When the 2019 season began, hopes were high for Rhys Hoskins.
No longer would he have to play left field, a failed experiment in 2018 that everyone assumed forced Hoskins to take some of his focus off his offensive development in order to learn a position for which he was ill-equipped. Instead, at his natural first base, the assumption was that he would be able to concentrate on being a hitter first, an exciting thought given his plate discipline and obvious power potential.
For much of 2019, the plan appeared to work. In 71 games through June 19, Hoskins hit .273/.400/.522 for an OPS of .922, with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. He was a borderline All Star and heading toward the 30+ homer season that we all assumed he’d have hitting behind Bryce Harper in a stacked Phillies lineup.
Then, the bottom fell out.
In his final 89 games, Hoskins batted .189/.336/.401 for a .737 OPS and hit 14 homers, 19 doubles and just 36 RBIs the rest of the way. He finished the season with a ridiculously low .226 batting average, although his outstanding walk rate gave him a .364 OBP. But his wRC+ of 112 was 9th among National League first basemen with at least 100 games played at the position, and his 2.2 fWAR was tied for 8th-best.
While Hoskins’ 2019 season wasn’t a disaster, it clearly wasn’t “good,” especially in the second half when he was worth -0.4 fWAR, 21st out of 23 first basement with at least 100 plate appearances. He hit just nine home runs after the All Star break and hit an astonishing .219 with runners in scoring position the entire season.
That Hoskins went into a slump was not a surprise. He’s always been a streaky hitter, but his end-of-season futility was longer than any slump he’d experienced previously. Nevertheless, there were some positives. His walk rate went up from 13.2% to 16.5% year-over-year, and his hard-hit percentage (as calculated by Fangraphs) jumped from 34.5% to 46.2%.
But one area where Hoskins needs to improve is against right-handed pitchers, who held him to a .215/.335/.428 slash line and a .764 OPS. Against lefties he hit .261/.444/.536, a complete reversal from 2018 when he had an OPS of .902 against righties and a .665 OPS against southpaws.
The simple fact is that no one can really explain why Hoskins was off so much in 2019 has some openly wondering if Matt Klentak should try to trade him for a young pitcher (never mind the fact most teams aren’t willing to trade good, young starting pitchers for first basemen coming off a down season).
It certainly will be interesting to see how he responds to new hitting coach Joe Dillon, whose No. 1 job will be to “fix” Rhys Hoskins. Was he trying to elevate the ball too much? Was he too patient? Does he need to attack early in counts more?
Hopefully, the second half of 2019 will be just a blip in his radar, because the Phillies desperately need Rhys to be a big bat in the middle of the lineup. If Hoskins struggles again this year, it’s hard to see how the Phils’ offense can survive.