The Kansas City Royals are coming off their best season since 1989, and are looking to improve on their 86 wins in 2013. Going forward, we are going to take a closer look at the players that should play significant roles for the Royals in 2014, as they try to make their first post season appearance since winning the World Series in 1985.
If you want read the other completed profiles, just click here. This link will be updated as we add more profiles over the upcoming weeks.
Today, we take a look at the Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar.
Going into the 2013 season, the question about Alcides Escobar was whether the gains he made in 2012 were for real. Was he the hitter the Royals saw in 2011 or the hitter who showed great improvement in 2012.
As the Royals enter 2014, they now hope Escobar isn’t really as bad at the plate as he looked last year. The worst case scenario was realized last season. Not only was he unable to match his numbers from 2012, but he could not even produced at the rate he did in 2011.
Here is his slash lines for the past three seasons, all of his time with Kansas City:
2011 – .254/.290/.343/.633
2012 – .293/.331/.390/.721
2013 – .234/.259/.300/.559
Escobar was flat out a new kind of awful last season. In all of Major League Baseball in 2013, 140 hitters had enough at bats to qualify for the batting title. Of those, Escobar ranked 127th in average, dead last (by a long way) in On Base Percentage, 139th in Slugging Percentage, and dead last in OPS.
There is little argument that Escobar was the worst hitter in the Major Leagues, yet he had the 24th most at bats. This combination is not a good one. The fact the Royals allowed this to happen is an indication they are not either not paying attention, or they felt they had no other options at shortstop. Neither answer makes the Royals look very good.
One of the most frustrating aspects of Escobar’s approach at the plate is his total lack of plate discipline. In his career, with 2,578 plate appearances, he has walked just 111 times, and he has 346 strikeouts. In 2012 alone, he struck out 100 times.
According to Fangraphs, Escobar has a career walk rate of 4.3%, and a strikeout rate of 13.4%. For a hitter with only 136 career extra base hits, these numbers are almost unfathomable.
This is what makes it so disturbing that Ned Yost felt that Escobar was the best choice to bat first or second in nearly half the games last season. Escobar batted in one of the top two slots in the batting order in 74 games last season. The mere fact Yost gave him 334 empty plate appearances at the top of the order should have been a fire-able offense.
Luckily, there is more to Escobar than a noodle bat. He is an outstanding defensive player, a real joy to watch. In 2012, when he was actually hitting like a major league baseball player, his glove was inconsistent. That season, his Ultimate Zone Rating (Fangraphs) was a brutal -13.5. This was after a very good UZR of 9.6 in 2011.
Escobar did not carry his hitting woes with him to the field though. Last season, he did returned to form defensively, earning a UZR of 10.9, an excellent mark (Golden Glover J.J. Hardy earned a 6.0.).
2012 looks like it might be an outlier both offensively and defensively.
What does this mean for 2014? Escobar is the everyday shortstop for the Royals. Period. He is under contract through 2015. The Royals are paying him $3 million in each of the next two seasons. The Royals have an option to retain him for $5.25 million in 2016, and $6.5 million in 2017. For the short term though, the Royals have to hope he can return to at least his 2011 offensive levels, and maintain his defensive excellence he displayed in 2011 and 2013.
Escobar is a lot of fun to watch defensively, game in and game out. He is fantastic with the glove when he is focused. At some point, though, his glove isn’t good enough to make up for offensive numbers as bad as he produced last season.
If Escobar doesn’t recover some of his skills at the plate, and Adalberto Raul Mondesi develops into the player the Royals are expecting, Kansas City will have a decision on their hands as early as 2016. The Royals need Escobar to play well enough for it to be a tough decision.