Alcides Escobar: Golden Glove, Brutal Bat

For a season and a half, Kansas City Royals fans were subjected to the fall-down range and errant arm of Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop. Hoppers hit to his left were all but guaranteed base hits, and booted would-be double play balls gave opponents extra chances to pummel the pitching staff. Those defensive woes were supposed to end in 2011 with Alcides Escobar, picked up from the Brewers as part of the Zack Greinke mega-deal, taking over at short for the Royals.

Escobar, a former top 20 prospect who Baseball America said “was born to play shortstop,” has been as good as advertised with the glove. Unfortunately, his bat has been so bad that it has wiped out the value provided by his exquisite range, body control and cannon arm.

Pick a defensive metric, and the 24-year-old Escobar ranks near the top of the leader boards. By Ultimate Zone Rating, K.C.’s new shortstop has saved +5.4 runs compared to an average player at his position. That places him in the top 10 among all major leaguers and first among shortstops. The Fielding Bible’s Plus/Minus system has Escobar tied for the MLB lead with +9 runs saved.

While the Fielding Bible data shows him making a few less plays than the average shortstop on balls hit to his left, Escobar has a +14 play rating on balls hit to his right. Take last night’s contest with the Twins, for instance. Minnesota’s Alexi Casilla hit a Joakim Soria curveball deep in the hole at shortstop in the eighth inning. Escobar backed up to the lip of the infield dirt, barehanded the ball and made an accurate, near-side-arm throw with both feet planted that popped Eric Hosmer‘s glove at first base. He’s a joy to watch in the field.

When Escobar comes to the dish, however, you might want to shield your eyes. His triple-slash this season is .208/.244/.244 in 214 plate appearances. For reference, Greinke has a .176/.200/.412 line in 38 career PA. Greinke has out homered Escobar this year, 1-0. With -16.8 Batting Runs, Escobar has done more damage to his team’s run-scoring chances than any other hitter in the game.

Adjusted for park and league factors, Escobar’s bat has been the worst among those qualified for the batting title. Escobar’s 28 wRC+ to this point actually ranks as one of the 80 worst single-season marks in Major League Baseball dating back to 1876 (minimum 200 plate appearances). Limiting ourselves to the new millennium, Escobar’s performance is seventh-worst since the Y2K scare blew over. Tony Pena Jr., a Royals shortstop-turned-pitcher, tops this sordid list. Also, note that a certain San Francisco infielder currently doing a number on his club’s playoff chances joins Escobar in the top 10:

Despite Escobar’s breath-taking D at a premium position, his historically inept bat has made him a sub-replacement level player: he has -0.3 WAR in 2011. It would be nearly impossible for him not to show offensive improvement moving forward: ZiPS projects Escobar to hit .252/.295/.334 during for the rest of the season, with his batting average on balls in play rising to the mid-.280s from its current .240-ish mark.

Given the lower run-scoring environment, that batting line coupled with sublime defense would make Escobar a decent starter. If Escobar hits something close to that ZiPS projection while posting excellent defensive numbers (if not quite the otherworldly figures so far), he would be roughly a two-win player.

Don’t expect to see Escobar on a mound like Pena Jr. anytime soon — Escobar’s glove and youth make him a potential building block for the Royals. That said, he’s going to have to outhit Greinke and stop keeping offensive company with the Donnie Sadlers and Enrique Wilsons of the world to provide value in Kansas City.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on and, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

33 Responses to “Alcides Escobar: Golden Glove, Brutal Bat”

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  1. bender says:

    Nitpicking perhaps but a wRC+ of 28 doesn’t mean 72% below league average, but rather 36%. This is how negative wRC+s are possible

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  2. Mike says:

    Can someone explain what it means to have a negative wRC?

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  3. Brian Cartwright says:

    THT Forecasts have Escobar’s true talent wOBA at .280, with a regressed +12 glove. Yes, that’s a bad bat…but the guy he replaced, Yuniesky Betancourt, is projected at a .287 wOBA with a -7 glove. +2 wins to KC on the swap

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    • Ted says:

      Yes, but Escobar was the centerpiece of a trade that also sent Greinke out of KC. Greinke >>> +2 wins…

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      • Cardinals645 says:

        No, Escobar was FAR from the centerpiece. The centerpieces were Lorenzo Cain and Jake Odorizzi.

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      • Steve says:

        Yes, Escobar was the centerpiece.

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      • doug K says:

        I dont think it was a trade with one player as the key. All four pieces going to KC were important. Certainly Escobar was one of those keys but Odorizzi, Cain and even Jeffress were all keys too. That trade will go down in Royals history as one of the best deals ever made IMHO. All 4 are likely to have significant careers and Alcides is not likely to be the best of the 4.

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  4. Person says:

    So if the Royals had both Escobar and Greinke, would you advise them DH’ing for Escobar during Greinke’s starts?

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    • Person says:

      Never mind, I thought the rule allowed DH’ing for anyone. Apparently it’s pitchers only.

