Questioning, Explaining(?) Esky Magic

Listen up, people. It’s time to face facts. #EskyMagic is real.

Alcides Escobar has swung at the first pitch to lead off the last five games, and eight of nine games this postseason. In every game of the ALCS, he’s led off with a first-pitch swing and reached on a hit. In the last two, that hit resulted in a run, and the Royals won the ballgame. The Royals are now 47-19 when Escobar swings at the first pitch this season, regardless the outcome of that swing. #EskyMagic is happening, and there is nothing we can do about it.

There’s nothing we can do about it. That’s the part that got me thinking, because there has to be something someone can do about it.

This post is going to go like this. First, I’ll look up all the facts I can think of, deemed pertinent to #EskyMagic. Then, I’ll just dump them all onto this page and put some words around them. You’ll read them, I won’t have a conclusion, we’ll all leave confused and afraid, and the Royals will never lose another game with Alcides Escobar leading off. Cool? Cool.

Here comes the first one. This one’s the easy one, and it’s the obvious place to start.

Alcides Escobar, First-Pitch Swings
Situation At-Bats Swings Swing%
Regular season, leadoff 131 57 44%
Regular season, other 531 156 29%
Postseason, leadoff 9 8 89%
Postseason, other 34 9 26%

For some reason, Alcides Escobar was the Royals’ leadoff hitter for the first 125 games he played this season. During that time, he wasn’t a good hitter, because he isn’t a good hitter, and so Ned Yost bumped him down to the nine-hole in favor of good hitters Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist for most of September. With good hitters Gordon and Zobrist leading off, the Royals lost a few, and so Yost got not good hitter Escobar back to the top of the lineup for the last five games of the regular season, and, bam! #EskyMagic.

During the regular season, when Escobar led off, he swung at the first pitch 44% of the time, which is a high number. Among the 37 batters who led off at least 50 games this year, Escobar’s first-inning, first-pitch swing rate ranks fifth, so this isn’t an entirely new revelation. Escobar is an aggressive swinger, and especially so when leading off a ball game. That much has been known.

But something changed when Escobar was removed and reinstated as the Kansas City leadoff man. Let’s break his two tenures as leadoff hitter this season into chunks:

Alcides Escobar, first-inning, first-pitch swings

  • First go-around: 125 at-bats, 41% swing rate
  • Second go-around: six at-bats, 100% swing rate

OK.

So, #EskyMagic started a little early. When Escobar was reinstated as the team’s leadoff hitter for six games at the end of the regular season, he swung at the first pitch in all six games. The Royals won all six of those games.

Just to make sure we’re on the same page, here: Alcides Escobar has now swung at the first pitch to lead off 14 of the Royals last 15 games. Alcides Escobar has now swung at the first pitch to lead off 14 of the Royals last 15 games.

Everybody knows this is coming. The scouting report, already, on Escobar was that he was an aggressive swinger who became extra aggressive when batting first. The scouting report, now, is unnecessary, because Escobar’s decided to wear a giant sign in the batter’s box that reads, “gonna swing at the first pitch now you totally shouldn’t throw me a fastball over the plate wink wink.”

About that:

Alcides Escobar(1)

In nine leadoff at-bats, Escobar has seen five pitches squarely in the strike zone, two technically in the strike zone but on the edges, and two out of the zone. Watching video of the four not-obvious strikes, the catcher was set up middle-middle or something like it in all nine. Pitchers don’t want to immediately fall behind in the count to begin a game, so this isn’t at all out of the ordinary. But convention, as we know, doesn’t apply to #EskyMagic.

Another note about the nine pitches. The pitches themselves:

  1. Fastball
  2. Fastball
  3. Fastball
  4. Fastball
  5. Fastball
  6. Fastball
  7. Fastball
  8. Fastball
  9. Knuckleball

It’s all fastballs, basically, since R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball is his fastball.

Best I can tell, the process seems to go like this: Escobar walks to plate. Escobar dons sign (fastball, plate, wink wink). Pitcher delivers pitch. Pitch is fastball. Escobar sees fastball. Location: irrelevant. Escobar swings at fastball. Escobar hits fastball. Escobar runs, safe. Runs some more, scores. Royals win. Happy.

Seems like one of two things needs to happen here. First one being, maybe someone needs to throw Alcides Escobar an offspeed pitch to start a ballgame. Clearly, he’s geared up for the fastball. Changeup down the middle could work? Maybe? If you’re gonna go heater, though, maybe the typical strategy of “fastball over the plate to start the game” should sit a play out. Maybe fastball inside or fastball high? Those two pitches on the edges up ^ there, Escobar swung. The pitch furthest from the strike zone, Escobar swung. For the season, Escobar has chased out of the zone at an above average rate, and he doesn’t seem particularly discerning on the first pitch. I don’t know, man. And if you fall behind–

Wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait– who?! Escobar? That one? You want me to change my approach for him? .614 OPS guy? Leadoff? Well why didn’t you say something sooner! Eff that noise. I’m going right at him.

We hoped you liked reading Questioning, Explaining(?) Esky Magic by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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#eskymagic
Guest
#eskymagic

pretty sure esky fouled off the first pitch yesterday and his “swing” was a bunt on the 2nd pitch

i could be wrong

Mark
Guest
Mark

I believe he swung and missed the first pitch vs Stroman and Dickey.