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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.