After a year in which one-time Brewers shortstop-of-the-future and current Royals man-up-the-middle, Alcides Escobar, batted .293 with a .331 on-base percentage and 35 stolen bases, expectations were running awfully high in fantasy circles. His lack of power was dismissed in favor of the potential for more speed and there seemed to be little concern over the fact that his walk rate stayed at its woeful 4.2-percent while he saw a minor spike in strikeouts. Some pointed to his inflated .344 BABIP but his supporters pointed to his minor league batted ball data and his above-average contact rates. But when Escobar finished the season with a dismal .234/.259/.300 slash line and swiped just 22 bags, the supporters ducked for cover as the naysayers (cue obligatory comment from John Elway) reveled in the glory of being right.
As you sift through the data that makes up Escobar’s 2013 season, there are two numbers that stand out the most if you’re looking for a reason as to why he failed to repeat his previous season’s success — a .264 BABIP and a 39.2-percent O-Swing%. They are completely intertwined and, together, offer a very plausible explanation for the drop-off. The good news, though, is that it’s actually very correctable and we could actually see a return to his 2012 prowess.
When you have a year like Escobar did in 2012, you can understand his eagerness and added aggressiveness at the plate last season. It was almost as if he could do no wrong that year so naturally he would want to, not just repeat it, but build off of it as well. That aggressiveness led to an overall increase in his swing rate, but while his swings inside the zone remained the same, he was obviously hacking away as much as he could causing a major increase in his O-Swing%, jumping from 32.7 all the way to 38.3-percent. His contact rate outside the zone rose from 72.5-percent to 77.2-percent, so while he was putting bat to ball, the contact was nowhere near as clean as it was the previous season. And that’s where the BABIP ties in and the luck runs out.
Excessive swings outside the zone are bad enough, but when you’re also making contact on those swings and that contact isn’t clean, the results tend to lean towards the unfavorable side. Sure, you can get lucky and see a few ground balls make their way through some holes in the infield, but when you’re just simply popping them up as Escobar did, as evidenced by his drop in ground balls and increase in fly balls, then you just can’t expect most of them all to drop in for hits. Sure, some will, shallow pop-ups and lazy fly-balls tend to be caught more often than not.
In addition to that, we also saw a drop in walk-rate and a rise in strikeouts, so if you take all of that and mix it together, you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for struggle. However, as mentioned before, it all seems like a very correctable issue. Should Escobar show up this season with a more selective eye and cut down on those swings outside the zone, it is very reasonable to assume that he can improve his numbers across the board. Maybe he doesn’t end up batting .293 again, but maybe…just maybe…with a bit more patience and an improved batter’s eye, Escobar can turn things around and prove to fantasy owners that he’s more than just a mediocre stolen base guy.