May 26, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar (2) at bat in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Royals defeated the Orioles 4 - 3. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

The Evolution of Escobar

Last year around this time I wrote a piece commenting on the narrative that somehow Alcides Escobar was not only one of the better shortstops in baseball, but he was the best.

Now the comment that sparked that rant was said with the disclaimer “right now” – as in at that time of June a season ago – Escobar was playing as the best.

Aside from how ridiculous it is to claim that any shortstop is the best during any stretch of a season as long as Troy Tulowitzki has his name written next to a “6” on a lineup card, the mention of Escobar isn’t wholly without understanding given the amount of hyperbole that usually comes with Royals shortstops and their talents.

What was a beyond laughable sentiment a year ago because Escobar finished the year with a .290 on-base percentage*, has started to gain just a little bit of steam again this season because of his BABIP-fueled start at the plate which has lead to a plus .300 batting average.

*And no matter what you think of a player’s defense, it’s pretty damned impossible to make up for that many outs on offense.

And really, it makes sense. Royals fans have always had the propensity to overvalue rather ordinary skills from some players because of either a wry smile or because they hustled just so gosh darn much, but at the same time undervalue skills like being an awesome hitter for…well there really aren’t good reasons why for that. And Escobar is no different in that his defense – which is pretty good, I’m not arguing that – somewhat overshadows that he makes a ton of outs on offense. (And that the Royals received him by trading Villian #1, even though that villain did nothing but speak honestly and have a three year run of almost 20 fWAR)


So I decided I would take a quick look at Escobar’s stats for this season to see if anything jumped out at me to make me believe that he has in any way changed himself offensively to be considered more of an all-around great shortstop. In short: not really.

We’ll start with two numbers:

2011: 4.2 BB%, 12.2 K%

2012: 3.7 BB%, 15.7 K%

Understandably Escobar’s season isn’t yet 200 plate appearances old, so the goal horn (that’s for you, McGannon) of Small Sample Size Alerts is going off in the background as I write this, but the picture of “Shortstop Jesus” somehow being a different hitter isn’t accurate. He may not be worse, but there’s not really any telling evidence that he is better either.

Two more numbers:

2011: .081 ISO, .285 BABIP

2012: .101 ISO, .361 BABIP

These two sets of numbers possibly paint a little more fair picture of what Escobar currently is as a hitter. Granted his 2011 BABIP is low and part of that may have something to do with his rather substantial lack of power. It should stand to reason that batted balls hit with more force should be harder to be turned into outs, but a 2012 near 80-point increase in BABIP while strikeouts are up and walks are down? Eeesh. Holy unsustainable, Batman.

None of this is to say though that Escobar can’t keep up this string of luck and ride out another couple months hitting at this level. It’s possible. But there’s very little about Escobar’s career in professional baseball that should lead to a belief that he is something other than a very low walk, highly reliant of balls-in-play batter, because he’s not. That is exactly what he is.

Escobar is great fun to watch play defense and his athleticism at least leaves some hope that his bat will take major leaps forward into being a more valuable asset, but as with many things in Royals’ land, be patient until that day actually comes before planting a flag into the ground declaring it has arrived.

What would be nice is if fans would finally realize that Billy Butler planted that flag into the ground four years ago. Which I guess – yeah, why not – I guess is the point to this entire rant: just another way for me to write about how Billy Butler is a really good hitter, disguised as an Escobar post. Suckers.

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Tags: Alcides Escobar Billy Butler KC Royals

  • jim fetterolf

    Been trying to figure out how much a bad infielder has to hit or how good a fielder has to be to make up for a bat. If Escobar saves a hit every three games, 50/year on 600 at bats over an average SS, that would equate to about .085 worth of BA or OBP or whatever. One base in three games might be conservative for the Human Highlight Reel. .085+.290=.375. Problem is, the so-called advanced metrics can’t give the numbers beyond pie slices and errors, so eyeballs are required, which just lead to arguments.

  • Sark1975

    Villain number #1 merely spoke honestly?  You mean quitting for half a season when he made 7.25 million because he couldn’t stay interested?  You mean forcing management into a trade then vetoing the best offer that was made (Nationals).  I think we got more ‘honesty’ than we ever wanted for Mr. Grienke.

  • Kevin Scobee

     @jim fetterolf Well you say you don’t like sabermetrics but you just did a little bit of your own there. :)
    Really though, I’m not quite sure where you’re going with that. You shouldn’t really but taking hits from one side and adding/subtracting hits from another, across multiple games. I don’t think it works like that.

