He can't. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
This post was originally published on Saturday. Alcides Escobar has since upped his line to .207/.241/.240.
Alcides Escobar is now hitting .204/.239/.239 in 2011. Forget about the batting average for a second, and look at the OBP and SLG. With a .239 OBP Escobar is a bonafide out-machine, an absolute killer in the lineup. OBP is the single most important offensive stat, and .239 is a nearly unimaginable number for an everyday player. If you want to match it to batting average in terms of a perceived impact, I'd say it's close to a .150 or a .100 batting average (not mathematically, just conceptually, for old-school baseball men like those employed by the Royals).
The slugging is also completely atrocious and also at .239. Escobar's lack of power illustrates just how little hard contact he's made. He's a fast guy and Kauffman Stadium is a good park of doubles and triples, but with only seven doubles on the season, Escobar isn't taking advantage of either.
By Fangraphs WAR, which a) accounts for his defense and b) gives him bonus points for being a SS and c) is adjusted for the league scoring environment, Escobar is still below replacement level, posting a -0.3 WAR. B-R is a little more positive, valuing him at just a tick above replacement level. Again, that's replacement level, not average. He's hurting the team.We often hear about how guys like Escobar are real boons to young pitchers... which I guess is nice because we all want to see how Sean O`Sullivan, Kyle Davies, Jeff Francis and the like "develop."
I'm all for valuing defense, but there's a marked tendency to vastly overstate it. Yes, Ned, even if we give him bonus points for the number of hits he takes away, he's still not good. Not when he's an outs ulcer of this size. But it's like poor hitting catchers, there's almost a bravado thing within the game: the more inept your SS is at the plate, the more of a true baseball team you are.
Make no mistake, I'm all for playing Escobar this season. I am however, starting to get worried, or rather, I've stayed worried. Baseball history is littered with all-glove, no-hit SSes, just like it's littered with AAA hitters like Kila Ka'aihue. The physical skillset to be a great defensive SS doesn't translate to being a good hitter, and this has been true for over 100 years. Like Kila, I think the worthless 2011 is an acceptable space to let Escobar flail away in.
However, there's a space between letting Escobar play and playing him into the ground. Ned Yost, who is turning into an odder manager by the second, has backed himself into a corner regarding Escobar, to the detriment of the team. Yes, Escobar should play five or six times a week, but that doesn't mean he has to bat in the 8th or 9th inning of every close game. Had PHing for Escobar not been very gently asked about by the KC media a few weeks ago, we likely would have seen Yost start doing it. But, because Yost made a number of bravado-laden and irrational statements about the matter, he's now left himself with nowhere to go.
A player who puts himself in front of the team is the worst thing imaginable in pro sports. A manager doing the same should be inconceivable, since he can't even positively help the team win by doing well himself, unlike a player. That's what Ned Yost is doing in this situation. He doesn't want to lose face and appear to backtrack, so the team's chance of winning is going down.
There's a middle ground between playing the young guys and still trying to win on a banal Wednesday night in Minnesota. If it was really all about the former over the latter, why not place all the starters on a rigorous pitch count (in a positive sense)? Team's losing 5-2 in the 5th, it doesn't matter Hochevar, you're going out to throw another 20 pitches. Why not have Danny Duffy throw prescribed pitches, regardless of the opponent or situation? Why not bench Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur for younger options? Why not give every guy in the bullpen a chance at closing? And on and on.
The problem is that it is Yost who has made this an issue. Had Yost simply given a generic answer back in May, then quietly started subbing for Escobar a few games later, the entire matter would have gone away. Trust me, Escobar knows he can't hit. Yost has stupidly framed Escobar's usage as if any slight variation is a massive slight to his confidence and development, which is incredibly silly. However, one of these days, Escobar is going to get a weak single in the 9th inning, and we'll have two days of crowing about it. "He's learned how to be clutch! The patience paid off!" Gag.
These guys are player development gurus.