Monday, November 11, 2013

Where Escobar's Poor Offense Is Explained

Alcides Escobar started 2013 almost right where he left off in 2012. In March and April, Escobar hit .286/.330/.439 with a .287 BABIP. Things were looking great. It appeared that his good offensive performance in 2012 would continue in 2013. However, that's not how the rest of 2013 turned out. Escobar's season went downhill very quickly after the initial start. Escobar's BABIP did decrease after that initial month, but it did not decrease very much. Escobar's horrible offensive season had other factors behind it. 

His plate discipline numbers are telling. His BB% and K% were at good levels (6.5% and 8.4%, respectively) compared to career values. That should have been a red flag, however. Escobar had never had a K% below 10% in either the minor leagues or MLB. Escobar last showed a BB% of at least 6.5% in 2010 with the Brewers; Escobar's BB% was 4.2% in both 2011 and 2012. The regression bat was coming, and it hit hard. After that initial month, Escobar's BB% plummeted to levels below his already-low career values, and his K% went back up to his career value. Escobar swung at pitches outside the strike zone far more than his career values, which means weak contact (lower BABIP), whiffs, and fewer walks. If Escobar is to have a rebound in his walk rate and improvement in his strikeout rate, he has to lay off pitches outside the zone. 
The other factor that helps explain the reduction in BABIP is his batted ball distribution. Escobar's GB% fell to 46%, which was far below his 2012 value of 53.3% and below his career value of 49.4%. Almost all of the reduction in GB% went to an increase in FB%. Escobar is a fast runner with little power, so he should really favor ground balls over fly balls. Interestingly, his LD% remained at 23%, which is exactly the same as in 2012. If Escobar can turn some of those fly balls back into grounders, his BABIP should recover to somewhere around league average. 
FanGraphs posts projected stats for the next season on their player pages. There is only one projection system on their website right now (more will come throughout the offseason), and it's called Steamer. This projection system has Escobar producing a .261/.297/.353 batting line with a .295 BABIP, which is not far from the average offensive output of shortstops. This is a very reasonable expectation from him. As a shortstop who is very good defensively, Escobar can be about an average player in terms of fWAR with a batting line such as that. The Steamer projection has him at 1.7 WAR in 130 games, which would be a solid improvement over 2013 and would be right around average. Considering his contract, Escobar can be merely average while still giving good value. 

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