Your Philadelphia Phillies are doing just fine as they “enjoy” an off-day in Missouri today, fresh off winning two out of three against the Cardinals in St. Louis and awaiting a three-game series in the eagerly-anticipated 1980 World Series rematch in Kansas City against the sad-sack, 13-25 Royals.
Much of their early success is due to the offense. They outscored the Cardinals 16-1 in the final two games in St. Louis and are averaging 5.22 runs per game this year, 7th in MLB and 4th in the National League. That’s despite a slow start to the season by Bryce Harper who, despite hitting a key grand slam in Tuesday night’s 11-1 win, is still batting just .189/.311/.367 in his last 24 games.
Much of the reason for the offensive output has been due to Rhys Hoskins, who has been the team’s offensive force. With Harper receiving much of the national media’s and fan’s attention this year, Hoskins has quietly gone about his business in the clean-up spot. In 157 PAs he’s batted .295/.420/.636, with 11 home runs, 32 RBIs, 11 runs scored, and an OPS of 1.056 that ranks 4th in the NL among qualified hitters.
Most importantly, through his first 35 games, Hoskins has showed the kind of consistency that had eluded him in his abbreviated rookie season and his first full season last year.
In the first 34 games of his career in 2017, he burst onto the scene and famously hit 18 HRs with a slash line of .314/.442.805 and an OPS of 1.247. In the final 16 games of that season, he didn’t hit another ball out and slashed .135/.292/.192 with a .485 OPS.
Last year, he had a number of red hot ups and ice cold downs. In his first 25 games he hit four homers with a 1.098 OPS. In his next 27 he hit two homers with a .506 OPS. He smashed a foul ball into his face in the midst of that slump and, after returning, hit seven homers with a 1.107 OPS in his next 18 games, but a 16-game stretch followed with no homers and an OPS of .557, followed by a 12-game blitz with eight homers and a 1.436 OPS... you get the idea.
This year, Hoskins has been steadily excellent, and much of that is due to a drastic improvement in his ability to hit breaking pitches.
Last season, Hoskins batted .119 with a .193 slugging percentage and just one home run against sliders, but this year he’s hitting .258 with a .613 slugging percentage against that pitch, with two homers. Against curveballs, Hoskins hit .225 with a .429 slugging percentage last season, this year he’s 5-for-10 against that pitch with two homers.
Not only that, Hoskins appears to have fixed a hole in his swing against pitches down and in. Here’s last year’s heat map...
...compared to this year’s.
Here’s an example of one of his home runs on a breaking ball down in the zone.
Hoskins has seen his hard-hit rate increase from 34.5% last year to 46.0% this year, and his soft contact drop from 19.9% to 12.6%. He’s pulling the ball a career-high 57.5% this season, up from 50.0% a year ago, and has increased his home run-per-fly ball rate from 16.0% to 26.2%.
Hoskins is making these changes as he continues to see more pitches per plate appearance than anyone in baseball (4.73) and with his plate discipline numbers essentially staying exactly the same. He’s simply hitting the ball harder, with an average exit velocity of 91.0 mph that is tied for 56th out of 264 hitters with at least 50 batted ball events this year, according to Baseball Savant. Last year, he averaged 88.9 mph, tied for 121st out of 281 players with at least 200 batted ball events.
The fact is Hoskins is simply dialed in here in 2019. Is it because he doesn’t feel as much pressure to produce, with a drastically improved lineup? Has he simply become a better hitter and worked on his flaws? It’s also fair to wonder if what we’ve watched so far is one long hot streak that will soon be followed by a cold streak.
But for now, Hoskins is smoking the ball and has been the offensive MVP so far this season, and one of the five most impactful offensive players in the National League. On Episode 284 of “Hittin’ Season,” I talked about Hoskins’ improvements with KYW 1060 Sports Reporter/Anchor Matt Leon, and also about the legacy of David Montgomery, with former Phillies beat writer Kevin Cooney. Check it out, subscribe and review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify!