Having acclimated himself to the majors reasonably well in 2009, Alcides Escobar became the Milwaukee Brewers’ long-term option at shortstop following the club’s decision to deal J.J. Hardy to the Minnesota Twins. Escobar entered 2010 as an intriguing fantasy option, given his upper-echelon speed and history of wreaking havoc on the base paths in the minors. Yet, the 23-year-old holds a roster spot in just 11 percent of Yahoo leagues. Escobar’s living up to his reputation in the field (+4.7 UZR/150), but not so much at the plate or on the bases. Let’s take a closer look at his performance this season.
Escobar put up a .304/.333/.368 line and a .311 wOBA in 134 plate appearances in 2009, without much in the way of walks (3 BB%) or power (.064 ISO). That was to be expected, though — the 6-1, 180 pound righty batter hit a cumulative .293/.333/.377 in the minors, with a five percent rate of free passes taken and a .084 ISO. Escobar did improve his offensive game as the climbed the ladder (.328/.363/.434, 5.2 BB%, .106 ISO in Double-A in 2008, .298/.353/.409, 6.6 BB% .111 ISO at Triple-A in 2009), but ZiPS and CHONE both projected a mild showing with the lumber:
ZiPS: .279/.321/.378, 5.4 BB%, .099 ISO, .315 wOBA
CHONE: .291/.334/.389, 5.2 BB%, .098 ISO, .322 wOBA
Thus far, Escobar has fallen short of those forecasts. He’s got a .246/.298/.340 triple-slash in 268 PA, with a .285 wOBA. His bat has been -8.1 runs below average already. While hardly a model of plate patience, Escobar hasn’t been a total hacker, with a 6.7 BB% and a 29.8 outside swing percentage (28.4% MLB average). He’s also hitting with the same authority as CHONE and ZiPS projected, which is to say, little (.094 ISO).
The reason Escobar’s wOBA thirty to forty points lower than predicted is his .272 BABIP. From ’05 to ’09, Alcides had a .346 BABIP in the minors, and his BABIP with the Brewers last season was .346. ZiPS projected a .323 BABIP for Escobar this season, while CHONE had a .340 estimate. His expected BABIP, based on his rate of homers, K’s, stolen bases, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and ground balls, is .309.
To this point, Escobar’s line drives have fallen for hits at a clip well below the NL average. Less surprisingly, he has an above-average BABIP on grounders, and little happens when he hits a fly ball:
(Numbers from Baseball-Reference)
Escobar will likely see his BABIP climb in the months to come, but it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll do once he reaches base. He stole 34 bases in 42 tries with Huntsville in 2008, and nabbed 42 bags in 52 attempts with Nashville in 2009. ZiPS projected 25 steals in 2010, and CHONE 26. Yet, Escobar has attempted just six steals so far, getting caught once. It’s a strange development for a guy Baseball America called “a constant threat to steal bases.”
Considering his defensive gifts, Alcides Escobar should be a quality starter for the Brewers as long as he manages to avoid being a total zero at the plate. But to gain favor in fantasy formats, he’ll need to use his wheels more often.
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