KC Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar had quite the year during the 2015 season. He was named to his first All-Star Game, was the American League Championship Series MVP and finally won his first Gold Glove award. It was certainly a year to remember for Escobar.
In fact, there is now the thought that Escobar is among the elite at his position. It is certainly understandable to see where such a thought would come from, given his stellar defensive play and how he performed during the playoffs. Escobar batting leadoff also has a strange effect upon the Royals, as they tend to win when he is atop the lineup and swinging at the first pitch.
While Escobar has had the occasional decent season with the bat, he is still not exactly a great hitter. His career batting line of .262/.298/.344 has been enough for an OPS+ of 76. That career mark is still better than what Escobar produced in 2015, where he had a .257/.293/.320 batting line, for an OPS+ of a mere 68.
Looking at Alcides Escobar’s Wins Above Replacement, he not only does not rate as an elite player, but as someone who has typically been a bench player throughout his career. Escobar has had only three seasons above 1.0 WAR, out of his six full seasons in the majors, according to baseballreference.com. This past year, the KC Royals shortstop was worth only 0.6 WAR, a mark surpassed by Jason Frasor during his tenure with the Royals and equalled by Christian Colon.
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This is not to minimize what Escobar contributes to the Royals. His defense has been stellar, even if the metrics from this past season do not back that up. The Royals win when he is atop the lineup, even if, statistically, he would be the wrong choice. Escobar is one of those players whose intangibles, something which helped make the Royals great over the past two seasons, far outweigh his overall performance.
However, those intangibles do not make Escobar elite. While his glove is amongst the best in baseball, his offense more than leaves something to be desired. Escobar’s .614 OPS ranked last among major league shortstops that qualified for the batting title, and was was the second worst in baseball, ahead of only Chris Owings. Escobar may have an elite tool in his glove, but to truly be in that class of shortstop overall, he would need to have the offensive package as well.
Alcides Escobar is the type of player that thrives with the KC Royals, and what he certainly provides more than the numbers would indicate. He is not, however, an elite player despite his amazing defense.