Embracing Substance Over Style
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsWatching Eduardo Escobar play shortstop on Friday afternoon, it’s understandable why he does not excite a lot of people. He isn’t smooth. He is not stylish. You catch yourself holding your breath watching him …
(I’m having coming up with a verb here. He doesn’t race. Stumble is too harsh. Let’s go with hustle, as it conveys both the cynical and positive connotations.)
You catch yourself holding your breath watching him hustle towards the hole, field the ball, pivot and make the throw to first base. He looks like he is laboring. He does not inspire confidence.
But he made the plays. Asked about Escobar’s defense after Friday’s game, manager Paul Molitor portrayed it as “solid.” “He made all the plays,” reflected Molitor. “That’s typical of what we expect out of him because he’s going to do that.”
It’s expected because he made damn near all the plays last year, too. You might be surprised to hear that Eduardo Escobar’s shortstop UZR last year was +2.1 which means he saved approximately two runs more than the average shortstop over the 771 innings he played.
Don’t trust the defensive metrics? Let’s do some old school scouting instead. Inside Edge counted 252 ground balls to Escobar last year that were “routine” meaning they are turned into outs 90-100% of the time. Escobar turned all but 6 into outs, or 97.6%. As you might expect, he was not as solid for the plays which are less routine, making a handful fewer outs than one might expect in those cases. Again, not flashy, but solid.
His bat, on the other hand, has been eye-catching, especially this spring. He knocked in his 11th RBI on Saturday to lend further credence to the .721 OPS he put up last year over 465 plate appearances. You would think posting an OPS equivalent to Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, while playing solid defense would cement a 26-year-old’s spot in the lineup.
You would be wrong, because Escobar is being crowded out of an everyday spot in the lineup so Danny Santana, who filled in as a center fielder last year, can have his turn at shortstop. What isn’t as clear is why that is happening. Why not keep Santana in center field?
The obvious reason is that Santana’s future is likely at shortstop, and so why not start that future that right now? But that raises the question: why not start that future last year? The easy answer is that center field was a disaster last year – but it doesn’t looks like a lot has changed. Just like last year, the Twins are throwing a lot of players at the problem in hope that one of them sticks.
The other question it raises is: why not start that future, you know, in the future? By then, maybe Aaron Hicks has a track record in AAA that inspires some confidence. Maybe Byron Buxton is ready to take over center field for the next decade. Maybe Escobar has established himself as an everyday shortstop in the eyes of the league and becomes a much more valuable asset in a trade.
Or, maybe, Escobar flames out. His doubters can point to last year’s 93 strikeouts (versus just 24 walks) as evidence that his success is far from assured, or that he’s ill-suited for the adjustment pitchers are likely to make this year. But that still is a solution, only now Hicks and Buxton (or Eddie Rosario?) have had more time to establish themselves in center field.
In short, the Twins seem to be embracing a solution in search of a problem - except that the problem is fairly obvious. It hasn’t moved; it is where it was last year, in center field, not at shortstop. Escobar’s results should rank higher than whatever potential the Twins still see in their center field candidates. He may not be as stunningly beautiful as my lovely wife, but he’s dependable. Shouldn't that be the priority?
- Tibs, Jham, hybridbear and 1 other like this