I’m going to let that soak in a bit.
Now, there are many, many, many problems with the Royals offense. Mike Moustakas, the team’s inability to hit home runs, the team’s inability to walk, Jeff Francoeur, the individuals playing second base, the team’s inability to put together consistent quality at-bats, the team’s inability to get a fly ball with the tying run on third and no outs in the bottom of the ninth, bunting in the first inning, and so on. I get it. Removing Escobar from the two-hole isn’t going to solve all the Royals problems.
But I wanted to take a little time and paint the picture of what an “ideal number two hitter” looks like to Ned Yost.
There seems to be this impression in the Royals managerial office Escobar is some kind wizard with the bat. This is interesting considering he is a career .264/.303/.354 hitter with a 79 OPS+. But I’m assuming what Yost remembers is the .293 hitter Escobar was last season, along with his 35 stolen bases in 40 attempts. Speed + batting average + bunting ability = perfection in the two-hole.
Remember the game we played at the beginning of the year where we took the last four seasons of Jeff Francoeur and asked “which of these things is not like the other?” Well, here’s the last four years of Escobar.
2010: 552 PA, .235/.288/.326 (.614 OPS), 6.5 BB%, .264 BAbip, age 23
2011: 598 PA, .254/.290/.343 (.633 OPS), 4.2 BB%, .285 BAbip, age 24
2012: 648 PA, .293/.331/.390 (.721 OPS), 4.2 BB%, .344 BAbip, age 25
2013: 310 PA, .251/.280/.337 (.616 OPS), 3.5 BB%, .273 BAbip, age 26
I think it is fair to say Escobar is a .250/.285/.340 hitter whose offensive production will directly correlate to the fluctuation in his BAbip.
.250/.285/.340 … speed … bunting ability.
This is Alcides Escobar at the plate, and the odds of it getting much better in the future seem low given that he is nearly developed as a player at age 26.
Now let’s compare this to two-hole hitters on some of the American League best offensive teams.
Dustin Pedroia, BOS
2013: .316/.396./.424 (.820 OPS), 12 BB%
Torii Hunter, DET
2013: .305/.351/.411 (.762 OPS), 5.2 BB%
Manny Machado, BAL
2013: .317/.347/.476 (.823 OPS), 4.2 BB%
Mike Trout, LAA
2013: .307/.383/.530 (.913 OPS), 10.8 BB%
Jason Kipnis, CLE
2013: .288/.368/.502 (.870 OPS) 11.1 BB%
Notice the five players above are actually pretty good hitters. Some may even go as far to say they are their team’s best non-home run hitters. In a couple of cases they may actually be their team’s best player.
All five of these guys are basically the every day two-hole hitters for their teams – teams that make up five of the top seven scoring offenses in the American League.
The median slash line for these guys is .307/.368/.476.
(Reminder: Escobar is a .251/.280/.337 hitter this season.)
But comparing Escobar to some of the best players in baseball really isn’t fair so let’s look at what the average American League team is getting out of their two-hole hitters.
AL Average Two-Hole production: .267/.330/.399 (.730 OPS)
Escobar is well below all three of those marks, so it shouldn’t surprise you to hear the Royals have received the fourth worst production out of their two-hole hitters in the American League.
Yost would probably tell you the Royals can’t score runs the way most teams do because they are built differently. This is true, the Royals don’t hit as many home runs as other teams which hinders their ability to score runs. So let’s see how Esky ranks in terms of OPS with the rest of the team to help figure out who the best hitters are to fill in at the top.
ROYALS OPS (min. 100 PAs)
To recap: Alcides Escobar is the ideal two-hole hitter, but he is not nearly as good as the two-hole hitters on the best offensive teams in the AL, is below average compared to all two-hole hitters in the AL, and ranks seventh on his own team in OPS. There is literally absolutely nothing to suggest Alcides Escobar ought to be getting the second most plate appearances on the team by batting second.
So why is Escobar the ideal two-hole hitter?
Maybe this quote can give us a window into Yost’s mind.
“[Gordon, Escobar, Hosmer, Butler, Perez, Moose] was exactly the lineup we envisioned when we opened the season,” Yost said. “We’ve struggled at times offensively, but I firmly, firmly believe that we’re going to be a much better offensive club in the second half than we were in the first half.”
It isn’t whether or not Escobar is a two-hole hitter, it is about whether or not Yost believes Escobar is a two-hole hitter. Just like the Royals believe Francoeur will return to 2011 form; believe Chris Getz is an every day second basemen; believe Luke Hochevar has turned the corner.
Guys, we simply have to learn to believe Alcides Escobar is one of the three or four best hitters on the team. If we believe in it hard enough it will happen, and the offense will begin to flood runs.
But please forgive me if I choose to favor the reality on the field and not the fantasy inside Yost’s head.