  • Kevin Scobee

     @Sark1975 if by “quitting” you mean finished with a 5.1 WAR. Sure. Or by “quitting” you mean he said he wasn’t as focused to end the year, which isn’t quitting. 
    And instead of blaming a guy who worked for a bad company that was going nowhere, we should also look at the company for creating a losing environment with no tangible end in sight. 
    Put it this way, bank teller wants to work at a different bank and it’s a personal decision. Baseball player wants to work for a better team and it’s taken personally by a fan base. There’s little logical reasoning there. Greinke is very good at his job, and wanted his work to be worth something other than constantly being part of a losing organization. There’s equal “blame” to go around between he and the man in charge of putting the talent of the roster together.

  • jim fetterolf

     @Kevin Scobee Certainly not the current pie-slice/error system, but seems a more direct way to quantify the value of a player.
    Ned Yost said often last year that Escobar had hits in his glove and I think our experience agrees with that, but sabre currently can’t accurately figure the sum of offense plus defense. This was my attempt at it and I think it has possibilities, especially within FieldFX, which will have the speeds, distances, and vectors to more precisely measure whether a play is, in fact, above average or below. Once that judgement is made, then offense+/-defense gets us more able to compare two ballplayers at the same position, especially on the same team.
    I actually got the idea after it was noted that one of our 2Bs had three errors on the recent road trip and kicked a couple of more, at least five bases and outs surrendered in nine games.  I would think it would take five offensive bases just to balance that to zero, then what is left would be the net contribution. If Escobar saves a hit every three games over an average SS with his glove, we should be able to factor that in, make an equivalent OBP or something. Of course, since many of Esky and Moose’s web gems depend on Hosmer making a great play at 1st on a 95mph two-hopper off line, then we might have to give Hos a share of the bounty.

  • Kevin Scobee

     @jim fetterolf The only issue I would see with that is not all hits are created equal, and there’s not way to in equal parts determine what the lack of a hit in an offensive situation would have cost versus what an error would have cost in a defensive situation. If that makes sense.

  • jim fetterolf

     @Kevin Scobee Makes perfect sense, context is the bane of individually oriented statistical evaluation, FIP being an obvious case of trying to isolate a player from his environment, the value of walks another, OBP considering that a walk to Billy has the same value as a walk to Dyson or, from the pitcher’s side, that a lead-off walk to a #9 hitter is as damaging as working around Billy with 1st base open.
    As we are currently unable to quantify values, a simple +/- of tb is at least quick and dirty. Getting a facial from a pop-fly cost two bases on the hitter the other night. Had there been base runners, their “free” bases would also enter in. Had the bases been loaded with two outs and a fast runner on 1st, that one error could have led to 8 total bases and three runs, just as an example. On the flip side, I recall a play of Escobar last year where he snagged a grounder in short left and made the play with runners on 2nd and 3rd, the runner on 2nd would have been the winning run. Contextual value is there but hard to calculate. And that play required that Hosmer do a long stretch and corral the short second hop, also an outstanding play.

  • eric.akers

     @jim fetterolf If we looked at the runs per hit for a team or specific player, you could add all those numbers up for each hit taken away by the defensive player, or the other side for each error. You get the number just for the Royals on the defensive side, then you would get a good measure in how many runs a player has saved or cost the team.

  • jim fetterolf

     @eric.akers Martin Manley at Sports in, second page, did a three part series on runs per hit and after discussion added ROE into the formula. Interesting series, it’s where I started developing the idea.

  • eric.akers

     @jim fetterolf I will have to check out the site.  I thought it sounded like a good idea when I typed it!

  • jim fetterolf

     @eric.akers Eric, we  are having an interesting and occasionally heated discussion on Judging the Royals today about bases per out and runs per base and whether a sacrifice bunt that trades one out for two bases is a good deal.

  • Kevin Scobee

    @jim fetterolf @eric.akers I’ll save you the time, it’s not a good deal.

  • jim fetterolf

     @Kevin Scobee  @jim One out for two bases is a fine deal and nearly double what the Royals averaged last night. Feel free to drop by Judging the Royals and make your case. For those who think having Esky hit was better I would mention that his DP percentage in that siuation plus his K% totals .286, .007 less than his BA. I realize that this is the web meme for the day, having seen it from several posters, from Randy Covitz in his article, and from Marc Meade, but it is just flat wrong.

  • Kevin Scobee

     @jim fetterolf Run expectancy numbers: Runners on 1st and 2nd, nobody out – 1.424 runs; runners on 2nd and 3rd, one out – 1.2917 runs
    The chances at the plate mean >>>>> than the feet on the bases. They always will. That doesn’t take into account you gave up an at-bat from a +.300 hitter to face to two worst in the lineup, neither of which is major league caliber.