We’ve now reached the end of this series, so you probably know the drill by now. If you don’t, you can read the following sentences to figure out what’s going on. I’m going through the Royals’ lineup to get an idea of how opposing pitchers will look to attack each player this season. I use data from Brooks Baseball, Baseball Savant, and Fangraphs to figure out what pitches each hitter loves to see, and what pitches give them nightmares. So far, I’ve gone over the profiles for Norichika Aoki, Omar Infante, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain. I would prefer to not dig into Alcides Escobar‘s terrible numbers from last season once again because they cause physical pain to my eyes, but I’ve kind of painted myself into a corner here, so let’s get it over with.
As you can probably guess, Escobar didn’t have much success against any pitch last year. The type of pitch he did the best against was a fastball, and that line (.240 AVG, .329 SLG) certainly wasn’t awe-inspiring. If we go back to his 2012 season, we see that Escobar did quite well against fastballs, hitting .334 with a .464 slugging percentage, and even though I don’t think he’ll get back to that level, perhaps he could settle somewhere between the two extremes.
Escobar hit poorly against curveballs last season. That’s an example of an obvious statement. Even in the season before last, however, Escobar struggled against curveballs, as he hit just .229 with a .250 slugging percentage that year. Both of those statistics are actually worse than his 2013 line (.233 AVG, .267 SLG). That statement was probably less obvious. Oddly enough, Escobar had more plate appearances facing a curveball that resulted either in him reaching base safely, or a run scoring, than anyone in baseball not named Josh Hamilton. Hosmer was just behind Escobar in that list.
Unlike the two previous hitters I’ve written about, it doesn’t appear that opposing pitchers changed their plan for attacking Escobar between 2012 and 2013. Generally speaking, they mixed pitches in a similar way, they gave him first pitch fastballs at about the same rate, and they pitched to similar spots in the zone. Despite a similar approach from pitchers, Escobar obviously saw far different results, so what changed?
Basically, Escobar swung at way too many pitches out of the strike zone, and he made contact with too many pitches out of the strike zone. Contact is normally a good thing, but with pitches that aren’t strikes, it’s more difficult for the hitter to make solid contact. Escobar made weak contact on too many pitches, which resulted in a lot more outs on batted balls. Making outs on batted balls is bad for any hitter, but since Escobar doesn’t walk much, making outs on batted balls is far worse. Part of Escobar’s problem came from hitting too many fly balls, but that’s something I’ve talked about before, so there isn’t much of a need to get into it again. More than likely, it’s just a matter of Escobar tweaking his mechanics a bit, while also becoming a touch more selective at the plate. He’s never going to put up even average walk rates, but Escobar does need to learn what pitches at which to swing, and which ones to watch. For a guy with such good contact skills, that can be a difficult task, so that has to be a point of emphasis for he and Pedro Grifol to work on this spring.
The Royals don’t need Escobar to be an above average hitter for him to provide value. Really, the Royals don’t even need Escobar to be an average hitter to be valuable. According to bWAR, Escobar was an above average player in 2011, when he had just a 74 OPS+. Because he is such a strong defender at shortstop, the only thing the Royals need from Escobar is for him to get back to producing against fastballs at his 2011 level. And the best way for him to accomplish that is by swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone, while also making more solid contact on pitches in the zone.