The Shortstop Jesus.

I hung that moniker on our new shortstop early last season, after witnessing a series of spectacular defensive plays. It was a sight to behold. Especially after watching Yuniesky Betancourt play the position the previous few seasons. Not unlike rubbing battery acid into one’s eyes.

The thinking went, Escobar’s glove was saving the Royals runs aplenty. Thus, he was our long sought after middle infield savior.

An assortment of defensive metrics back this assumption. He finished third in the AL and seventh overall among all shortstop in the Fielding Bible’s +/- rating with a +12. He was third in the AL (and third overall) in UZR and was fourth in the AL in UZR/150. He was involved in 98 double plays last year, fourth most in the AL. He led the AL with 459 assists.

Here are a couple of numbers that should impress:

He led all shortstops in total number of balls fielded. His total of 573 was 23 more than second place Alexi Ramirez. Of those 573 fielding plays, Escobar converted 91% of them into at least one out. That rate was the highest in baseball among all shortstops.

I know there are many of you who don’t like (or believe in) defensive metrics, but if you watched any number of Royals games last season, you don’t need the metrics to tell you what you saw with your own eyes: The SS Jesus can play some shortstop.

About that offense…

I’m intrigued by Alcides Escobar’s offensive splits from 2011. I know, I know… Small sample sizes and all that. But still…

April – .221/.248/.260
May – .209/.258/.244
June – .305/.353/.432
July – .253/.281/.374
Aug – .224/.248/.316
Sept – .324/.367/.459

Two months where he was really good. One month where he was average. And three months where he smelled so bad, there was talk about putting his bat in a landfill in Jackson County.

In June and August, Escobar had exactly the same number of plate appearances (105) and roughly the same number of at bats (95 in June compared to 98 in August.) The difference between the months was a total of seven base hits and three walks. So in June, his .353 OBP was powered by reaching base 10 more times than the .248 OBP he posted in August.

Going through and looking at the pitches he swung at, you get the impression of a hitter with no plan at the plate and more personalities than Sybil. Seriously, the guy just never found an approach that he could repeat.

To underscore this, I’ve pulled the charts from Texas Leaguers that show the pitches Escobar offered at by month. Yes, I may be cherry-picking my data by going month to month, but that’s how the splits are offered at Fangraphs and it’s the clearest way for us to break down Escobar’s season. What follows are also what happened (as a percentage) at the end of each Escobar plate appearance for the month.

April
Escobar is getting the lay of the land with his new team in a new league and is offering at pitches all around the strike zone. He’s particularly susceptible to sliders low and away.

Plate Appearance Resolutions
Groundout – 27.1%
Single – 16.8%
Strikeout – 12.2%

June
This is where Escobar is locked in and enjoys his best month. It’s no coincidence this is his cleanest chart, discipline-wise.

Plate Appearance Resolutions
Groundout – 24.8%
Single – 20%
Flyout – 9.5%
Strikeout – 9.5%

July
Maybe Escobar starts thinking he’s something he’s not. Because he’s chasing a ton of high cheese. Not surprisingly, he makes loads of fly ball outs in July.

Plate Appearance Resolutions
Groundout – 21%
Single – 16%
Flyout – 15%

August
This just baffles me. The inside pitch… What was going on here? Was he trying to pull the ball every single time? He’s still chasing the high stuff, but it’s not so far out of the zone like the previous month, but it’s enough to elevate his fly ball rate to it’s highest point of the year. Seriously, I see a chart like this and think I’m looking at a right-handed Reggie Jackson.

Plate Appearance Resolutions
Groundout – 27.6%
Single – 17.1%
Flyout – 16.2%

Overall, Escobar hit .236 when he put the ball on play on the ground, versus a .173 average when the ball was classified as a fly ball. Judging only from the disparity among the averages, that sounds like what we would expect from a player with the pedigree of Escobar. He lacks power, but has a little bit of speed, so if he can keep the ball on the ground, he can sneak a few past some infielders and maybe beat out some that stay on the infield. That’s why the months where he hit a ton of fly balls, were poor offensive months for Escobar. These were stretches where he was chasing balls he had zero business going after… The high fastballs in July and the inexplicable fascination with pitches on the inside corner (and beyond) in August.

It’s also interesting to note that Escobar hit .684 when he muscled a line drive. If we accept the average major league player gets a base hit on roughly 75 percent of his line drives, Escobar was woefully below average. Deeper investigation shows that the AL average on line drives was .728. As a team, the Royals hit .751 when they squared one up. (The only Royal with a worse average when hitting a line drive? My boy, Chris Getz! Whoooooo!!!)

So is there a conclusion we can draw from this exercise? Damned if I know. But like I said earlier, Escobar is a raw, undisciplined hitter, whose approach is as inconsistent as humanly possible.

Escobar’s contact rate remained static throughout the season. We know he doesn’t draw walks – his walk rate was an anemic 4.2% – and with a strikeout rate of 12.2%, he’s well below the league average in that department. Neither of those numbers experienced the wild kind of swings his batting average and on base percentages endured. It’s obvious he was making contact even when chasing pitches both up and in. Fangraphs confirms this. Escobar made contact on swings out of the strike zone 76.5% of the time, compared to the league average of 68.1%. There are a bunch of hitters who can chase outside the zone and get away with it. (Let’s stop with the Vladimir Guerrero mentions every time we discuss this. Troy Tulowitzki has become quite the bad ball hitter. Let’s use him.) Anyway, Escobar doesn’t have the talent to consistently expand his strike zone. When he’s chasing and making contact, he’s hitting weak dribblers or short pop flies. He doesn’t possess the ability to launch a 425 foot bomb from a pitch dropping on his shoelaces.

Moving forward, the Royals and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer will have to watch Escobar closely. Keep an eye on him and reign him in quickly when he begins adjusting his patterns at the plate. Or at least leave him alone until he stumbles across a passable approach.

That bat will continue to give us fits. At least we’ll have his glove.