Alcides Escobar played eight seasons for the Kansas City Royals and was an integral part of two World Series teams.
Escobar joined the Royals as part of the now famous Zack Greinke trade with the Brewers that also brought Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress to Kansas City. Odorizzi was eventually sent to the Rays in the deal that added James Shields and Wade Davis to the roster.
Statistically, Escobar was seldom good. For his career with the Royals, he slashed .259/.292/.344/.636. His best seasons by far were in 2012 (.292/.331/.390/.721) and 2014 (.285/.317/.377/.694), plus he was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner in 2015.
Still, Escobar was a key factor in the Kansas City Royals’ successes that led them to two World Series appearances and a championship. You could count on him playing every day, for better or worse. He only played in less than 155 games twice, and never less than in 140 games.
He also came through big-time in post-season play. In 31 games, he slashed .311/.326/.467/.793. He was the 2015 ALCS MVP when he slashed an incredible .478/.481/.652/1.134 in six games against the Blue Jays.
Defensive metrics didn’t know what to think about him either. According to Fangraphs, he accumulated an Ultimate Zone Rating of 21.3 at shortstop for the Royals, and that was deflated by a minus 9.2 in 2012. On the other hand, his Defensive Runs Saved mark was an abysmal minus 15 with the Royals, but that was INFLATED by a positive 10 in 2011.
With the naked eye, however, Escobar was fun to watch. He could make some spectacular plays, especially to his right. The metrics won’t reflect how exciting he could be if you watched the team play night after night.
One of the craziest stats of Escobar’s career is the fact he batted lead-off in 263 games, despite an On-Base Percentage of .281 while doing so. At times, his manager Ned Yost inexplicably insisted on batting him first or second (200 games hitting in the two-hole) when Escobar was obviously ill-suited for that role.
Escobar did offer speed (he stole 17 or more bases his first six seasons with Kansas City), though he never seemed to be the same on the base paths after Brett Lawrie slid into him hard early in the 2015 season. Escobar did steal 17 bases that year and the next, but it was a significant drop from his 31 swipes in 2014.
He could also bunt, wracking up 42 bunt hits in his career. He also had 121 infield hits in his eight seasons with Kansas City.
Historically, Escobar ranks as the second-best shortstop ever for the Kansas City Royals, behind only Freddie Patek. Both played in 1245 games, but Patek sported a Wins Above Replacement of 17.0 and Escobar earned a WAR of 10.7. The biggest thing in Escobar’s favor is he has a World Series ring.
Escobar’s legacy was tarnished a bit by the Royals re-signing him after a poor 2017 season. In 2018, he was awful, slashing a bleak .231/.279/.313/.593.
Yost insisted on playing him every day for more than half a season, then when Adalberto Mondesi forced himself into the lineup, Yost started Escobar at positions like third base and center field, places Escobar hadn’t played much if at all.
For a team rebuilding, this made little sense as all it did was steal developmental playing time for several younger Royals’ prospects.
While Escobar wasn’t as good as some of the star players around him, like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, and Cain, he was so important to the rise of the Royals in mid-decade and their runs at the World Series. His dependability and durability as a shortstop was a luxury not every team has, and it was a key to success.
Escobar deserved a bit more fanfare as his career in Kansas City came to an end last year. Yost’s use of him in 2018 was frustrating and may have left a sour taste in the mouths of fans toward Escobar.
The Kansas City Royals probably don’t win the 2015 World Championship without Alcides Escobar. The role he played not only that season but also for the role he played in making the Royals competitive again should not be understated. Fans will come to miss those incredible plays he would make at shortstop, and he is just another player from those fun teams that is no longer around.