Alcides’s Offensive Outlook

The Royals were wise to lock up Alcides Escobar for the foreseeable future. Talented, young shortstops don’t grow on trees and Escobar will help the team through his own performance, or as a trade chip given his age and the team-friendly nature of the contract.

As Carson Cistulli analyzed on Friday, the Royals will pay the 25-year old shortstop $10.5 million over the next four years. The deal buys out his final year before arbitration eligibility and all three of his eligible years. He is set to make $1 million in 2012 and then $3 million per season from 2013-15. The contract also includes two club options for 2016-17 at a grand total of $11.75 million.

Realistically, the options are where the Royals potentially got a steal. If Escobar continues to develop and actually improves at the plate, he probably would have made between $9-$12 million through arbitration anyway. However, he would then be in line for a larger payday, whether it came through free agency or a new deal negotiated beforehand. If everything works out according to the Royals plan, Escobar will easily merit the $11.75 million owed in 2016-17, which is worth the reasonable risk that he doesn’t even live up to the $10 million through the 2015 season.

But speculating that far down the road is difficult, especially in the case of an all-glove/no-bat player like Escobar. While defense isn’t necessarily one of those performance attributes that erodes early, it would certainly help his value if Escobar could improve at the plate. Should the Royals expect such an improvement?

His glovework is top-notch. Scouts praise his efforts, and the various statistical systems rated him in the +7 to +10 range last season. But when a +10 fielding mark results in just 2 WAR over a full season, we’re dealing with an extremely poor hitter.

Over the last three seasons, Escobar has a .251/.294/.338 line and a .280 wOBA that ranks third worst among the 225 qualifying hitters. His ISO is microscopically low and his walk rate is among the worst in the sport. His contact rate over the same span — 85.3% — falls closer to the median than the top of the list, so he doesn’t even have that going for him; sometimes, poor-hitting shortstops like, say, Yuniesky Betancourt, can look better than they actually are due to a high contact rate. That can’t be said of Escobar.

On the other hand, he is still young and without much major league experience, and last year’s .282 wOBA was an improvement over the .270 mark from the prior year. It’s possible further improvements are around the corner.

To find out what the Royals can expect moving forward, I searched for historical comps: middle infielders with poor OBPs and wOBAs over their first three seasons, who debuted before turning 24 years old. Nothing was specified with regards to OBP or wOBA yet.

From 1950-2010, there were 92 players fitting the above criteria who also managed to play at least two more seasons. Here are their weighted average OBP and wOBA marks over the five seasons:

Entire Group OBP wOBA
YR 1 0.316 0.299
YR 2 0.313 0.299
YR 3 0.323 0.311
YR 4 0.325 0.314
YR 5 0.328 0.317

The overall group gradually improved in both departments to respectable levels. However, the overall results are misleading in that half the group more closely resembled Escobar than the other. Over the first three years of the span, there were 43 players with an average OBP under .310. How does the same table look for those 43 players?

Alcides Comps OBP wOBA
YR 1 0.296 0.282
YR 2 0.290 0.282
YR 3 0.301 0.291
YR 4 0.309 0.297
YR 5 0.310 0.297

The OBPs and wOBAs essentially improve by the same amount as the overall group, but the starting point is so low that the end result looks much worse. There were a few players whose OBPs dramatically improved in their fourth and fifth seasons, but they are the exception and not the rule.

Dave Concepcion‘s average OBP improved by over 50 points from his first three years to his fourth and fifth. The same is true of Jose Reyes. The likes of Cesar Izturis, Roy McMillan, Omar Vizquel, Adam Kennedy, Robin Yount and Miguel Tejada aren’t far behind, with increases between 25 and 48 points. Vizquel is an interesting player with respect to Escobar, as he was primarily known for his glove. However, Vizquel’s bat may have been underrated relative to his defensive contributions. After posting a .290 OBP over his first three seasons, Vizquel produced a .349 OBP from 1992-2006.

The Royals might not expect that substantial of an improvement from Escobar, but they may view his career .294 mark and think it’s more likely that he improves to the .315-.320 range than it is that his defense declines. At that point, they have a legitimate 2.5+ WAR shortstop locked up at affordable rates through the 2017 season. Historically, players similar to Escobar haven’t improved much at the plate, but there are several notable exceptions to the rule. Luckily for them, Escobar doesn’t have to improve as dramatically as Concepcion or Reyes to merit his new contract.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

27 Responses to “Alcides’s Offensive Outlook”

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  1. Fred says:

    “From 1950-2010, there were 92 players fitting the above criteria who also managed to play at least two more seasons”

    How many players fit the criteria but didn’t play two more seasons? You might have a case of survivorship bias.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      There is definitely a selection/survivorship bias here, but I felt it was appropriate to factor that in since it seems he’ll be around for the next couple of years.

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      • Lex Logan says:

        I don’t think that’s right — just because the Royals will be paying him for several years does not mean he is guaranteed to be comparable to only those who survived. Suppose half those whose first three years were comparable to Escobar failed to play two more years — was that because teams picked the best of the lot (and hopefully the Royals have done the same) or was it more random? I suspect it’s some of both and so the prospects for Escobar are bleaker than your analysis suggests.

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      • Dan says:

        Yes, he will be around for at least the next couple of years because of the contract. However, if in an alternate scenario Christian Colon were to be ready (to be a .335 wOBA guy) a year and a half from now I think the Royals might wish they had the option of nontendering Escobar. I don’t think it makes sense to tie up $10 million at this point, when we know the FA market doesn’t value glove-only players the way WAR does. And arbitration is even more archaic in how it values players. Therefore, it seems silly to me to throw away flexibility now on the hope that Escobar is significantly better offensively 3-6 years from now.

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  2. maguro says:

    Has a good glove, no hit SS like Escobar ever gotten anywhere near $9-12M in arbitration? That seems like an absurdly high estimate of what he could expect to make through arb.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Could be high — but what’s the floor, $6 mil? I think the main point of that still applies in that the Royals gave him either full value or slightly more than what he would have gotten in arb so they could potentially underpay him relative to his potential market value as an FA.

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      • Psst says:

        Considering that Jamey Carroll is getting 6.75 guaranteed for his age 38-40 season, Jerry Hairston JR is getting 6 million for his age 36-37 seasons you have to assume that a guy 12-15 years younger would beat that.

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      • Mark says:

        Carroll also had a league average bat or better the past two years with a solid glove. That kind of production is rewarded with more money than a guy who is 30-40% below league average with the bat while being a gold glove calibre defender.

        So Carroll isn’t a good comp here.

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      • Psst says:

        He may not be a good comp but he didn’t make the show untill he was 30 and he is 38 years old.

        Current starting SS salaries are important, so if you would prefer to say look at what Clint Barmes is making that would also help

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      • Mark says:

        It’s irrelevant when Carroll made the jump to the majors. You pay for expected production. Carroll is a fantastic hitter for a middle infielder given that he can hit slightly above league average. Escobar can’t even come CLOSE to that. A 73 wRC+ means he’s one of the worst hitting options you can use. Players like that don’t get rewarded in arbitration (with one exception below) or free agency for doing that.

        As for Barmes – last year he was nearly a league average hitter. So again, I would expect him to be rewarded much higher than I would expect Escobar to have been. Teams don’t pay for defence. Barmes combination of above average (or slightly above average) defence plus a league average bat (even if it’s just for one year) means he’d get paid more than Escobar.

        I would be inclined to agree with the Barmes example via wRC+. Except for the fact that Barmes hit a lot of home runs in 2009 (23 HR, 76 RBI) which is really the only reason his arbitration salary went up from 1.6 to 3.3. And then he got paid as a free agent around 5M per year because he was coming off a year with strong D and a nearly league average bat.

        I just don’t think you can expect Escobar to put up the kind of numbers that arbitrators would look for that would give him the kind of salary a similar player like Barmes got in arbitration. And since I don’t expect his offence to improve that much, I don’t think they’re saving money in the free agent years so the whole contract becomes a poor investment.

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      • maguro says:

        Right, Barmes is a decent comp and he got 2/$11M. So it looks like the Royals assumed the risk of Escobar collapsing or getting injured during his arb years in exchange for the right to pay him at roughly market rate in 2016-17.

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      • Psst says:

        Roughly the 2012 market rate, considering how big the jump has been for middle IF over the last two years I wouldn’t bet that 2/11 is the market rate 2016/17 and as for Jamey Carroll being a fantastic hitting MIF that has been true but he is still old enough to be Alcide’s dad aging risk is accounted for in contracts too.

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      • Dan says:

        Brendan Ryan is a much better comp than Jamey Carroll or Jerry Hairston. He is signed for $2.75 million over his arb 1 and arb 2 seasons (and incentives for PT that could take the total to $3.9 million). He has been a better offensive player but has been a lot less durable.

