Virtually everyone in Kansas City likes Alcides Escobar. He may not be able to hit, but, hey, watch these plays from just the last five or six weeks: He goes left. He goes right. He goes up! Behind the bag, in front of the bag, and look how much arm he has:
Shortstops who make those plays do not need to hit. If he hits .240 the rest of the year and never breaches .300 OBP, fine. He just needs to keep collecting web gems like Boy Scout badges. It’s all good…
Unless he bats second.
Just to be clear, this isn’t Escobar’s fault. NO ONE should blame him or take it out on him when he comes up in the ninth, in a high-leverage situation, and pops up, strikes out, or grounds into a double play. He’s not a good hitter; of course that’s what will happen. This is Ned Yost‘s fault. He believes Escobar is the “ideal” two-spot hitter. As deftly pointed out on this site when Yost made the announcement, no he isn’t, and Yost needs to stop pretending that if Escobar gets “a” hit in the two-hole, that it is proof of success. In his career, Esky has a full season’s worth of plate appearances in the two-hole and has hit .254/.291/.335. Even last year, in what Yost probably thinks was some kind of breakout year for him, he only batted .264/.303/.347 in the two-hole. In fact, it sure seems that this guy is the career .249/.303/.328 hitter that he is. It’s like he’s a shortstop or something.
Ned has managed baseball long enough to know where .249/.303/.328 hitters should bat in the lineup. Ninth. They should bat last, in the bottom of the order where their chances of getting additional plate appearances are limited, because they can’t hit. To see how lost Yost seems to get–putting Escobar and Chris Getz and Elliot Johnson at the top of the lineup–this must be a difficult concept to grasp so listen carefully boys and girls, bad hitters don’t get on base and therefore don’t score. So, once more for the mangers, with more intensity: they should bat last in the lineup. Another thing while we’re at it, players who hit a lot of grounders, like, for instance, and just to pull a totally random name out of a hat for an example, Alcides Escobar (1.25 ground out to air out ratio), should not bat behind players who frequently get on base because it results in more double plays. Again, in a totally random “for instance,” he should not bat behind, say, Alex Gordon.
Alas, Ned Yost refuses to respond to data. He eschews all well-argued strategies the moment he feels secure. The Royals’ statistical analysts provided him with an optimized lineup that he quickly discarded when the team ended their miserable month of June. Why do the Royals even bother hiring data analysts if their data will be ignored or, perhaps a better question is, why keep a manager who ignores data? So, how is it possible to convince someone who ignores data and instead insists upon operating according to archaic performance standards like the ever-indistinct “bat control,” and “gut” intuition.
Maybe Yost will respond to his peers. If he’s determined to subscribe to “conventional wisdom,” maybe he’ll notice what other managers do with their poor-hitting shortstops. Compare these guys to Escobar, who has a .263/.303/.352 career slash.
First off, Jed Lowrie (.261/.336/.419), Jhonny Peralta (.267/.330/.424), Jose Reyes (.292/.342/.441), Ian Desmond (.272/.313/.437), Jean Segura (.304/.344/.447), Evereth Cabrera (.254/.334/.346), and Jimmy Rollins (.270/.328/.429) are good enough hitters to earn higher spots in the lineup. Some of them even bat in the heart of the order.
Houston’s Marwin Gonzalez (.232/.280/.332) bats ninth.
Minnesota’s Pedro Florimon (.222/.283/.313) bats ninth.
Seattle’s Brendan Ryan (.239/.301/.321) bats ninth.
Boston’s Stephen Drew (.233/.313/.409) bats eighth.
St. Louis’s Pete Kozma (.256/.308/.355) bats eighth in front of the pitcher.
Pittsburgh’s Clint Barmes (.204/.236/.275) bats eighth.
Mets’ Ruben Tejada (.261/.326/.321) had some on-base skills until this year, so the manager did what needed to be done and started batting him eighth.
Miami’s Adeiny Hechavarria (.230/.267/.322) bats seventh on the worst team in baseball history.
Tampa Bay Rays’ Yunel Escobar (.279/.350/.387) mostly bats ninth, but used to get on base enough to justify a spot higher in the order. This year, he is hitting like Alcides, so he’s in the nine-hole.
Cubs’ Starlin Castro (.286/.325/.409) is a decent hitter having a bad year (.265 OBP), so he’s starting to see some playing time at the bottom of the order.
Yankees’ Jayson Nix (.236/.303/.304) bats second a lot (even though the vast majority of his plate appearances come in the bottom of the order). The team isn’t scoring and is riddled with injuries, so it really doesn’t matter where he bats.
Angels’ Erick Aybar (.279/.319/.386) bats mostly leadoff this year, and isn’t a bad hitter, but his spot in the lineup has to do with injuries. Last season, he batted 7th or 8th.
White Sox’s Alexei Ramirez (.277/.315/.403) bats second because their team only has two players who have an OPS+ above 100. Adam Dunn and Alex Rios both have 103, which is terrible for a first baseman and a right fielder.
Rangers’ Elvis Andrus (.271/.337/.345) bats mostly second because he had a high OBP until this year. The two hole wasn’t a bad fit for him. This year, he’s stayed in the two-whole because Ron Washington can take any first place team and manage them into second place, like last year.
Reds’ Zack Cozart (.248/.284/.397) has pop for a shortstop and only bats second because Dusty Baker is good at managing strong rosters badly. With Choo and Votto on the team, this is almost as ridiculous as batting Escobar second.
In recap, here’s where other managers have placed their poor-hitting shortstops in the lineup:
Top of the order: 4
Bottom of the order: 11
Most other managers seem to know that batting a poor hitter in the two-hole is what baseball insiders call “a bad idea.”
This was probably the wrong way to attempt to convince Yost of his folly, because Ned Yost is not one to be pushed around by pathetic peer pressure. Nay! He is a man of integrity! Determination! Resolve! By God, if everyone else thinks it’s a bad idea, he’ll dig in twice as hard and point out every example where Escobar came up late in the game and pulled through. Sure, it hasn’t happened so far, but, you know, whatever. Shut up. When Escobar has gotten a fifth plate appearance, he struck out in the ninth inning with runners on first and second on July 2, he flew out with a runner on second on June 30, he flew out to end the game on June 29, same thing the night before. But when he does come up with a hit in his fifth plate appearance, someday, Ned Yost will be right there waiting to gloat. Well…he doesn’t really brag much, but he will be gloating with his eyes.
Perhaps someone should remind Yost that Eric Hosmer won’t get as many RBIs without a hitter in front of him who gets on base. That might be a good enough “old school,” conventional explanation to get him to change his mind.
*data through Wednesday July 3, 2103.