I have to imagine every Royals’ fan that read the above title instantly thought ‘Alcides Escobar’ and probably a vast majority then had the name ‘Chris Getz’ pop into their head shortly thereafter.  No trickery here, that is exactly who we are going to talk about this morning.

Let me preface the discussion by admitting I have not done an in-depth analysis of this topic.    Two reasons:  a) time and b) I wanted to not prove a point, but continue a long running Twitter discussion and get the readers’ semi-unjaded thoughts on the issue.  Yes, you’re right, item b is a writer’s way of justifying limited research.

Anyway, I have yet to find anyone who has not been wowed by the defense of Alcides Escobar at short.   To date, he has simply been outstanding:  making great plays often and making the routine plays look, well, routine.   For Kansas City, where every infield pop up since the turn of the century has been an adventure, routine looking routine is refreshing.

Now, it remains to be seen if Escobar can maintain this level of play throughout a full season and also if the defensive metrics come around to supporting what our eyes (and maybe our hearts) are telling us, but for the purposes of today, let’s assume that Escobar is somewhere between a very good defender and an elite defender.

According to Fangraphs, the best fielding shortstops of 2010 were (using RAR):

  • Alexei Ramirez – 10.8
  • Cliff Pennington – 9.9
  • Stephen Drew – 8.7
  • Troy Tulowitzki – 7.1

Given that Alcides Escobar was widely considered to be inconsistent at best in the field in 2010 and still posted a +3.5, I think it is safe to assume that his defense (to date) would have to be considered up among the league leaders.   Now, Tulowitzki and Drew can, you know, hit the ball and hence their overall Wins Above Replacement is aided greatly by their offense.

Pennington (-0.5) and Ramirez (-2.2), however, were not deemed to have contributed much offensively using this system.  However, both posted wOBA numbers that I think all of us would gladly accept out of Escobar.   Pennington checked in with wOBA of .315 (.250/.319./.368 standard line), and Ramirez had an wOBA of .322 (.282/.313/.431).   I can affirm completely that if Alcides Escobar matches either one of those lines, he will definitely be hitting enough to justify keeping his defense in the lineup.

However, we are trying to determine the minimum scenario under which Escobar can be an overall positive and in that scenario it is worth looking at the bottom portion of shortstops using their 2010 wOBA:

  • Cesar Izturis – .248
  • Alcides Escobar – .270
  • Erick Aybar – .288
  • Orlando Cabrera – .292

One could make the case that if Escobar hits as he did last year (when his overall WAR was +0.6) and fields at a higher level, he might be doing enough as is.   Remember, Alcides hit a very putrid .235/.288/.326 in 2010, which is sadly well above his current 2011 line.    

The Royals, however, are surely looking for more than a 1 WAR shortstop to come out of the Greinke trade, or at least they should be.   Is something more than 2 WAR acceptable?   For now, in my mind, the answer is yes.   In working our way up the wOBA list to find the lowest ranked shortstop to post a plus two WAR, we conveniently find another Escobar.

Yunel Escobar posted a wOBA of .301 in 2010, hitting .256/.337/.318 and fielding at 4.3 Runs Above Replacement.   I will move out of my mom’s basement if the Royals’ Escobar gets anywhere close to a .337 on-base percentage this year, but if he can field at a better clip than Yunel and hit a little less maybe Alcides could still be a major positive overall.  Erick Aybar’s line of .253/.306/.330 for a wOBA of .288 would do it.

So, in a very unsophisticated look at the subject, it appears that Alcides Escobar could duplicate his 2010 hitting and be basically replacement level (i.e. not helping, but not killing his team, either).   Above that line, Escobar begins to add some juice to the Royals’ overall WAR equation.   An Aybar like line would turn Alcides into the first truly impactful positive overall Royals shortstop since Mike Aviles had his glorious rookie run in 2008.

Now, using the above imperfect logic, what would second baseman Chris Getz need to do to also be something more than ‘just above replacement level’?   Easy answer: more.   Second base is an important defensive position, but not as important as shortstop.   Additionally, while Getz would appear to be a good defender at second, I am not ready to label him as more than simply ‘good’.

Rightly or wrongly, instead of looking at the top defenders as we did with shortstop, let’s take a look at the next tier down of second baseman in 2010:

  • David Eckstein – 6.2
  • Freddy Sanchez – 5.9
  • Aaron Hill – 3.7
  • Clint Barmes – 3.6

Both Eckstein and Sanchez posted an overall fWARs over two.   Sanchez, while not a great hitter, would seem to be a different kind of hitter than Getz, but Eckstein, with a line of .267/.321/.326 with a wOBA of .296 seems very ‘Getz-like’.  

Of course, David Eckstein was an excellent defensive shortstop who moved over to second and I have to believe, despite his age, that he played better defense at second base than Getz will.   Admittedly, I think Mike Aviles should be playing second base right now for the Royals and hence may have a jaded view of Getz’s defense – while better than Aviles, I do not think it is THAT much better.

You can debate the above statement, but I have to think that anything less than something resembling Eckstein’s 2010 offensive output would put Getz underwater when it comes to his overall WAR and hence, overall contribution to the team.  Probably something on the order of a Chone Figginsish .259/.340/.306 (wOBA .302) would do the trick – assuming plus five defense or thereabouts.

Okay, now what do you think?  How much offense do you need to keep Alcides Escobar on the field?   How about Chris Getz?