Monday, April 29, 2013

Alcides Escobar Deserves Your Attention

            Amid the overall admirable performance of the starting rotation, one position player having a fantastic season of note is Alcides Escobar.  You might think to yourself “Hey, he’s not Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, or Frenchy, so I don’t know him”.  Or, you might know him because he’s our every day shortstop.  If you don’t know him, you will.

            After 98 plate appearances, Escobar’s triple slash line thus far is .303/.351/.472.  His career triple slash is .267/.309/.362.  Escobar’s current BB% is 7.1%, while his career BB% is 4.9%.  Escobar’s current K% is 7.1% as well, while his career K% is 13.2%.  Therefore, offensive numbers indicate that Escobar is on pace for a career best year in offensive performance.  It’s only April, though, so how much of his performance might stick is another issue.

            When a player is having an offensive performance like Escobar, there are a few indicators to look for in determining if the performance is “real” or not.  First, BABIP.  Surprisingly, Escobar’s BABIP is at .300 for this season, which is in line with his career BABIP of .303.  Escobar’s elevated offensive performance does not appear to be due to blind luck.

Related to BABIP is batted ball data.  Escobar’s line drive rate is a little higher than his career value, but slightly less than in 2012.  Escobar’s GB% is lower than 2012 and his FB% is higher than in 2012.  These three items explain his lower BABIP in 2013, but his 2013 rates are in line with his career rates.  Escobar’s elevated offensive performance doesn’t appear to be related to a shift in batted balls*.

*One thing to note is that he has hit 3 home runs so far this year, and in general his power numbers are higher than in previous years.  I do not know yet if his power increase will hold over the season because HR/FB% usually hovers around league average for most players, and Escobar’s is above average at the moment.  Also, home runs do not count in BABIP since they are technically not in play.

            Another indicator to look at is plate discipline.  Escobar’s BB% and K% are greatly improved over his career values.  While it is April, BB% and K% tend to stabilize more quickly than other stats, which suggests that Escobar has made real improvement in that area.  Other plate discipline indicators to look at are swing% and contact%.  Unfortunately, Escobar’s O-swing%, which measures the rate of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, is at 39%, which is much higher than his career value of 33%.  Escobar is also making contact on those outside the zone pitches more than in previous years.  In fact, Escobar’s general contact% is higher than in previous years.  Escobar’s increased swing% and increased contact% is interesting considering his increased BB%, which would normally indicate that he is taking more pitches, not swinging more.  I think more time is needed to resolve this contradiction.

Escobar’s elevated offensive performance appears to be due to making more contact than in previous years.  Since Escobar has a fairly solid distribution of batted balls, he will likely hold his BABIP at its current value.  If Escobar starts whiffing on pitches outside the strike zone more, his contact rate could fall and his K% could rise.  If this happens, his offensive production will fall. 

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