Is Rhys Hoskins starting to heat up?
Over the last three days, the Phillies first baseman is 5-for-13, with a double and two home runs. In those three games, he raised his batting average from .187 to .212, and his OPS from .633 to .716.
That’s a big improvement, and the fact that Hoskins was able to make such a big improvement in just three games serves as a good reminder that it’s still very early in the season. However, big improvement or not, a .212 batting average and .716 OPS aren’t exactly inspiring numbers.
As I sit down to write this, Hoskins has a .303 on-base percentage and a .413 slugging percentage. Neither of those stats are particularly impressive either.
But here’s the thing: the league average OBP this season is .307, while the league average SLG is .371. League average OPS, therefore, is just .678.
That’s a huge drop from previous years. In 2021, the league average OPS through May 10th (not including pitchers) was .714. In 2019, it was .748. The year before that, it was .735.
This is why statistics like OPS+ and wRC+ are more important this year than ever. These stats are scaled so that 100 is always league average. While a .716 OPS looks mediocre, OPS+ tells us that it’s actually above average this year.
So, as hard as it is to believe, Rhys Hoskins has been a better-than-average hitter so far in 2022.
It’s hard to believe the hitter we watched go 3-for-31 in eight games from April 27 to May 7 is having a decent offensive season. He struck out eleven times and had just two extra base hits during that stretch. His OPS fell from .761 to .633. It’s hard to believe that guy has been better than the average MLB hitter.
Yet because offense is so deflated across the league, and because Hoskins got out to good start over his first 18 games, and because that slump — as bad as it was — was only eight games long, his overall numbers (107 OPS+, 105 wRC+) actually aren’t so bad.
Now with that out of the way...
Rhys Hoskins needs to be more than a “decent hitter”. He’s a first baseman, and the offensive bar is higher at first base than any other position. He also doesn’t do himself any favors with his glove or his baserunning, so he really needs to hit in order to justify his place in the starting lineup. Most importantly, Hoskins was expected to be a major contributor at the top of one of the best offensive lineups in baseball. He hasn’t lived up to those expectations so far.
So, while Hoskins hasn’t been nearly as bad so far as you might have thought, he’s still been a bit of a disappointment. He needs to be better going forward. Thankfully, his past three games aren’t the only indication that he will figure things out.
Rhys Hoskins has been a streaky hitter throughout his career. That’s not exactly news.
When he’s hitting well, he’s one of the best hitters in baseball — if not the best. Last year, from the beginning of July until his season-ending injury in August, Hoskins hit .323/.439/.785 with 10 home runs and a 210 wRC+ in 29 games. Those are Barry Bonds-like numbers.
When he’s hitting poorly, however, he’s one of the worst hitters in baseball. In September 2019, one of the worst months of his career, Hoskins hit just .170/.274/.350. His OPS was .624 and his wRC+ was a meager 59.
If Hoskins looks like Barry Bonds when he’s hot, then he looks like Tommy Bond when he’s cold. (Tommy Bond, of course, was a pitcher from the 1800s who hit .238/.247/.276 in his professional career.)
It’s not ideal, but this is just the kind of player Rhys Hoskins is. The only consistent thing about him is his inconsistency. When he’s in a funk, it’s hard to watch. But at least we know he’ll snap out of it, because he always has before.
The below graph shows Hoskins’ wRC+ and OPS in every eight-game stretch of his career. As you can see, he’s had many, many slumps just as bad as his most recent one, but he always, always finds his way out of them eventually.
The other important takeaway from this graph is the dotted line, which represents his average OPS throughout his career. The line is around the .850 mark (.854 to be exact), which is comfortably above-average.
Even removing his 2017 season (the best of his career, and one he hasn’t been able to replicate since) his career numbers are still strong: .839 OPS and 122 wRC+.
Hoskins may have a lot of highs and a lot of lows, but this graph shows the highs have always outweighed the lows. He has finished every season of his career with above-average offensive numbers.
For proof that the highs outweigh the lows, we can look to Win Probability Added (WPA). WPA measures “the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next and credits or debits the player based on how much their action increased their team’s odds of winning.”
Hoskins has amassed a 40.96 negative WPA throughout his career, and 45.57 positive WPA. Overall, that means his actions have increased the Phillies’ chances of winning more often than they have decreased the Phillies’ chances of winning. In other words, the good has outweighed the bad.
It’s easy to feel like the cold streaks are hurting the team more than the hot streaks are helping, but this number shows that’s not really the case. Production is production, whether it comes steadily or in bunches.
To further explain this concept, we can imagine two different pitchers who finish with the exact same, above-average stats. Let’s say a 4.00 ERA in 175 innings pitched.
One pitcher got those stats by consistently pitching at an above-average level in every single appearance. Because of that, his team can be expected to have won more than half the games he started.
The other pitcher was far less consistent. Sometimes he performed like Cy Young, and sometimes he performed like a minor leaguer. However, he performed like Cy Young more often. Because of that, his team can also be expected to have won more than half the games he started.
I find this concept is easier to understand with pitchers — because their individual performances have more of an impact on the game — but the same logic can be applied to hitters.
An above-average hitter can be expected to help his team win more often than not. A hitter who sometimes hits like Barry Bonds and who sometimes hits like Tommy Bond — but who hits like Barry Bonds more often — can also be expected to help his team win more than half their games.
It’s not a perfect analogy for Rhys Hoskins and his ups and downs (I’m not saying he always hits like Barry Bonds during his hot streaks) but it does a good job of explaining why consistency isn’t really that important in baseball.
Hoskins hurts the team during his cold streaks, but he helps the team during his hot streaks. By the end of the year, the help always outweighs the hurt. It’s that simple.
Rhys Hoskins is a good baseball player. Over his last 162 games, he has 41 home runs, 102 runs scored, and 105 RBI. He’s hitting .243/.333/.522 with an .855 OPS and a 127 wRC+ (thanks to Schmenkman for alerting me to how good Hoskins has been over his last 162).
Those are good numbers — yes, good numbers even for a first baseman who can’t run and who struggles on defense. Even his batting average, the weakest aspect of his offensive game, is league average in that span.
Rhys Hoskins can be frustrating to watch, and I don’t begrudge you if your aren’t a fan. For me, the joy and excitement I get out of watching his hot streaks far outweighs the frustration of watching his cold streaks, and he’s one of my favorite players. But I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way.
What I can’t accept, however, is the argument that Rhys Hoskins isn’t a good player or that he is somehow hurting the team. Hoskins is a strong hitter, and if the Phillies do finally end their postseason drought this season, his bat will be one of the major reasons why.