Alcides Escobar took a big step forward in his batting production last season, but no one actually believes he can do it again. Every projection system on Fangraphs, including fan crowdsourcing, is projecting him to fall in average, on-base, and power in the coming season. It is unusual that someone going into their age 26 season is viewed so negatively. I dug a little deeper to see if maybe Alcides can repeat last year’s production at the plate.
Let’s look at the main reasons Escobar is being tabbed for regression first. His walk rate did not change last year, but his strike out rate went from 12.2% in 2011 up to 15.4%. That is not generally what you would like to see. Additionally, he posted a BABIP of .344 after being below .300 in his first two full seasons. This is actually in line with his minor league BABIP results, but maintaining that high of a number at the major league level takes a lot of skill. Finally, one of the main factors that contributed to this high BABIP and the increase in power, mostly due to more doubles, is his line drive rate. Alcides’ LD% increased from 18.1 up to 23 in 2012, and that’s a good thing. The problem is that line drive rate has a very low correlation year to year. In fact, of all the hitting metrics tested, it has the lowest correlation at 0.293, which means we can’t count on it being sustained. The last piece here is the increased strike out rate that came from lower contact rates, and just keep in mind that his swing rates and pitches per plate appearance, so he wasn’t more selective.
That is a lot of evidence that suggests Alcides Escobar’s 2012 was partially luck driven, but there are a couple of things he did a lot better. One thing that makes me think he is getting better is that last year he maintained his ground ball rate while increasing his line drive rate. That means that he avoided fly balls posting his best FB% ever at 23.7%, and that is highly correlated year to year. If he
hits fewer line drives this year it may mean his number of ground balls may increase rather than them turning into fly balls. This is imperative for a hitter with so little home run power because almost all of his fly balls will end up being outs. The second thing in Escobar’s season that stands out to me is his change in pitch values. Last year he crushed fast balls compared to prior seasons, and he has been getting better at this over time.
|Pitch Values|| |
Pitchf/x Pitch Values
In case you are unfamiliar with these, wFB is runs above on fastballs, while the wFT is two seem fastballs, wFC is cutters, and wFA is four seam and unclassified fastballs. What these show is that Alcides was an above average hitter on fastballs last year for the first time in a full season, and that he improved from 2010 to 2011 as well. Just for reference sake, Billy Butler’s wFB last year was 27, and Billy saw a fastball about 53.5% of the time last year versus Escobar’s 58.6%. That means pitchers could start throwing fewer fastballs to Alcides, but even extreme fastball hitters still see a fastball 45% of the time. He does not fit this category as these tend to be dead pull hitters with lots of power, think Ryan Howard.
At his age, Alcides Escobar’s improvement last year could be mostly due to development as a player through hitting the fastball well and avoiding fly balls. If that development continues in his 26 year-old season this summer it could offset the regression from a little luck last year, and keep in mind that his BABIP and such don’t point to a crazy amount of luck either. There is no reason that he cannot repeat, or even better, what he produced at the plate last summer