The middle of the Royals infield continued to emphasize defense over offense through 2015. Alcides Escobar earned his first Gold Glove and was one half of a formidable double-play combo with Omar Infante. The pair were less adept with the bat, but occasionally they'd produce a play like this that would make you forget all about their hitting struggles:
Unfortunately, one play does not a season make, so let's look critically at the entire year and find out how the middle infield fared in 2015.
|Royals 2B/SS, 2015|
Over the last several years, Escobar has been one of the most durable players on the team. He played in all 162 games in 2014, after playing no less than 155 over each of the preceding three years. However, Escobar was forced to miss several games for various injuries this year, including an elbow injury and concussion after getting hit by pitches, and a knee injury caused by an errant Brett Lawrie slide that sparked constructive discussion over who, if anyone, was a disgrace to baseball.
Despite those various dings and dents, Escobar still managed to play the third-most games among the Royals and actually managed to net the most plate appearances of his career. Those extra turns were due to Ned Yost slotting Escobar in the leadoff position for 131 games, a decision that left many observers baffled because Escobar just isn't that good of a hitter.
Even in his best offensive season, 2012, Escobar wasn't much more than an average hitter. His 2015 was more or less par for the course at the plate: not much power, not much of an on-base percentage (especially for a leadoff hitter), and not many strikeouts.
That last part is made more impressive by Escobar's now-legendary tendency to swing at the first pitch. The Royals' bizarre belief that they would win a game if Escobar swung at the first pitch is well-documented; the theory had no statistical merit but by the time the playoffs rolled around, the team swore by it and a lot of fans were convinced, too.
It paid off big-time in Game 1 of the World Series, making for one of the most exciting starts to the Fall Classic in memory.
In the field, Escobar won his first career Gold Glove. The stats weren't terribly fond of his defensive ability, but he clearly passed the eye-test by producing mind-boggling plays seemingly once a week. I doubt many Royals fans would contend that the award wasn't well-deserved.
Grade: Despite his strong play in the field and his fire-starting offense in the postseason, I would've like to see Escobar do more with the leadoff position in the regular season to justify Yost's selection. C+.
What's next: Escobar is under contract for 2016 and has a $6.5 million team option for 2017. If he continues to bat leadoff, he will presumably continue swinging at the first pitch unless Noah Syndergaard is pitching.
We must now consider the Royal who turned in the worst performance of 2015. Infante battled injuries all season long, and was eventually held out of the postseason due to an oblique strain.
I'd be surprised if Infante was ever more than 60 percent healthy at any point in the year. But lacking confidence in the other options at second base in the pre-Zobrist era, Yost continued to ride Infante through 124 games.
There's really not much to say about Infante that hasn't already been said. It could be argued that he was the worst everyday player in the league in 2015. He hit as many home runs as Jarrod Dyson. He had the worst wRC+ (44) in his career, and only his rookie season comes close. He was competent defensively, except when he wasn't:
Maybe if he were to be 100 percent healthy, he'd be at least a replacement-level second baseman. But it's getting harder and harder to believe that that will ever be the case.
You don't want to talk about Omar Infante, I don't want to talk about Omar Infante, let's move on.
Grade: #VoteOmar. F.
What's next: Infante will be competing with Christian Colon for the starting job this spring, so he might end up making multiple millions of dollars to sit on a bench all summer. Omar Infante has it figured out.
I've asked this question before, but it's worth repeating: Do the Royals win the World Series if they don't trade for Ben Zobrist? I don't think so. With all due respect to Colon, who would likely have been the postseason second baseman in Infante's absence, Zobrist was able to jump-start the Royals' offense in a way that no one else on the team could. He turned a black hole in the lineup into one of its strongest points.
He provided consistency at the plate, hitting .284/.364/.453 in his time with the Royals. That's not elite, but it's very good, and very good is all that the Royals needed.
Then he kicked it up a notch in October, hitting .303/.365/.515 and getting on base in all but two games. He blasted the home run that kicked off the 14-2 rout of Toronto, three days after getting the bloop hit that triggered the unraveling of David Price.
I wrote back in December that Ben Zobrist was the most important second baseman to play for the Royals in the past 20 years, and looking back, I stand by that assessment. Zobrist packed enough into his 75 games with the team to span several years.
Grade: He named his kid after the Royals, but I'm pretty sure we loved him even more than he loved Kansas City. A.
What's next: Zobrist moved on to the Chicago Cubs this offseason, where he'll look to lead the team's young talent to a long-awaited championship.
- Christian Colon made 43 appearances for the Royals in the regular season, then one in the postseason. Nobody will remember much of his average performance in the regular season. Everyone will remember what he did in the postseason. Grade: A.
- Orlando Calixte made his major league debut in April and his only other appearance in May. He re-signed with the Royals this offseason. Grade: Incomplete.
- Raul Mondesi became the first player in history to make his major league debut in the World Series. He struck out, but don't read too much into it. Grade: Incomplete.