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The two weeks that Alcides Escobar was a power hitter

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Who's got the power?

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Despite how it may be portrayed in movies, word association isn't often used in modern psychology to reveal the perhaps subconscious thoughts a patient may have. However that doesn't make word association impractical. It's been used before for marketing research to see how consumer associate a word that a company may name their product. Word association can be used to isolate favorable and unfavorable views of a word.

So let's try some word association right now. I'll give you a noun and you give me the first thing that pops into your head (this is of course rhetorical - don't actually say it out loud you psycho): Alcides Escobar.

My guesses on what you thought first:

Defense

Ambush

Shortstop

Woeful

Braces

What you probably didn't think was homers or power. That's because Escobar of course isn't known for his power. I don't even know if you can use the word "his" in that sentence as if it exists somewhere. Escobar has the fewest home runs from 2014-2016 of any player with at least 1700 PA. Meanwhile in that same time span he also has the 2nd lowest ISO among hitters with at least 1500 PA. Escobar mainly hits singles with the occasional double down the line, sprinkled with a triple every now and then.

This is the farthest ball he's ever hit (in the Statcast era):

That's 417 feet to centerfield of Kauffman. Any homerun to centerfield of Kauffman is impressive as it's one of the deepest centers in baseball. 417 feet isn't a smash necessarily. That's roughly the average distance of Nomar Mazara's home runs this year and several feet shy of Giancarlo Stanton's average distance. Noah Syndergaard has hit two home runs this year at that distance or further. Madison Bumgarner has hit three home runs as far in the past two years.

But for Alcides Escobar, that's a blast. That's Giancarlo Stanton breaking the scoreboard at Marlins Park or breaking the dolphin on that ungodly ferris wheel in centerfield. That's Albert Pujols busting the "i" in Big Mac Land at Busch Stadium.

A few weeks back Escobar went on a power surge basically out of nowhere for back-to-back weeks. In fact those two weeks were two of the most powerful of his career by isolated slugging:

Season Week PA SLG ISO wRC+
2012 Jul 9 - Jul 15 15 1.077 .615 324
2016 Aug 29 - Sep 4 25 .640 .320 151
2011 Jun 13 - Jun 19 24 .864 .318 298
2016 Aug 22 - Aug 28 24 .727 .318 215
2009 Aug 17 - Aug 23 15 .692 .308 198
2012 Jun 25 - Jul 1 23 .750 .300 248

First off...holy cow 2012 July 9th-July 15th Escobar. That Escobar had six hits, two home runs, and a triple. The Escobar of those two weeks didn't quite match that production but still slugged three home runs in that span. Three home runs is a lot for Escobar. He hit three home runs total in each of 2014 and 2015. However this isn't the first time he had three home runs in a few weeks of a stretch. Escobar had three home runs in March/April of 2013. Somehow though despite the hot start he would only hit one more home run for the rest of the year.

This Escobar was one of the better power hitters in the league over that stretch.

Player SLG%
Kris Bryant .729
Justin Upton .727
Jose Abreu .727
Adrian Beltre .698
Alcides Escobar .681
Manny Machado .643
Robinson Cano .640

Alcides was just on fire during those two weeks.

Date Event
9/4/2016 Homer
9/4/2016 Double
9/3/2016 Single
9/2/2016 Single
9/2/2016 Single
8/31/2016 Double
8/29/2016 Homer
8/28/2016 Single
8/27/2016 Double
8/26/2016 Double
8/26/2016 Single
8/25/2016 Reached on error
8/25/2016 Homer
8/25/2016 Double
8/24/2016 Single
8/24/2016 Double
8/23/2016 Single

Got on base in almost every possible way besides a catcher's interference. What's strange is that in this hot stretch Alcides didn't triple, which is something he's among the league leaders in over the past few years. Nine extra base hits will do a player good to be sure.

So what caused this little stretch? Did pitchers pitch him differently?

Definitely they did a bit. Now a two week sample size of a full season is obviously small but for whatever reason opposing pitchers wanted to work Escobar inside. Normally Escobar sees about 30% fastballs but over the two weeks he saw 15 point boost to 45%.

Esky likes the ball inside, he does his most damage middle-in to middle-up.

That's where he did a lot of his damage too over that stretch

Homer

Homer

Double

Homer

Single

Those pitches don't seem to hard to hit for major league batters, and inside to Escobar is his sweet spot. Inside pitches are of course extremely hard to take the other way, especially for power, so Alcides just went with them and pulled the ball.

Pull% Cent% Opp% Soft% Med% Hard%
All Season 40.7% 34.4% 25.0% 23.6% 55.0% 21.4%
Hot Streak 59.0% 20.5% 20.5% 20.5% 46.2% 33.3%
Diff 18.3% -13.9% -4.5% -3.1% -8.8% 11.9%

He pulled the ball way more than he normally does. This also lead to a big spike in hard contact (duh - given the extra base hits).

Now don't expect this power to last. It's not a part of Escobar's game and it was like a perfect storm. Fastballs, inside middle-to-up. Escobar isn't a top 20 power hitter but hey...it happened and his good August was a big contributor to the Royals August revival. It also probably locked in his club option next year to be picked up (perhaps unfortunately).

It's another small sample size, but since September 4th, pitchers have stopped pitching him inside.