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Monday, September 9, 2013
Chris Davis and Eric Hosmer

By David Schoenfield

A couple of notes from ESPN Stats & Information:

Chris Davis before the All-Star break: .315, 37 HR, 1.109 OPS
Chris Davis since the All-Star break: .254, 11 HR, .872 OPS

Eric Hosmer through May: .261, 1 HR, .653 OPS
Eric Hosmer since June 1: .322, 15 HR, .883 OPS

OK, that's four notes, I guess.

Let's take a closer look at these two American League first basemen and then ask a question at the end of the article: Who would you rather have for 2014?

Starting with Davis, the narrative when he got off to his Babe Ruth-like start was that he had finally learned a little discipline at the plate and was crushing outside pitches to the opposite field, letting his raw power take over. So why the decline in the second half? (Not that he's been bad; he still has a .354 OBP and is slugging over .500, with 11 home runs in 46 games.)

Let's compare four categories from the first half and the second half:

Davis, first half
28 percent K rate
9.7 percent BB rate
30.3 percent chase rate
33.0 percent HR/fly ball rate

Davis, second half
31.7 percent K rate
12.6 percent BB rate
32.5 percent chase rate
20.0 percent HR/fly ball rate

Based on these numbers, his approach has remained pretty consistent -- he's chasing a few more pitches out of the strike zone, but also walking more. The big difference is simple: In the first half, one of every three fly balls he hit cleared the fence; in the second half, just one of every five fly balls has cleared the fence. His batting average on balls in play has dropped a little but not significantly -- .355 to .327 -- and his rate of contact resulting in fly balls remains the same. His average home run distance is actually two feet further in the second half. So, really, it comes down to a few feet here and there on some fly balls.

Who's the real Chris Davis? First-half Chris Davis was Lou Gehrig. Second-half Chris Davis is pretty similar to 2012 Chris Davis (.270/.326/.501). We can't completely dismiss that first half, but it looks like a 35-40 homer guy having the best three months of his career.

As for Hosmer, I admit that I had basically written him off after his poor start, pointing out he wasn't hitting fastballs (.220 with no home runs through May) and if you can't pull fastballs when you're supposed to be a power hitter, there isn't much future for you. While he's remained an effective opposite-field hitter, he has pulled the ball with more authority since June. Whether this had something to do with George Brett -- he began his temporary stint as Royals hitting coach on May 30 -- or Hosmer making adjustments on his own, I don't know, but something clicked. Compare his hit chart through May and since then:

Eric Hosmer hit charts
After struggling through May, Eric Hosmer has hit .322 since June 1.


Most importantly, Hosmer started punishing fastballs. After posting a .568 OPS the first two months against fastballs, he's hitting .344/.409/.575 with nine home run since -- seven of them to center or right field. Since June 1, he's 11th in the majors in batting average, 15th in OPS and 18th in OPS against fastballs. The guy who couldn't hit a fastball the first two months has been one of the best against fastballs the past three-plus months.

In other words, the 23-year-old is looking more like the hitter who looked like a future MVP candidate when he played so well as a 21-year-old rookie.

Obviously, Davis has had the better overall season. While he ranks behind Miguel Cabrera in the MVP race, with his league-leading 48 home runs and 96 runs, plus 124 RBIs, he's probably a good bet to finish ahead of Mike Trout in the voting. His WAR is 6.4 compared to Hosmer's 3.2.

But who do you like better for 2014? Davis is still a good bet to threaten the 40-homer barrier even if he's not Lou Gehrig (he hit 33 in 2012 in 139 games). Hosmer appears to have found his power stroke and at 24 with three seasons under his belt he should be entering his prime seasons. Both are good athletes and regarded as strong glove men, although neither rates as outstanding in Defensive Runs Saved (Hosmer +1, Davis -4). Hosmer has more speed but his overall baserunning value actually ranks worse than Davis' (-1 to 0), in part because he's made seven outs on the bases aside from caught stealings.

In other words, fielding and baserunning aren't big factors here. It comes down to hitting. Davis has more power and the better walk rate (while striking out a lot more). Hosmer is younger and maybe figured something out.

It's a tough call. I do believe in Hosmer's improvement a little more than Davis' freakish first-half numbers. In terms of value, they should be pretty close next year, but Hosmer has a chance to become a .300, 30-homer guy if he makes The Leap. I'm not sure just yet that he's going to be that 30-homer guy, however, so I'll give Davis the slight nod for 2014. Unless Hosmer suddenly ups his walk rate, I'll take .270/40 HR Davis over .300/25 HR Hosmer. What do you think?