Sometimes, there are things that work without explanation, when all the evidence available suggests that such a move should be a disaster. Alcides Escobar leading off for the KC Royals is one of those inexplicable happenings.
When one imagines the perfect leadoff hitter, there are certain characteristics that come to mind. One would expect patience, as that batter would work the count and see quite a few pitches. The ability to get on base, either through a hit or a walk, would be important as well. Excellent speed would be great, but is not a must, just so long as the player does not clog the basepaths.
Alcides Escobar has one of those three traits. A player with a career .298 on base percentage, Escobar is not the type of player that one would typically imagine in that leadoff role. However, just like the KC Royals ability to win playoff games when down by two or more runs heading into the eighth inning, some things just defy explanation.
Given the Royals success with Escobar in the leadoff role last season and through the playoffs, it is not a surprise that Escobar will be returning to that role to begin the 2016 campaign. Even with the questions about who will be hitting behind him in the batting order, the key to the Royals continuing their success may rest upon the first pitch swinging tendencies of their light hitting shortstop.
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Just look at how the Royals performed with Escobar leading off. They were 82-54 with him atop the batting order, and went through their rough patch when he was removed from that spot in favor of Ben Zobrist and Alex Gordon. Even if the general consensus, and Escobar’s statistics, would indicate otherwise, the Royals were a much better team with him leading off.
With the Royals heading into the 2016 season looking to repeat as World Series champions, it is no surprise that Ned Yost would want to keep things as close to the same as they were last year. Escobar atop the lineup resulted in wins, and his swinging at the first pitch had become a mystical portent of victory. There is no need to fix that which is not broken.
Maybe it does not make sense, but does it have to? Alcides Escobar leads to victory when he bats leadoff, and until that changes, that is where he should stay in the KC Royals lineup.