Bobby Dickerson doesn’t enjoy drawing attention to his infielders’ defense. At least not in the media. He’ll celebrate his pupils privately, in the dugout after a nice play, but he worries that if too much is written about their on-field success, it will bring that success to a screeching halt.
“That’s how we get 10 errors in a row,” the Phillies infield coach quipped on Thursday.
He has a fair point. But with all due respect to Dickerson, the Phillies’ improved infield play is becoming impossible to ignore. There are the obvious success stories, like Alec Bohm, since his three-error game. Johan Camargo is as defensively capable as they come, and Jean Segura has looked at steady at second base. But less has been said about first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who has quietly put together an unexciting defensive start to his season — which, for him, is a big deal.
This is not to say Hoskins will win a Gold Glove or ever become a premier defender in the game. But he is consistently making difficult plays he wasn’t making a few years ago, or even last season.
Sports Information Solutions tracks “scoops,” which are difficult defensive plays that require extra effort. Hoskins has three. He was credited for this play at Citi Field on May 1, when Luis Guillorme hit a grounder up the middle, and Camargo just barely snatched it. Camargo made a throw to first from his knees that bounced just before it reached Hoskins. Hoskins, nearly in a full split, scooped it up and made the out.
He earned another “scoop” for this play on May 10 in Seattle. Segura dove for a ball, another dribbler up the middle. Again, from his knees, he threw to Hoskins, who blocked the ball with his chest. It wasn’t a perfect play, but with runners on first and second and the Phillies trailing 5-2, it likely saved some runs from scoring.
On May 12, with Jose Alvarado on the mound in the eighth inning and runners on first and second and the Phillies leading 7-3, Max Muncy bunted down the third-base line. The ever-wild Alvarado fired it to Hoskins, but his throw was low. Nevertheless, Hoskins scooped it up, preventing the ball from soaring past him. The Dodgers scored four more runs that inning. If Hoskins hadn’t made that catch and those two runs had scored, the Phillies might have lost that game. Instead, they left Dodger Stadium with a 9-7 win.
These are thankless plays. They won’t get as much attention as diving grab, but Hoskins takes pride in them.
“I think it helps with the confidence of the other infielders out there,” Hoskins said on Friday. “If they have confidence in me, that their throws will turn into outs, it allows the other guys to play more freely.”
Hoskins said he has learned more from Dickerson about how to properly play first base than from any other coach he’s worked with. The numbers back that up. According to Sports Info Solutions, Hoskins posted a plus-3 defensive runs saved in 2019 — the first season he worked with Dickerson. After Dickerson left for the Padres in 2020, Hoskins’ numbers began to slip a bit, to a minus-5 DRS in 2020 and a minus-7 DRS in 2021. Now, he’s at minus-1 in 2022, which, again, isn’t predictive. It doesn’t mean Hoskins will be great, but it does mean that, so far, he’s not setting off any statistical alarm bells.
Dickerson and Hoskins work together every day. He tries to prepare Hoskins for as many in-game situations as he can: a ball thrown to first at an awkward angle, a ball thrown with sink or cut that bounces differently off the dirt. He’ll hit baseballs at Hoskins with a fungo bat, trying to create the sight lines Hoskins will see over the course of a 162-game season.
“I’m more prepared, because I’m seeing these hops in practice,” Hoskins said. “A lot of times when guys are rushed, they’re not grabbing four-seams properly. They’re throwing at weird angles. But having a first baseman that has the ability to make those picks can have a huge impact. Those are the plays that can really help out a pitcher, it can help keep guys in the game longer.”
Dickerson has watched hundreds — maybe thousands — of baseball players field ground balls. He said many go through the motions, but Hoskins does not. He’s diligent. He cares. And that translates into what we’ve seen on the field.
Dickerson said when you graduate defensively, fielding becomes intuitive. You hear the ball come off the bat, and you know how to react.
“It’s like music,” Dickerson said. “It tells your body what to do. Your moves match the music, your moves match the hop.”
Dickerson is starting to see that intuition come out with Hoskins. He hears contact, and he knows what to do. Hoskins isn’t perfect — he has committed three errors. But the numbers, for now, show he’s trending in the right direction. And perhaps more importantly, Dickerson’s eye test shows that too.