Alcides Escobar bounced back from a disastrous 2013 season to have one of the best offensive seasons in his young career in 2014. He warranted serious All-Star consideration for the first time in his career, and by the end of the year he finished tied for sixth out of all shortstops in fWAR at 3.3 with guys like J.J. Hardy and Hanley Ramirez. Now at 28 years of age, Alcides will enter his fifth season with the Royals in the prime of his career.
The Royals lineup floundered offensively last season, so manager Ned Yost began jumbling the lineup late in the year to find a spark. Alcides was moved into the leadoff spot to jump-start the offense on September 14, and hit .375/.412/.484 in 15 games the remainder of the regular season, then hit .292/.303/.415 in 15 post-season games leading off. Despite positive offensive numbers in the leadoff spot last year, Alcides still drew just four walks in those 30 games, hardly the kind of plate discipline expected from a good leadoff hitter.
Despite Alcides' career .299 on-base percentage, Ned Yost has committed to leading off with Esky in his 2015 starting lineup. Alcides Escobar has seen his walk rate go down every year of his career until last season, when it went up slightly to 3.7%. The walk rate of all American League leadoff hitters last year was 7.3%. As bad as Nori Aoki was last year, he was still much better at getting on base than Alcides. Last year, all Royals leadoff hitters combined to hit .279/.339/.366. In one of the best offensive seasons of his career last year, Alcides hit just .285/.317/.370. Alcides has some work to do.
|Career per 162 games||.263||.299||.349||4||49||1.8|
Alcides is going to have to rely on a high batting average to get on base at a league-average rate. Esky has had some wild ups-and-downs on batting average on balls in play (BABIP) throughout his career. After a woefully unlucky 2013 season with a BABIP of .264, fortune smiled upon him in 2014 with a BABIP of .326. His batting average this year is bound to regress, making the odds of Alcides being a very good leadoff hitter very slim.
Alcides was named a finalist for a Gold Glove for the second year in a row, although once again he lost out to Baltimore's J.J. Hardy. The defensive metrics like, but don't love Alcides Escobar. His 0.7 dWAR was seventh among American League shortstops. His UZR was third among league shortstops, but far behind leader J.J. Hardy. Alcides makes the highlight reel on a consistent basis - he tied Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria for most "Web Gems" on "Baseball Tonight" last year. However, his flash may overshadow the fact that he is a good defensive shortstop, but not necessarily a great one.
This catch though.
Alcides is a fantastic baserunner, finishing 13th among all American League players in Baserunning Runs Above Average. He finished fifth in the league in Weighted Stolen Base Runs after swiping 31 bags last year. Over the past three seasons combined, he has stolen 88 bases, the twelfth most in baseball over that time period. He has been caught stealing just eleven times over those years, for an amazing 89% success rate.
Alcides will be in the spotlight more than ever in the leadoff spot and will need to improve his offensive numbers if the Royals want to score more runs. It is possible he could improve his walk rate, but he would need a significant improvement, or a very high batting average, to even reach the league-average leadoff on-base percentage of .326, a mark he has reached just once, back in 2012.
What do you expect out of Alcides Escobar in 2015?