Cricket? (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
On June 3rd Alcides Escobar was hitting .203/.237/.236. Even with great defense, a .472 OPS is unacceptable and, eventually, unplayable. An empty .300 player is not very valuable offensively, an empty .200 is... well, either a pitcher or someone who should seriously consider becoming one.
That was the low point for Alcides, who in the three weeks that has followed, has randomly hit like peak career Cal Ripken or Derek Jeter on a hot streak. In his last 21 games (82 PAs) Escobar has hit an unfathomable .370/.425/.534. I'm not sure which one of those numbers is the most shocking, but in a pinch, I'll go with the slugging number, which is staggering. In three weeks worth of baseball, Escobar has homered, tripled twice, and hit five doubles. Sure, we know that hitters will have wild batting average swings all the time (which is part of the reason why batting average is a generally bad stat to look at) and clearly that's happened here. The scary thing back in May was that Escobar legitimately looked like a .450 OPS level hitter.
We need to avoid the gambler's fallacy here. This isn't Escobar making up, somehow, for two bad months. It doesn't work that way. If his true level is as a .600 OPS hitter, he's not being pulled by the invisible hand of probability to end up with that line, even if it takes an insane two months. He's just ended up here in an extreme way.
The crazy thing is that Escobar's cumulative offensive numbers are still awful. His season triple slash is just .246/.286/.312, good for an OPS+ of 70 and a wOBA of .270. What he has done, is get himself above replacement level. Fangraphs WAR gives him full credit for being awesome with the glove and adjusts for the fact that he's a SS. By their metrics, he's been worth 1.1 wins above replacement this year. As must be said, that's above replacement not above average.
On multiple occasions this season I wrote that I was concerned about Escobar's offense, which again, was miserable. He's put a nice stretch together, and the power numbers, while mostly meaningless in so small a sample, at least suggest the possibility of some juice in his bat. As the pitchers begin to make their next round of adjustments, we'll see if Escobar returns to being a pitcher at the plate, or if he can maximize his talents and be merely a poor hitting shortstop.