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The complicated legacy of Alcides Escobar

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How should Esky be remembered?

World Series - Kansas City Royals v New York Mets - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

For many young Royals fans like myself, the Dayton Moore regime brought many firsts. It gave me my first contender, my first pennant winner, and ultimately, my first World Series champion as a Royals fan. However, his regime also brought many firsts for those Royals fans that were around for the first World Series title in 1985, as well as for the league itself.

Prior to the Royals World Series runs, the league had never seen a bullpen or defense like the one Moore had built, let alone a bullpen and defense that would carry a team to back-to-back championships.

But he also brought a culture that was atypical of today’s game. As the league was moving from the moneyball era into a deeper, analytics driven era, the Royals interrupted the progress with two pennants and a world championship. It was Major League Baseball’s version of the Bad Boys, where a trend-breaking Pistons team sandwiched two titles in between the Lakers/Celtics dynasties of the 80’s and the Bulls dynasty of the 90’s.

Moore did that by cultivating a culture that valued players as people, creating a family-atmosphere as told by our own Max Rieper. And with that culture, he built a core of young players that would bring the World Series back to Kansas City. While we will all remember the likes of Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Mike Moustakas, one of those core names evokes a more complicated response.

Alcides Escobar.

As it stands right now, Alcides Escobar is having one of the single worst seasons in baseball history and it isn’t going unnoticed. But just over three year ago, he was standing on a rain-soaked stage at Kauffman Stadium receiving his ALCS MVP and just three days later, he led off the 2015 World Series with an inside the park home run.

So how should we remember Escobar?

First, we have to acknowledge the facts. Escobar is and has always been a bad hitter. Not only that, but for much of his career, he has been a terrible hitter. Since he joined the Royals in 2011, Escobar has played seven full seasons and in just two of them did he have a wRC+ of at least 90, a watermark that is still short of league average.

That’s not all. Not only has he reached that 90 mark just two times, but he has had a wRC+ of 70 or below 5 times, not including this season. He is just a terrible hitter.

However, he will go down as the second best shortstop in Royals history, according to fWAR. Now, that isn’t saying much. Bill Pecota and his 96 wRC+ with the Royals put together a 6.0 fWAR in just 445 games while it took Escobar 1196 games to reach 10.0. So you could make arguments that other shortstops were better in short bursts, but only Freddie Patek has had the longevity that Escobar has had.

According to Baseball Reference, Escobar has had three seasons where he was a 2.5 WAR player or better. Only Freddie Patek has more as a Royals shortstop, but Escobar’s 3.5 fWAR season in 2014 was better than any season Patek ever had and is good for the third best season by a Royals shortstop in the club’s history.

It was also the second highest mark on a Royals team that ended the season just 90 feet short of a World Series title.

I’m not trying to make Escobar into something he isn’t, here. Three seasons with at least a 2.5 fWAR isn’t anything special. That’s basically saying that he had three seasons where he was valued as a starting player on a Major League baseball team. According to the metric, if you are a Major League starter, you should be valued at that each season.

However, those seasons matter more when it is done on a championship team where defense was a crucial piece of its success.

Escobar was an anchor at arguably the most valuable defensive position on the field with a team that won two pennants on the back of its defense. In that sense, Escobar played a massive role in the run. It is also worth noting that Escobar has a .793 OPS in the postseason.

Escobar is one of many complicated legacies in recent Royals history. More than half of Mike Moustakas’ at-bats were riddled with mediocrity. If you are a glass-half-empty kind of person, Eric Hosmer wildly underperformed during his time in Kansas City. Recency bias and a bad contract isn’t helping Alex Gordon get a statue.

So in that sense, Escobar isn’t alone. The only difference being that Escobar’s peak was nowhere near any of those aforementioned players, making his valley seem that much lower.

I am a believer that numbers never lie, but I also believe that metrics aren’t a zero-sum game. At his peak, Escobar was one of the best defensive shortstops in all of baseball and will go down as one of the five or 10 best defenders in Royals history.

Escobar is really bad and probably shouldn’t even be on a Major League roster, let alone starting night in and night out, and the Royals are hurting their team every night that Adalberto Mondesi doesn’t start at shortstop.

You can believe that and also believe that Escobar was at one time a good and important baseball player and should be remembered as such.