        The floor for Esobar over his three arb seasons is probably at or just below $6 million. But that floor assumes Escobar is a full time player over each of the next three seasons. Given his offensive output to date, I’d say that is not a safe assumption. I’d say $6 million is the most likely outcome for those three arb seasons given the possibility of him becoming a late inning defensive replacement at some point over the next 3 years.

        And personally, I think if you take the difference between $10 million the Royals are effectively paying him for his 3 arb seasons and the $6 million they likely would have paid, you’d get a higher expected return from buying $4 million of powerball tickets than those 2 options.

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    • Dan says:

      Brendan Ryan seems like a good comp for Escobar. He is guaranteed $2.75 million in his arb1 and arb2 years, with incentives that could take the 2 year total to $3.9 million. Therefore, there is approximately zero chance Escobar takes home $10 million over his 3 arb years without significant growth offensively.

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  3. Uli440 says:

    Escobar’s bat is too limp for him to perform up to expectations throughout the duration of this extension. I’m not sure his glove is slick enough to fit his puny bat.

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  4. Psst says:

    The interesting thing about this kid is how his monthly wOBA and BABIP break down
    2011
    .250BABIP .229wOBA 36wRC+
    .240BABIP .218wOBA 29wRC+
    .337BABIP .357wOBA 124wRC+
    .273BABIP .278wOBA 70wRC+
    .258BABIP .257wOBA 53wRC+
    .373BABIP .372wOBA 134wRC+

    Also interesting is his Home/Road split of
    Home .265BABIP .250wOBA 51wRC+
    Road .303BABIP .312wOBA .93wRC+

    If he can raise his BABIP up around the .300-.325mark you would expect from a player with plus speed he could go from being a black hole in the Royals lineup to being an asset on both sides of the ball.

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    • Psst says:

      also that from June through th end of the season he had a .286/.323/.411 that while not great if he puts up a number like that for all of 2012 he could easily be on his way to doubling or tripling the value of those team options

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      • Mark says:

        It’s not really a shocker that a guy with no power and a poor BB rate would have a lousy wOBA when he has a below average BABIP.

        Overall he had a 285 BABIP last season, so how much better can we expect him to be? He hits a lot of ground balls which should lead to a higher BABIP, but the counter argument to that is they’re not hard hit ground balls.

        As for his triple slash from June through September, that’s because of his excellent June/September which were due to his high BABIP. It’s not like he was good in July/August offensively.

        I just don’t think there’s that much upside here. He’s not that young, as he’ll be 25 this year.

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      • Psst says:

        So Escobar posted a .332/.362/.440 in AA as a 21yo with a .380BABIP and a .298/.339/.409 as a 22yo in AAA with a .330 BABIP in his quick rise throught the minors he never posted a sub-300BABIP.

        Can he be Jose Reyes? Almost zero chance of that happening can he develop into a Vizquel/Kennedy typ bat of course he can.

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  5. steven says:

    “…sometimes, poor-hitting shortstops like, say, Yuniesky Betancourt, can look better than they actually are due to a high contact rate.”

    I would argue that making contact is indeed a skill- what do you mean by this sentence?

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  6. tz says:

    Escobar hit like crap as a teen in the low minors, but from ages 20-22 he did hit .300+ with adequate walk rates and ISO. This seems a bit like the Royce Clayton story to me, more than the Rey Ordonez impression he’s given in 2+ years, which makes the downside of the Royals deal acceptable.

    And he just turned 25, so there is an upside around the Vizquel level. That makes the Royals deal a good one.

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    • Dan says:

      But why do the deal now? What’s Escobar’s best case scenario next year– a Babip fueled .320 wOBA? This guys is currently a significantly worse offensive player than Juan Pierre–let that sink in for a minute. Why on earth would you tie up $10 million when you could go year-to-year and have the option of cutting him loose after paying .5 million? The downside of the contract is that you could be paying Escobar 3 million a year in years 3 and 4 to sit on the bench (or maybe his couch) because they were able to develop another SS who can be only 10% worse than league average with the bat.

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  7. Lex Logan says:

    “$10.5 million over the next [] years.” I think that’s supposed to be four?

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  8. fergie348 says:

    Whose WAR is higher in 2012, Alcides Escobar or Brandon Crawford?

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  9. Carl says:

    It strikes me as poor methodology not to control for age.

    Of all middle infielders who debuted before age 24, I’d bet my left foot that a plurality debuted during their age 23 year, probably even a majority. Escobar debuted at 21. Even if his 3rd-5th years follow the trend described in the article, he could still improve even further during his late 20′s/the Royals’ option years.

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