Strange Days Indeed


Keeping in mind that it’s still just spring, there must be something in the water, or sand, or electrolyte-based sports drink in Surprise, Arizona.  There have been some strange happenings so far.

Considering the otherworldly ability of Melky Cabrera, the seemingly unhittable Luis Mendoza and the offensive force that is Mitch Maier so far in spring training, it’s been a bizarre March.  I’d suggest that those examples aren’t even the weirdest things we’ve seen so far.

It’s like someone from a movie studio decided to go all Freaky Friday on Billy Butler and Alcides Escobar because Butler has more stolen bases, but Escobar has more home runs.

Yeah, really.  Those may be the most surprising spring stats of all.

Butler’s stolen base trick can be attributed more to spring than anything else.  Ned Yost has said that the Royals are going to preach aggressiveness on the basepaths until it’s shown that a player shouldn’t be taking that approach.

And let’s face it, Billy Butler isn’t a player who should be taking that approach.  This spring’s sudden surge could be chalked up to a surprise in the case of the first steal and disinterest in the other two.  It’s not like pitchers are working on their move to pick off guys like Butler.  Second base isn’t even necessarily scoring position for him.

To be fair, it should be noted that of Escobar’s four spring homers, one was an inside the park number.  That still leaves the other three.  In springs past, Escobar has hit one home run total and hit five in 635 major league at bats.  Three homers over the fence in 43 at bats is pretty remarkable for a guy who doesn’t project for a lot of power.

For his career as a professional, Escobar has just 27 homers in over 3000 at bats.  He’s not Jose Lind out there, but his career high of eight in Double A in 2009 is about a best-case scenario.

Or is it?

Of the three homers in spring, depending on who you ask, only one could be considered an “Arizona homer” – aided by the warmer conditions of spring.  Maybe I’m getting excited over nothing, but even the two homers are more than I’d expect from Escobar, especially in 2011 with his moving to the American League and playing half the time in Kauffman Stadium.

Perhaps, though, it’s not out of the question to see somewhere around seven or eight homers from him.  That’d put him around Yuniesky Betancourt‘s normal home run range (good luck seeing 16 from him this year, Brewers fans).  Considering he should (should) hit for better average and play better defense than Yuni could ever dream of, that’s a best-case scenario.  It’s accepted that Escobar may not hit much better than .270 and he’s not much more of an on-base guy than Betancourt.  He walks more, yes, but it’s a comparison of Escobar’s 5.8% walkrate to Betancourt’s 3.4% rate.  Yeah, Escobar’s better but he’s still well below league average.

I hate to keep picking on spring training stats, but while fans can (and do) read too much into them, so do players and even managers.  In 43 at bats against professional pitchers, Alcides Escobar has four home runs in 2011 spring training.  This is a fact.

Billy Butler has been successful on three stolen base attempts.  Fact.

They’re in the books and you can’t take them away, but what do you do with these facts now?  In naming him the top prospect for the Brewers in the 2010 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America’s scouts noted that Escobar can try to pull the ball too much if he’s trying to hit for power.  That’s not something you want from your potential #2 or #9 hitter.  Not with his speed.

Think of Willie Mays Hayes from Major League.  Any time Escobar hits the ball in the air or tries to pull it, Ned Yost needs to make him do some pushups.  And if Billy Butler tries to steal bases with a newly-earned green light, we’re going to have something to complain about besides GIDPs.

No, this is where coaching comes into play.  Escobar might see his stats and start trying to add power.  That’s where Kevin Seitzer steps in and points out what it’s doing to his approach.  If Butler steals more than one base in 2011, I’ll be shocked.  I’m sure if he attempts more than five, he’s going to get thrown out at least three times.

The more intriguing stat from spring also involves Escobar.  Let’s give him credit for the two homers over the wall.  Fine.  Maybe he got lucky on the third one that left the yard, and there’s no way to predict an inside the park homer.  He did it, it happened.  What shocks me is that in those 43 at bats, Escobar has struck out just once.

Now that’s something worth paying attention to.

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