- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

What About Yunel Escobar

We did the shortstop keeper rankings last week, and one of the questions was succinct: “Yunel Escobar?”

If only the answer could be as short as the question in this case. Of course, if you are in a shallow league or contemplating even ten keepers in a mixed league, the answer probably is: No. Even if he has the upside to become a top-ten option at his position, after the season he just put together, he could easily be drafted cheaply in the re-stocking proceedings next year.

But let’s talk more fringe-y. Maybe you are in an AL-only league and spent your FAAB budget on your new shortstop and you’d like to know if he’ll return to grace and is worth keeping. Once again, we’ll have to assume you are not in an OBP league because then the answer is again probably easy: Yes. Before last year, his OBP was over .366 every year and his walk rate survived even his bad 2010 to hover near 10%. He’s an asset there.

The “problem” with Escobar has always been discerning a skill beyond the ability to get on base. He isn’t really speedy – his speed scores have always been below average despite his 18 career stolen bases. His batting averages have been good, but last year it was bad (.256) despite only a mediocre BABIP (.282). Even then, a one-category guy isn’t one to keep.

So it comes down to if his power will grow – an interesting thing for a man with a career seasonal high of 14 home runs. The answer to this question is not as easily parsed as the last two questions, however: Maybe. Because as bad as last year looked, there was a progression in his numbers that might give his owners some hope.

Here are his isolated slugging percentages, starting with his rookie year, and not including last year: .125, .113, .136. And his flyball percentages: 22.9%, 24.7%, 30.0%. And his groundball percentages: 56%, 58.2%, 50%. And his HR/FB: 7.9%, 9.1%, 10.1%. If only last year’s .062 ISO, 28.4% flyballs, 53.6% groundballs and 3.3% HR/FB didn’t spoil the fun, you could say that his batted ball profile was trending towards more power. More flyballs mean more power on a basic level, and that slowly increasing HR/FB was a great sign that more of those flyballs could turn into the home runs that we fantasy managers covet.

The good news is that he’s only 28 and that trends like this can regain traction even after a poor year. It’s possible that he’s older than his birth certificate says – and that would change the diagnosis slightly and make it possible that we’ve seen his best – but he’s been here a while and there’s been little speculation about his age so far. If he’s on the right side of thirty, he’s in the right place for a power resurgence and a career year. Perhaps the “Grip it and rip it” hitting philosophy in Toronto will make for a career year in 2011. Right place, right time?

There’s a chance that in the right league of the right depth, Yunel Escobar a keeper. Not quite the one-word answer for the two-word question, but it’s honest.