Closing Time: Looking for answers with Eric Hosmer and Ike Davis

The Albert Pujols mystery in Anaheim has turned into a nifty screen for Kansas City's Eric Hosmer. If not for Albert's much-ballyhooed struggles, more of the fantasy public would be zeroing in on the Royals, trying to figure out what happening with the struggling sophomore (.182/.248/.336) Let's go under the hood (Fangraphs is your best friend, gamer) and see what we can find.

One thing we can say for Hosmer: despite his horrendous percentages, his counting numbers really aren't that bad. He's on pace to knock 23 homers, score 74 runs and drive in 83 more. That's less than we expected back in March, sure, but it's not a bad haul for someone hitting Blink 182.

Outlier batting averages come with outlier BABIPs, so no one should be surprised by Hosmer's .175 mark there. There's been a modest dip in his line-drive rate but his BB/K trend is heading in the right direction (walks are up, strikeouts are down). He's cut down on his swings outside the strike zone and his overall contact numbers look fine, so this doesn't seem like an approach problem.

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If Hosmer is to grow into the superstar that everyone expects, he needs to develop against left-handed pitching. Southpaws controlled him easily last year and it's been even worse in 2012; over his 189 at-bats against lefties as a big-leaguer, he has a dreadful .217/.266/.286 slash. But considering Hosmer is all of 22 years old, there's plenty of time to make adjustments in that area. There's no risk of a platoon forming — the Royals will leave him alone, give him time and reps to figure it out.

Mash all of this together and I'm not particularly concerned about Hosmer going forward; perhaps you can buy him low (well, moderately discounted) in a league here or there. Ned Yost is going to use Hosmer in the No. 2 slot for a while, see if that gets the kid's bat going.

The National League version of Hosmer (young, slumping first sacker) might be Ike Davis. The Mets are providing the 25-year-old lefty with plenty of chances to produce runs - he's batted a league-high 51 times with runners in scoring position - but he hasn't been up to the task. Davis's production in those situations (.157/.218/.294, 20 Ks) is almost identical to his nightmare seasonal slash, except for an elevated strikeout rate. Imagine where the surprising Mets might be if they simply had a league-average cornerman taking these at-bats.

Davis's washout start is a partially-excused absence, of course: he had a serious ankle injury last May and, more importantly, he battled the mysterious Valley Fever this spring. Davis also missed Sunday's game with a flu bug - it's not clear if that's a residual from Valley Fever or something completely different. It's not easy to play your best ball when you're constantly worried about fatigue and breathing problems.

Davis insists his early-season funk has nothing to do with his spring issues, but no one really knows the story here. Maybe he's simply sick of talking about the issue, or he doesn't want to look like a guy making excuses. Davis has been lowered in the batting order for the last three weeks - batting sixth or lower in all but one game - and I'd be surprised if he forced a promotion anytime soon.

The Arizona State product is hacking at more pitches outside the zone this year and his swinging-strike numbers have spiked, so he's making some of his bad fortune. And with a heavy ground-ball spike (all the way up to 51.8 percent, well over his career norm), it's no great surprise Davis has just two doubles to go with his five homers.

Could geography be the issue here? Davis is off to a 3-for-56 start at home (all singles), as opposed to an acceptable .258/.310/.515 slash on the road. All five of his homers, naturally, have come away from New York. Is this a case of a slumping player trying too hard to get the fans off his back? Or are we just looking at a fluky piece of data, driven by a modest sample of 35 games, and reading too much into it?

It looked like Davis might be breaking out last week, homering agains the Phillies and Marlins, but he's fallen back into a 0-for-13 rut since then, with five strikeouts. Maybe that's the weekend virus talking. Davis is still on pace to launch 23 homers, but the run production isn't there and he's headed for 167 strikeouts. The odd 2012 case of Davis comes down to more of a gut-feel call, and at the end of the day this is not someone I'd chase in a trade unless the price came significantly discounted. You're welcome to offer your take, and your intelligent counters, in the comments.

While everyone breaks into a chorus of "Where have you gone, Rico Brogna?" . . . let's look at some Tuesday-specific action from the sandlots:

• Brett Lawrie is another young player mildly disappointing us in 2012 (.289/.333/.394), though he's posted respectable counting stats (16 runs, 17 RBIs) and some category juice (three homers, five steals). But those stats are going to be on ice in the near future; his ninth-inning meltdown from Tuesday is sure to draw a league suspension. If you haven't seen the highlight yet, click on over: Lawrie disagreed with two highly-questionable strike calls (the second of which punched him out), and when he slammed his helmet in frustration, it ricocheted into contact with home plate umpire Bill Miller. The Ranger isn't gonna like this, Yogi.

