Alcides Escobar’s 2015 included an All-Star Game start, a Gold Glove, an ALCS MVP, and a World Series Championship. What is next for the 29-year old?
As the Kansas City Royals enter Spring Training, Kings of Kauffman will release a series of articles on the 25-man roster. We will be going through each individual player, including the locks, bubble players, and a few prospects. We will progress through the roster from the top down, continuing with the projected starting lineup.
So far, we have looked at Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, Danny Duffy, Kris Medlen, Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria, Wade Davis, Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Omar Infante, Christian Colon, and Mike Moustakas
Today, we will be looking at Alcides Escobar
2015 stats – .257/.293/.320, 3 HR, 47 RBI, 17 SB, 67 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR
2016 Steamer – .262/.297/.345, 4 HR, 48 RBI, 19 SB, 74 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR
Projected Role – Starting Shortstop
For full disclosure, I love Alcides Escobar. He has been one of my favorite players since he came to the Royals.
I actually really like his swing and am a firm believer in the need for durability and defensive value up the middle, which Escobar has always brought the Royals.
In fact, of the 810 games the Royals have played with Alcides Escobar on roster, he has only missed 29. That’s pretty remarkable, given the grueling nature of his position and the inherited grind of any major league season.
If you add postseason games, Escobar has played in 812 games over his five year stint with the Royals, which comes out to exactly 162 games per season.
Maybe the extensive workload is why he has been so bad at the plate.
And when I say bad, I mean bad. Did you read the above stat line? The .293 OBP (from a leadoff hitter) and 67 wRC+ are equally brutal.
He also walked in just 4% of his plate appearances, due to his swing-at-everything approach, swinging at 36% of out of zone pitches (league average is 31%). His swing percentage alone is 52%, or 5% higher than league average. That’s ordinarily not a good formula for a leadoff hitter.
However, being the maddened genius that he is, Yost continued to stick Escobar in the leadoff spot, and it payed off in a big way come playoff time.
If you will remember, we were all riveted throughout the 2015 postseason by Escobar swinging at the first pitch he saw when leading off the game. By the time the Royals were fighting for a world championship, it became a life or death thing for Royals twitter.
If he swung at the first pitch, the Royals were going to win the game, and that often was the case.
Escobar lead off each of the first four ALCS games with first pitch hits, with a double in game one, a single in game two, a triple in game three, and a bunt single in game four.
Apparently not catching the hint after seeing just six pitches in those four at-bats to start games, Matt Harvey threw Escobar a fastball for a strike to begin game one of the 2015 World Series.
Escobar drove that pitch to the left-center gap of Kauffman Stadium and came around to score on an inside-the-park home run after Yoenis Cespedes misplayed the ball in center field.
Overall, Escobar hit .329 in the 2015 postseason, all from the leadoff spot, driving his career postseason batting average up to .310. The Royals won the World Series, after Escobar won the ALCS MVP, and preceded to win his first Gold Glove after the season ended.
Escobar was a postseason hero in route to the Royals first World Series Championship since 1985.
That doesn’t negate the fact, however, that he was atrocious hitter at the plate in 2015.
Some of that could have been Salvador Perez syndrome. Escobar hit .290 in the first half, before hitting .220 in the second half.
That isn’t too surprising, considering the workload Escobar encounters, day-in and day-out. He very well could have just worn down in the second half.
You also have to remember that he was coming off a 2014 season in which he played in all 162 Royals regular season games, while also participating in 15 playoff games.
Those 177 games are by far the most he has ever participate in as a professional.
Going into 2016, will be coming off another season of extra-heavy workload, playing in 164 games in 2015.
Offensively, it’s hard to expect anything different from Escobar, approach wise.
Which means that his production will be highly dependent on him finding holes.
For his career, Escobar has been incredibly BABIP-dependent. 70% of his career batted balls were either hit on the ground or on a line. With little to no power, only 2.6% of his flyballs leave the yard.
If you look at Escobar’s career, season by season, you’ll see that each of his productive seasons offensively (2012, 2014) were accompanied by a strikingly high BABIP (.344, .326, respectively).
If the pattern continues, Escobar is due for a pretty good season. But BABIP is as hard as any stat to predict.
With all that being said, Escobar will still have value in 2016 because he’s going to be an elite defender at an elite position, which makes me basically dismiss my angst at his offensive game.
In fact, if the Royals would just plug Escobar into the nine-hole, I would never complain about his offensive output again, because he’s that good at shortstop.
In his six full seasons as a major leaguer, Escobar has only posted an fWAR below one just once, being his rookie season.
He has done this despite the fact that he has posted a offensive fWAR of -18.5 or worse in four of those six seasons.
Which is pretty incredible considering that the system emphasizes offensive production in a players value.
Since 2010, just five shortstops have posted a better defensive fWAR than Escobar’s 59.8 Since 2011, only Salvador Perez has posted a higher defensive fWAR than Escobar’s 51.3 as a Royal. During that same time period, Escobar has made 409 more plays than the next highest Royal, and only Alex Gordon has made more out of zone plays than Escobar’s 393.
He also totes the second highest fWAR of all-time by Royals shortstops, trailing only Freddie Patek.
It’s also easy to forget that his primary offensive value has ultimately been in his speed, ranking 10th all-time in Royals history with 131 stolen bases, while ranking sixth all time BsR (base running runs above average).
Escobar will likely open the season in the leadoff spot and will likely struggle from that spot.
However, he will still be one of the more valuable players on the roster.
Defense up the middle is as important as it gets for a team built around defense and the Royals trio of Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain are as good as any team in baseball up the middle.
Escobar has been an irreplaceable cog in that trio, and until Raul Mondesi develops, will remain as such.