Rhys Hoskins is Picky: Why the Phillies 1B is on the Cusp of a Breakout
Buried in the hype of a historic Phillies offseason is the potential of a breakout for a young Phillie who burst on to the scene in 2017. Upon arriving to MLB, Phillies 1B Rhys Hoskins earned August 2017 NL Rookie of the Month and was the first player since at least 1913 to hit 10 home runs in his first 17 big league games. The 2014 5th round pick out of Cal State University Sacramento has a stoic demeanor and quietly put up superstar numbers at all of his stops dating back to hitting .320 between A and A+ in 2015. Home runs and selectivity are not new to this man, Hoskins garnered a BB rate above 12% each year since his 2016 38 homer AA campaign and has clubbed an average of 40 homers since that AA Reading season.
The buzz around Hoskins has been, understandably, somewhat quiet this offseason with the upgrades by GM Matt Klentak occupying the lion’s share of the spotlight, so the question must be asked, what makes this Rhys Hoskins season different from all other seasons? Well, Fangraphs.com has a tool where they value how a hitter performs vs. a specific pitch per 100 pitches, (in the context of fast pitches, it’s fastball wFB/C, slider wSL/C and cutter wCT/C) and when I studied Hoskins’ trends, I noticed something remarkable for a still young, then 25-year-old Hoskins. Given the power hitters stout SwStr% at every level since AA and his patience in the form of a 14.2% MLB BB rate I shouldn’t be surprised, however I’ve never seen someone prioritize pitch selection this way. I’ve read and heard stories of those, including Joey Votto, “manipulating the scouting report”, but it appears Hoskins focused on applying his patient approach to improving vs. specific pitches.
When Rhys Hoskins first came up to the bigs in 2017, he had 18 HR in 170 at-bats.
In those 2017 AB’s, he thrived vs. fastballs, sliders and cutters* (a 0 value means league average in this context), these (above) are all fast pitches. For comparison’s sake, the then rookie was 15th in MLB vs. fastballs, 15th vs. sliders and 90th vs. cutters. These are exceptional ranks for a rookie.
His 2017 marks vs. CB and CH, while solid for a rookie, were respectfully pedestrian.
It’s likely Hoskins took note of this, don’t take my word for it, just compare his 2018 CH and CB ranks to 2017. It appears Hoskins prioritized improving vs. CB and CH, exhibiting substantial 2018 improvement vs. both pitches.
It’s a wise and mature move by Hoskins because there’s no such thing as a MLB CH or CB in AA/AAA. On the other hand, minor league pitchers have gas, however they can’t locate it more often than not.
Again, it appears that less than 200 at-bats into his MLB career, Hoskins decided to adapt. For a power hitter with the aforementioned stellar BB%, an MLB SwSTr% below 8%, and an exceptional o-swing% of 23.1% (40th in MLB since 2017), this mature step is less surprising, however no less exceptional.
In conclusion, I think it’s fair to say based on this data pitchers will have significantly more trouble pitching to Hoskins in 2019 than in years past. It’s likely, based on these numbers and tape, he’ll get a healthy ’19 diet of sliders, HOWEVER, he was remarkable against sliders when he first came up so there’s a chance he mashes sliders again. Will Hoskins attempt to hit all fast and slow pitches equally? What if Hoskins flips his focus back to fast pitches with an entire year of growth vs. off-speed pitches under his belt? Presumably he’d improve on his 2017 campaign. Will he eclipse 50 HR and live up to the 60 HR pace he set in 2017? Likely not, however it’s noteworthy to even talk about him in the context of 50 HR, because that’s not impossible. Ultimately, It’s my belief that because of his patient approach to learn MLB pitching, he will exceed the expectations of many in 2019 and will undeniably have the best season of his career.
*Note: I want to point out there’s some ambiguity with fangraphs’ rankings because there’s no sortable data in this context for sinkers, from what I understand sinkers are included in fastball data. This does not take away from the premise of the piece.