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Rhys Hoskins’ start has been weirdly productive

The MLB leader in homers has gotten there is some pretty strange ways.

Philadelphia Phillies v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

The power inside Rhys Hoskins generally comes on waves.

Upon being called up to the Majors late in 2017, Hoskins set a rookie record by hitting 18 home runs in his first 34 games and, since then, has been one of the streakiest hitters in baseball.

Rhys Hoskins’ rolling wOBA since 2017

When Hoskins is in one of his power grooves, he can carry a team much like he did on Monday night when he slugged two solo dingers, the only runs the Phils would score, in their 2-1 series-opening win over the Cardinals in St. Louis.

That’s right, Hoskins is now the MLB leader in long balls with eight, the furthest into the season a Phillie has been atop the home run leaderboard since 2008.

This is what he does, and given the struggles of everyone in the lineup not named Hoskins, Bryce Harper or J.T. Realmuto, it couldn’t have come at a better time. But Hoskins is doing things a little differently in the early going that is perhaps having a positive effect on his power stroke.

Traditionally, Hoskins has been a high walk, high on-base percentage player but, so far, the walks haven’t been there. Heading into play Tuesday, Hoskins’ walk rate was a staggering 4.3%, far below his career 14.7% and last season’s 15.7%. As a result, he’s sporting an OBP under .300 (.293), but a slugging percentage of .614. That’s more than 100 points better than his career slugging (.502) and last season’s (.503). He’s also struck out at a higher rate (33.7%) this season than his career average (23.9%) or last year’s number (23.7%).

Many have wanted this kind of shift from Hoskins ever since he burst into the big leagues, a less patient slugger who took advantage of pitches in the strike zone and hit more dingers, and so far, he’s been doing more damage on the first pitch of at-bats than ever before.

In 22 games, Hoskins has put the ball in play on the first pitch seven times and gotten three hits: a double and two home runs (.429 average/1.857 OPS). Last year, he put the ball in play on the first pitch 12 times (he was hit by a pitch twice on the first pitch of an at-bat) and got three hits: a double and a homer (.250 AVG/.940 OPS). In 2019’s full season, he put the ball in play 39 times and had 10 hits, with four doubles and two homers (.256 AVG/.788 OPS).

If his rate of first-pitch swinging continues, he will put the ball in play 51 times in 2021, by far the most of his career.

Of course, pitchers are going to adjust and as we’ve all witnessed during his five-year career, a slump of some duration if likely forthcoming. A further look behind the data indicates why that slump may be lurking behind the next darkened alley.

Hoskins is hitting more ground balls this year (35.1%) than his career norm (29.6%) and his fly ball rate (45.6%) is also a bit lower (50.2%). The big change is in the percentage of fly balls that are leaving the yard, a whopping 30.8% that is way higher than his career 17.8%.

It’s hard to imagine that kind of increase is sustainable, but perhaps Hoskins’ batted ball data will return to normal and, if he can continue to launch home runs on a slightly lower percentage of his fly balls moving forward, he could continue to mash taters at a high rate.

Regardless, Rhys’ power surges, like rare meteor showers, are to be enjoyed... for however long they last.