2018 Royals Season Preview – Alcides Escobar

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 29: Alcides Escobar
KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 29: Alcides Escobar /

Alcides Escobar has long been the defensive wizard (and offensive catastrophe) the Royals have grown to love. At the conclusion of the 2017 regular season, it appeared as if he’d likely played his final game with the club. After being brought back on a one-year contract, there’s been a change of plans. The ultra-durable shortstop may be in for something close to 162 games again in 2018. 

If you haven’t read my Kings of Kauffman season preview for Salvador Perez, I highly recommend it. Each article will have a link to a previous season preview in the first main body paragraph: just click on the player’s name. Perez is expected to be the face of the Royals (pending an old friend returning) this season, but there is one of the “core-four” that has already returned to the team: Alcides Escobar. The 31-year-old shortstop has been an outstanding defender for the Royals the past seven years and has played in all 162 regular-season games in three of his past four years.

In a shocking move Monday, the Royals announced their re-signing of Escobar for the upcoming 2018 season. The deal is for just this year and has a base salary of $2.5 million. Built-in incentives can bring the total value of the contract up to $4 million. Escobar will start at shortstop this season, indicating Raúl Mondesí will spend another year in the minor leagues if he fails to impress the club in Spring Training. One thing is for certain: we know what we’re going to get when Alcides Escobar takes the field.

What did he offer last season?

We’ll start with the good. Escobar played in all 162 games last season for the Royals, being one of just five players who did so. He also had the third-best range factor among American League shortstops in 2017. There’s only one good thing I can say about the bat: Escobar hit a career-high 36 doubles last season. Okay, now let’s get to the bad.

By OPS (on-base plus slugging) standards, Escobar was the third-worst hitter in all of baseball last year. Just in case you were wondering, Alex Gordon had the lowest OPS in the game. Escobar saw his batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS all fall from the year prior. He also hit one fewer home run and drove in one fewer run in 2017 than he did in 2016. Hits and walks were down while strikeouts were up.

One final thing to mention: baserunning. Escobar stole 17 bases in 21 opportunities two years ago but saw that number drop to just four stolen bases in 11 opportunities last year. A shortstop who bats .250 and has an on-base percentage of .272 is almost useless at the plate. A shortstop who does the aforementioned and can’t steal bases is a problem, regardless of his defensive abilities.

What can we expect in 2018?

Steamer is not too high on Escobar this season, whether it’s games played or performance in those contests:

  • 112 games played (down from 162)
  • .256 BA (up from .250)
  • 5 HR (down from 6)
  • 38 RBI (down from 54)
  • .289 OBP (up from .272)
  • .351 SLG (down from .357)

If you project these numbers for 162 games instead of 112, you’d be looking at 7 HR and 55 RBI. Escobar’s 2017 season did not leave me any hope for this year, especially after considering he recently turned 31. That’s not old in baseball years, but that age tends to be the start of a decline for a lot of players. I’m going to take the over on games played and RBIs, but slightly under on everything else. I’d like to see Escobar’s play improve a bit this season, but I’m not banking on it nor expecting it.

The verdict

Alcides Escobar is durable. He’s dependable. His defensive ability doesn’t give a free pass to his atrocious bat, but it makes the damage a bit less severe. It’s hard to find much value for a shortstop who is only good at one part of his game (not a good hitter or baserunner anymore), but the team evidently thought highly enough of him to bring him back for another season. It’ll be interesting to see if he finishes the season as the starting shortstop but other than that, the only attention-grabbing part of Escobar’s game in 2018 will be his jaw-dropping plays on defense:

What do you think, Royals fans? Is Alcides in for a resurgence? Will the bat get even worse? Something in between? Let us know what you have to say!