Alcides Escobar and manager Ned Yost earned the ire of the sabermetric crowd when Ned put him at lead-off to start 2016 because of #EskyMagic from 2015’s post-season run. They argued that he just isn’t a very good hitter and leading him off was begging for trouble. He and manager Ned Yost then earned the ire of everyone else when the nerds proved to be right and Escobar failed to hit at even a replacement-level but was left in the lead-off spot for most of the season anyway. Escobar’s OPS as a leadoff hitter was .557 - according to FanGraphs, in general, an OPS of .570 or less is ‘Awful’. That is the worst ranking on their table.
Escobar finished the year barely over replacement level, his worst performance in Kansas City. By OPS, it was his worst offensive output since reaching the Royals except for 2013 where he made up for his poor stick with his best defensive season ever. By Defensive Runs Above Average he had his worst full defensive season ever - except for 2012 when he actually made up for it by having the best offensive season of his career.
If you use this WAR calculator and plug in Esky’s numbers as a leadoff hitter you come up with about -0.4 WAR (There’s no indication if that’s fWAR or bWAR, but there is a link to it on FanGraphs’ WAR explanation page). That is really bad, but does point to bit of an positive note. When Esky wasn’t leading off he was actually only moderately not-good with ~0.8 WAR (0.4 WAR - (-0.4 WAR). Here are the breakdowns based on where El Mago hit in the lineup:
Alcides Escobar Batting Order Splits
|All but 1st||80||315||83||25||14||.282||.318||.422||.740|
In case you haven’t ever seen them before tOPS+ is OPS+ relative to the player’s average. So anything above 100 means that split is better than the player’s OPS+ when it isn’t split. In this case his tOPs+ numbers compare that split against his whole 2016. sOPS+ is OPS+ compared to other players in the same split. So these particular sOPS+ numbers compare Esky’s leadoff time to other leadoff hitters during the same games he hit leadoff, number 2 hitters during the games he hit second, etc.
That table basically says that Escobar was a really good hitter both compared to his own averages and to the league as a whole as long as he was doing anything other than hitting lead-off. That’s a promising sign for next season for Escobar who is, in fact, actually projected to rebound to be worth somewhere between 1.0-1.5 WAR next season. A range that is also known as, "Almost good enough to be a starting position player"
Hitting isn’t all the Royals’ need from Escobar, though. He does play the most defensively challenging position on the field. The Royals count on him to make all the plays at shortstop, and he has usually rewarded them for their faith before, even winning a Gold Glove in 2015.
The numbers, however, suggest that his gloves is declining. Baseball-Reference.com has a negative number in just about every defensive metric that will allow for one. FanGraphs gives his UZR/150 as 0.7 which should be read as ‘just about average’. So depending on who you listen to, he’s anywhere from ‘not good’ to ‘OK, I guess’ - far from the defensive wizard certain Royals announcers and highlight reels would have you believe him to be.
The scariest part of all that is that FanGraphs has his Range Runs Saved as negative for the first time since his horrible 2012 season - his above average range is a big part of why he’s so well regarded. It is possible he was hurt by the fact that he was playing next to Cheslor Cuthbert instead of Mike Moustakas so perhaps the Royals can hope he will rebound in 2017.
Escobar has also provided value with his base-running skills. One of the reasons he was first installed into the lead-off spot was because he was very, very fast. The advanced metrics indicate he uses that speed well to create value on the basepaths.
Sadly, that too vanished in 2016. Escobar had never had a Baserunning Runs (BsR) score of less than 4.4 since his first season with the Royals but this year it was -0.8. If you need a quick refresher on BsR here is an earlier post from Matthew "Kevin" LaMar where he talks about the Royals’ general baserunning problems in 2016.
If you check FanGraphs you can see that the metrics show his base-stealing ability was a net positive to the team, it is his baserunning on every other situation that was a problem. Escobar’s -1.1 Ultimate Baserunning and -1.1 wGPD (runs saved by not grounding into double plays) are both the first time he’s ever put up negatives in those categories. The bad news is he’s not getting any younger and people naturally slow as they age, even athletes. The good news is with a positive wSB (runs created by stolen bases) at 1.4, the problem may not be his speed it may simply be his decision making. If Escobar runs smarter next year he might rebound.
There are a lot of hopes and what-ifs and maybes for Escobar’s 2017 season. Maybe he’ll be good again, or at least get back to being not-that-bad. Maybe he won’t. Still, in 2016 he had just about his worst season ever. For that he gets a nice fat F. If he doesn’t rebound fans will just have to hope that Mondesi progresses a lot in AAA, this season.