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Alcides Escobar, Utility Player

Alcides Escobar would make a fantastic utility player, which ought to be his main role with the Royals.

Probably should get in front of the ball, Esky
Probably should get in front of the ball, Esky
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Quick, who is the most overrated Royal on the team?

Eric Hosmer would be a great candidate; his defense is overrated compared to defensive metrics (both advanced and traditional) despite his Gold Glove, though fans seem to be realistic about his streaky hitting.  Other candidates include bland players that are somehow exalted by the media such as Bruce Chen, Jeremy Guthrie, or Omar Infante.  One could make an argument that Salvador Perez is overrated by the media despite being excellent; for instance, since 2011, he's only been the 11th most valuable catcher by fWAR in Major League Baseball.

However, I don't think any of those guys are the most overrated, though they all might present a decent case.  My vote for most overrated Royal would be Alcides Escobar.  When you hear broadcasters or media refer to Escobar, you get the impression that he's an above average shortstop, a defensive wizard with surprising offensive skills who makes the Royals better.  Realistically, though, neither of those assertions is true.

Escobar is, to put it bluntly, bad at hitting the baseball in pretty much every facet of the game.  His career line is .261/.298/.347 and he has a wRC+ of 74 in 2943 plate appearances over 7 seasons.  He doesn't hit much, as he has a .260 average, but does not get on base either, sporting an awful 4.3 BB%.  He has all of 20 career HR and a .086 ISO.  And it's not just that shortstops don't hit well, either; among all qualifying shortstops since 2010 (Escobar's first year as a starter), he ranks 38 out of 44 in wRC+.  His one offensive 'skill' is that his career strikeout rate is a low 13.6%, but that's not very important if he does nothing else well.

Another thing about his offense?  It's entirely BABIP driven, which is to say, luck driven.  If he's having a good year in regards to batted balls in play, he's having a good offensive season.  As luck is a major factor in BABIP, it is one of the least controllable factors of offensive performance and thus makes Escobar a highly volatile player.  Here is a list of his offensive production as a full-time player by wRC+ and BABIP:

2012: 97, .344

2014: 94, .325

2011: 70, .285

2010: 62, .264

2013: 49, .264

As you can see, Escobar's overall offensive production is directly tied to his BABIP, as he does not hit for power or walk to get on base.  He has never produced a single season at league average, and has not shown any real growth in the art of hitting.  He's 27, and he is what he is.

Defensively, Escobar is a bit of an enigma.  He passes the eye test with flying colors, exhibiting arm strength, footwork, and an impressive range.  Though his skills are apparent, the defensive metrics disagree that Escobar is an elite talent.  For those who have played 3000 or more innings at shortstop since 2010, Escobar ranks 12th out of 23 in simple fielding percentage.  By UZR/150, Escobar ranks 13th; he ranks 11th in DRS.  Against his peers in recent seasons, Escobar is middling in defensive performance, a far cry from his supposed defensive magic.  Indeed, the raw numbers grade Escobar as slightly above average, with a career UZR/150 of 1.8 and a career DRS of 13.

Both of these factors combined to say the same thing:  Escobar is not a good everyday player.  His career fWAR is 7.6, which equates to about 1.6 WAR/season. No, that's not awful, but it isn't ideal by a long stretch.  He's in his prime but, as I said earlier, he isn't getting any better offensively by any discernible metric.  Furthermore, he should be declining defensively, though ought to continue roughly at his current level for another 3-5 years or so.

What should the Royals do with him, then?  Make him a utility player.

The Royals have had an awful time at utilizing utility players.  Part of that is on Yost, who handles lineups in an, ahem, sub-optimal way.  Some of that, though, is just simple roster construction and player acquisition.  These are some of the utility infielders employed by Moore and Co. for the past five years:  Pedro Ciriaco, Jimmy Paredes, Emilio Bonifacio, Miguel Tejada, Irving Falu, Elliot Johnson, Jamey Carroll, Tony Abreu, Wilson Betemit, Yamaico Navarro, and Willie Bloomquist.  Yikes.

Escobar, on the other hand, would make a fantastic utility player.  Defensively he's at least above average at shortstop, which is one of the key factors in a utility player, as most just can't handle shortstop.  Escobar's tools would translate very well to either second or third base.  He has a cannon of an arm and the quick reflexes to handle third as well as the footwork and double-play ability of a good second baseman.  This is a huge deal, as a utility Escobar could float around positions midgame and/or be a defensive replacement for the entire infield.  It opens up the option to pinch hit for any fielder and put in a better fielder in.

Coming off the bench, Escobar's basestealing skills would be maximized while his inability to get on base would be minimized.  For his career, Escobar has stolen 119 bases at an 84% success rate, which is quite good.  In addition, unlike his offense, Escobar is improving as a basestealer.  In the past three years, Escobar has stolen 79 bases and has only been caught 7 times for a 92% success rate.  Though he might not be quite as fast as Jarrod Dyson, you could argue that Escobar is the better basestealer.

Of course, there are some problems with this.  Yost's usage of a utility Escobar would be unlikely to be remotely close to efficient.  There is the issue with cost as well; Escobar will make $3 million in 2015 and has club options for $5.25 million and $6.5 million in 2016 and 2017, respectively.  For a starting shortstop, that's acceptable money, but that's questionable money for a utility player.  Then there is also the issue of who replaces Escobar at short--good shortstops don't grow on trees, after all.  With Escobar as a utility player, a high offense, low defense shortstop who could be replaced late in game might be the best bet.  Still, since 2009, there have been 85 individual shortstop seasons that have put up a higher WAR than Escobar's 1.6 average.

This also adds another hole that the Royals would have to plug, but the ship is sinking anyway, so that probably doesn't matter too much.  However, I think it's pretty clear that, going forward, Alcides Escobar fits a utility role better than a starting shortstop role.  As long as Kansas City doesn't fill the void with the ghost of Yuniesky Betancourt, they can certainly succeed with another shortstop.