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  5. My echo and bunnymen says:

    Wow! Just…Wow!

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  6. Desert Rat says:

    “He’s a joy to watch in the field.”

    I suppose it would violate the spirit of this site to suggest that having someone that is a “joy to watch” in Kansas City, of all places, has some additional value to the Royals organization beyond slashlines and WAR? Heresy, I know, but still, anyone that is a joy to watch in KC is a welcome improvement.

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    • glp says:

      And to think we have Hosmer too now…we are almost beside ourselves.

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      • Preston says:

        At least he’s young and cheap and you would expect him to improve. As opposed to YB who was old and expensive and getting worse. When some more prospects come up and join Hosmer, Butler and Gordon this team will be able to hide Escobar in the nine hole. The young pitching prospects will sure enjoy having him on the team when they come up.

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  7. brendan says:

    and tejada… is not a joy to watch in the field.

    We’re counting the days until sandoval is back at 3B, hopefully sending miggy to the bench. brandon crawford is up from AA to play SS and he seems to field the position well. his bat is a question mark, but tejada’s line is setting the bar pretty low.

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  8. Mike says:

    Out of curiosity — how did you do the search that you include as a screenshot in the article? When I chose multiple seasons, I got career numbers rather than separate rows for each season.

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  9. lex logan says:

    We’ve got a clone in Cincy: Paul Janish is batting .221/.250/.260 while outperforming every other shortstop in the league as measured by UZR/150. (He’s not among the qualifiers thanks to splitting time with Renteria and playing some third when the Reds lost Rolen, Cairo and Francisco all at once.) But of course Escobar is 25 and might improve a la Ozzie Smith; Janish is already 29 and unlikely to become a hitter. Defensively, though, the Reds infield is awesome.

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  10. Phantom Stranger says:

    Baseball Tonight did a short piece on the best shortstops, ranking Escobar at the top. Mainly because he led all of MLB in May in some category by the video scouts of very good fielding plays, from Stats Inc.

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  11. Jim says:

    I wonder if Dave Cameron will allow us to say that this player “can’t hit”?

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  12. OremLK says:

    I don’t buy that a player with Escobar’s speed, his 12.4% strikeout rate, and solid 17.8% line drive rate is going to consistently hit under .250. I think he’s been bit by some poor luck on balls in play, and is going to hit for average–or at least moreso than he has so far. He won’t bring much else to the table offensively, but I can see a .270/.320/.350ish player as he develops.

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    • Paul says:

      Agreed, except that I think he will hit some doubles. It’s not like he’s clueless up there and he has decent leverage in his swing. I’ve been surprised by him and not worried about he results so far. If you comp him to Tony Pena Jr. and Angel Berroa offensively, it’s not even close. He’s competent and has ability, but still has a long way to go. He’s still a lower third of the order player for them long-term if they’re any good when the calvary arrives.

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  13. Matt K says:

    I always think it’s a shame when great defensive players put up WAY subpar offense. If he was at .250/.300/.350 at the bottom of an order, you can live with it. Mid 2000s Adam Everett comes to mind as a comparable, even though I think he was a bit older…

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    • David says:

      Mark Belanger’s numbers (.228/.300/.280) were about as bad as Escobar’s current career numbers. but I guess he was an even better defender than Escobar, once recording +35 runs at shortstop despite starting only 138 games that season.

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      • He also played in a lower run scoring environment.

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      • Paul Thomas says:

        Belanger at least knew he couldn’t hit, so he was willing to take a walk…

        Always puzzles me when these slappy middle infielders ALSO refuse to take walks. If good things don’t happen when you hit the ball, stop swinging so damn often.

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  14. shthar says:

    2 words.

    Rey Ordonez

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  15. Jimbo says:

    Interesting to me that Escobar had a .293 BA in the minors and .298 At AAA but he can barely crack the Mendoza line in MLB. I pictured him as a guy who would hit .275 with little power and lots of stolen bases. I say be patient royals fans. Eventually he will hit at a level that will give him positive value when also factoring in his D. Someone earlier said .250 in the comments. That’d be a good start.

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    • Mookie says:

      LOL Because BA is such a great indicator of hitting ability in the minors. I never liked his bat and so far have been proven right. When you’re wishcasting a .700 OPS, that’s never a good sign.

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  16. John says:

    Red Sox fans, prepare yourselves for Jose Iglesias. He is the same player.

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  17. Joe R says:

    And Jose Iglesias in the Red Sox farm system hit worse in the minors than Escobar ever did.

    Not that it’s tough to be a Sox fan, so don’t think I’m whining, I just eagerly wait to see whether the Boston media turns into massive, Ellsbury-UZR-esque apologists for Iglesias, or if they immediately turn on him.

    But yes, Escobar is just brutal as a hitter. Just another pretty player that everyone loves in the minors, until of course he hits the majors and they remember he has to hit, too.

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