Escobar struggled mightily last season, hitting just .234/.259/.300 and becoming the worst everyday Major League Hitter. He was an incredible 48% worse at the plate than just an average hitter, reminiscent of early Rey Ordonez. More than a few times, a visibly frustrated Escobar loafed to first after grounding to the shortstop, sometimes forgetting that a man on first had tried to break up a double-play.
Ned Yost tried to explain the frustration to McCullough:
When they know they’re struggling a little bit, they get in a hurry to get caught up and that tends to have guys swing earlier in the count. And that’s what he did.
If Yost plans to encourage Alcides Escobar to reduce the number of early swings, his message should be given carefully to the young shortstop or things might get even worse. Escobar is famous for jumping all over first pitch strikes. However, there is a reason for this.
On first pitches, Escobar hit .366 with a .512 SLG for an .878 OPS last season. If he got a first pitch strike, he only hit .235 with a .259 SLG on the next pitch. That is an incredible difference of 384 points of OPS. Even if that first pitch was out of the zone, he only hit .283 with a .391 SLG–a .674 OPS, more than a 200 point difference from his first pitch OPS. Even on 2-0 counts, Escobar hit less than .200 in 2013. The first pitch was just about the only thing he could hit well last season.
Compare that to Eric Hosmer last year. He had a 1.000 OPS on 0-0 counts, a .919 OPS on 0-1 counts and a .918 OPS on 1-0 counts–a difference of less than 90 points each. For his career, Hos has a .901 OPS on first pitches. After taking a first pitch strike, his OPS drops only to .786 (115 point loss). If he takes a ball, his OPS raises to 1.053 on the next pitch.
This isn’t just because Hosmer is a good hitter and Escobar isn’t.
The disparity in Mike Moustakas‘s counts aren’t as extreme as Escobar’s either. In his career, he has a .755 OPS on 0-0 counts. On 0-1 counts, his OPS drops less than 90 points to .661. It only drops to .705 on 1-0 counts, just 50 points.
Escobar’s success on first pitches put in play isn’t the whole story, of course. Sometimes he swings and fouls the ball off. Sometimes he swings and misses (rarely). But, for the most part, reducing the number of times he swings at first pitches is to take away the best part of his game.
Until last season, Escobar’s OPS only dropped off about 90 points on pitches after taking a strike, much like Hosmer or Moustakas. It was never so drastic as a 400 point decrease. However, he has never been a strong hitter. His best production comes on first pitches. Take that away and he’s a below average hitter in almost all other situations.
Making him patient on first pitches could make things worse.