The KC Royals acquired speedy outfielder Billy Burns in a trade with the Oakland A’s on Saturday. Will the new acquisition eventually push Alcides Escobar from the leadoff spot?
The immediate answer is no, because the Kansas City Royals assigned him to AAA Omaha. However, Burns is likely to at least get a September call-up to Kansas City.
Burns is having a tough year in 2016. He’s slashing a terrible .234/.270/.303 for Oakland before the A’s demoted him to AAA Nashville. However, Burns hit .294/.334/.392 with 18 doubles, 9 triples, and 5 home runs with 26 stolen bases in 125 games with the A’s in 2015. Clearly, Burns failed to adjust when major-league pitchers changed their approach to him this season.
However, the 26-year-old Burns has shown that his upside is as a full-time player who can hit from the no. 1 position. Add in outstanding defense in center-field, and Burns was a 2.8 bWAR player in 2015. That’s actually a pretty good player if Burns can come close to his rookie performance.
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The A’s suggest that they’re concerned that Burns’ rookie season was an anomaly by moving him for Brett Eibner. Burns’ ,339 BABIP (batting average balls in play) in 2015 was a tad high when you consider that most players hover around .300, but it wasn’t outrageous given his speed. For example. Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain carries a .345 BABIP over his seven-year career.
However, part of the reason for Burns collapse in 2016 is that his BABIP dropped to .261. That’s not going to last long term, especially for a player with his speed. That’s one of the reasons that the KC Royals acquired him: they believed Burns’ poor season was partially due to bad luck. They’re also gambling that Burns can find his upside. And even if he doesn’t, he still has similar skills to reserve outfielder Jarrod Dyson—who has proven very useful as a late inning replacement compiling 11.0 WAR in seven seasons.
If he can come close to his 2015 performance in the future, Billy Burns should finally knock Alcides Escobar from the leadoff spot. Escobar’s best full season saw him post a .331 On Base Percentage (OBP), which was less than Burns’ .339 in 2015. Over his career, Escobar only has a .297 OBP, which simply isn’t suitable for a guy that takes the largest number of at bats on the team.
I know, I know, KC Royals manager Ned Yost will probably find some reason to justify keeping Esky at the top of his lineup card. But, hey, I’m grasping at straws here trying to find SOMETHING positive about this season. The idea of no more Alcides Escobar at leadoff makes me happy. So deal with it.