I wonder if Miller took exception to Lawrie trying to buy the ball-four call with a premature trot to first. This sort of batter act has to be transparent to the men behind the plate, and everyone knows that some umpires, rightly or wrongly, will subject young players to a slightly-different standard until they get their feet wet in The Show. That sort of treatment happens all over pro sports — you might say it's an epidemic in the NBA, where seniority is everything. Don't shoot the arrows at me, I didn't make the rules and I certainly have no say in how they're enforced. I'm just raising the issue for discussion.

But here's one thing I definitely like about Lawrie: he's passionate. It's obvious he wants to succeed, and to win, very badly; his all-out fervor makes Bryce Harper look like Brad Pitt's couch slacker from True Romance. If I were a Toronto fan (right now I'm more of a sympathizer, but I'm getting there), I'd be all in on this guy. You know he's going to leave it on the field every night, and you can say the same for manager John Farrell, an admirable mix of intelligence and personality.

The pro-Tampa folks in the crowd might have a different view of the Lawrie at-bat: perhaps it was a case of Jose Molina doing his masterful framing, or maybe it's a sign that Fernando Rodney is getting mad-respect from the men in blue. Are you ready to live in a world where Rodney is the AL's best relief pitcher? We're getting very close to that bizarre reality: he's posted 11 saves (without a blemish) and two wins, along with a 0.51 ERA and 0.85 WHIP. Three walks against 17 strikeouts? Take a long and deserved bow, Jim Hickey. You're a miracle worker.

• The Red Sox needed a statement from their two aces this week, and for a change, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett stepped to the challenge. Lester mowed down the Mariners in his complete game Monday (8 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K), and Beckett was very sharp in his Tuesday victory (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K, no three-putts). That's a great starting-off point, but sterner tests lie ahead. Lester and Beckett will pitch at Philadelphia this weekend (okay, not so scary in 2012), then face some combination of Tampa Bay, Detroit, Toronto and Baltimore in the next few weeks. No easy pickings in that group. If I owned Beckett anywhere, I'd be quietly trying to sell the line and the pictures from Tuesday night.

• How do we spin this Wei-Yin Chen story? Did the Orioles steal a potential ace when they signed the Taiwanese lefty to an affordable three-year deal, or is Chen's early success built on a shaky foundation? It's time for a closer look.

Chen notched his fourth victory in seven starts Tuesday against the Yankees, working seven strong innings (4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K) and outdueling CC Sabathia. Chen hasn't been ducking anyone in the first quarter of the year, facing New York twice, Texas once and Boston once. He's yet to allow more than three earned runs in any turn, and his season adds up to a 2.45 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. His average fastball clocks at a modest 90.1 mph, but he's spotting it well and getting results. Chen also has a positive grade on his curve and change, though he's relying on the fastball almost two-thirds of the time.

The peripheral-suggested ERAs throw some cold water on the story, mind you. Chen's FIP is 3.41, almost a full run over the standard number, and his xFIP stands at 4.41, tied to his fortunate 4.9 HR/FB rate. And that gopher-friendly pace is important for Chen, because he only induces ground balls a third of the time. Warmer weather and increased exposure around the league will probably push the ERA into the high 3s by midseason.

Nonetheless, Chen is working deep into games and he's throwing strikes (and getting 2.3 whiffs for every free pass), so it's perfectly fine to consider him a preferred streamer in the interim. There's also a nifty support system in place: Baltimore has 58 homers to lead the majors, and closer Jim Johnson has converted 20 straight save chances (including three of Chen's victories). The lefty gets a favorable match against the offensively-challenged Nationals on Sunday, but he'll also have to find a way to beat Stephen Strasburg.

• Gregor Blanco has settled in as a Giants regular and he's taking advantage, on a 6-for-15 binge the last four days with seven runs, four walks and two steals. He's homered once, too. Blanco was a running machine during the meaningless spring games (13 bags) and if nothing else, it seems like he'll get the green light now. He's unowned in 98 percent of Yahoo! leagues; consider a short-term speed rental, see where it goes.

That's what I've got for you today, gamers. So liberating to go bullpen-free for once (if you want the Jose Valverde post-mortem, we've got your dance over here). Feel free to cover your favorite unmentioned player in the comments, be it someone young (Mike Trout and Bryce Harper homered Tuesday), someone unheralded (that pesky Daniel Nava keeps getting on base) or someone old (Jamie Moyer pitches at Coors Field on Wednesday). The office is temporarily closed, but the floor is all yours.

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