May 4, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar (2) fields a ground ball against the Detroit Tigers during the eighth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Remember how, last year, Ned Yost had Alcides Escobar hitting second in 69 games? Despite being in the midst of his worst season in the major leagues, Escobar had 312 largely unproductive plate appearances as the second hitter in the 2013 Royals batting order. Perhaps this was a desire to get more speed at the top of the lineup, but Escobar’s .240/.274/.315 batting line was hardly the type of production that anyone wants from one of the tablesetters in a lineup.
Heading into Spring Training, there was a lot of talk about having Escobar remaining patient at the plate this season. He only saw 3.48 pitches per plate appearance, swinging early and often. That approach, which had success during his breakout 2012 season, just was not working any longer. Escobar had become too aggressive. Instead of pouncing on mistakes early in the count, he had begun to swing away at anything that appeared to be a strike, often resulting in weak contact.
This season, Alcides Escobar has been slightly more patient, seeing 3.65 pitches per plate appearance. He has more than doubled his walk rate during this young season, drawing a walk in 6.8% of his plate appearances, up from 3.0% last year. That patience has led to Escobar going back to being the type of hitter he had been back in 2012, as he has been pouncing on early mistakes and driving the ball. The 2014 version of Escobar is hitting line drives at a 26% rate, while getting an extra base hit in 8.8% of his at bats, both career highs.
While the season is still relatively young, this is the Escobar that the Royals had been hoping for. His Gold Glove caliber defense had been enough to keep him in the lineup, and his tremendous speed seemed as though it would be an asset if only Escobar could get on base. This year, he is doing exactly that, and has even become one of the better hitters on the Royals this year. With the struggles that the offense has had over all, Alcides Escobar has been a bright spot in the lineup.
With Omar Infante on the disabled list, the Royals need someone to fill the void as the second hitter in the lineup. Right now, that burden has fallen to Eric Hosmer; however, it may be better to keep him in the third spot in the lineup where he would be more of a run producer. Given that Escobar rarely strikes out and has been making solid contact this year, it may be time to move Escobar up to the second spot in the lineup. Pairing Escobar and Nori Aoki would give the middle of the lineup two fast runners to drive in, and may help jumpstart the offense.
Last year, Ned Yost was frequently second guessed for hitting Alcides Escobar second. This year, at least until Infante returns, that may be as solid move for the Royals lineup. It’s time to move Escobar back to the second spot in the lineup.