from the belt down. And, going back to the earlier point, he’s been thrown 32 changeups in hitters’ counts, swung at 16, and missed eight, with just one hit (a single against Ty Blach on May 10) to show for it

So, Rhys is human. He wasn’t, I’m pretty sure, going to stay hitting like Prime Pujols, But Better for an entire season. But pitchers have found a flaw, and it’s time for Rhys to adjust back: As he continues to get ahead in counts, pitchers will look to bait him with changeups, and it’s on him to stay back or lay off entirely if it’s not completely to his liking.