Alcides Escobar has taken quite a fall since a certain blogger, who shall remain nameless, raved about how well the Royals’ shortstop was doing earlier in the season. Since May 1, Escobar has put up a line of .227/.255/.285. That putrid on base percentage means that Escobar is making an out three out of every four times he strolls to the plate.
That’s not good.
And yet, despite how poor he has performed offensively, Ned Yost continues to write Escobar’s name into the second line on his lineup card. Yost has said that Escobar fits best batting second. I can’t be sure what Yost means by that statement, because it certainly doesn’t mean he hits best batting second. On the season, Escobar has a .594 OPS while batting 2nd in 296 plate appearances. When Escobar has hit 9th in the order (51 PA), he has a .752 OPS. A part of that could be dismissed as a small sample size, however, that type of split is roughly consistent with his career numbers. In 750 career plate appearances in the 2nd spot, Escobar has a .625 OPS. In 713 career plate appearances in the 9th spot, Escobar has a .677 OPS. Any way you slice it, Escobar has been a better hitter while at the bottom of the order.
So what is it that makes Yost think Escobar is such a great fit getting the second most plate appearances on the team in each game?
Yost said, “you want your best four hitters to get the most at bats over the course of the game.”
— Nate Bukaty (@nate_bukaty) July 6, 2013
Does Yost actually believe that Escobar is one of the four best hitters on the roster? He may not be some managing savant, but I have a hard time believing that he thinks Escobar is a better hitter than guys like Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain, David Lough, etc. I’m not sure why Yost would say something he doesn’t truly think, but if he does feel that way, then this team is in even worse hands than we expected.
The best explanation I can come up with is Yost’s fondness of having a traditional number 2 hitter. He likes having a guy “with speed,” who can “move a runner,” “lay down a bunt,” and has “hit and run skills.” While I do appreciate Escobar’s speed and contact ability, his propensity for bunting is not something I like to see. There have been a couple of times recently in which Escobar has laid down a bunt in the first inning just to try and move Alex Gordon up 90 feet. It is entirely possible that Escobar did that on his own, but who called for the bunt is ultimately irrelevant. If Yost is calling for sacrifice bunts in the first inning, that is just terrible strategy. If Escobar is laying down sacrifice bunts on his own in the first inning, the onus is on Yost to eliminate that. I’ve typically thought Escobar has been doing those at will, but if Yost wanted him to stop, Escobar would either stop bunting in the first, or he’d be moved out of the top of the order.
As I mentioned earlier, Escobar has had some success when he was not batting 2nd. Prior to June 22, Escobar had been batting 9th for the previous 15 games (with a line of .260/.288/.380, for what it’s worth) thanks to the lineup order that the Royals’ stats guys came up with in early June. Since Yost abandoned that lineup and moved his shortstop back near the top of the order, Escobar has a slash line of .213/.273/.311. Once again, that’s not good.
Of course, there has been a small positive in having Escobar bat 2nd, and that has been the recent climb in Gordon’s walk rate. In the 12 games since June 22 in which Gordon lead off with Escobar behind him, Gordon has 8 walks, 3 of which were intentional. This means that in those 55 plate appearances, Gordon has a BB% of 14.5. I’m not a big believer in the concept of lineup protection in general, but teams have clearly been pitching around Gordon of late since the next batter isn’t a huge threat.
Most baseball people will tell you that giving your better hitters more plate appearances is the best way to score more runs. But for some reason, there are still managers who cling to their outdated philosophies of what a baseball lineup should look like. If they think the player batting 2nd should be fast and be able to move runners, it doesn’t matter if the player best meeting that description is arguably the worst hitter on the team. Those managers will continue to hammer that square peg into that round hole.
The most frustrating part of Yost’s insistence on batting Escobar second is the solution is really quite simple. All he would need to do is drop Escobar to ninth, and move everyone else up one spot in the order. That’s it. It is that easy. Unfortunately, I have little faith that a move like that is coming soon based on Yost’s comments, and his past history of stubbornness when it comes to admitting being wrong. I suppose it is possible that Yost eventually succumbs to the reality most already see, but I just hope by that point that the Royals’ season hasn’t already been irreparably harmed.