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May 31, 2013 posted by Josh Kay

Buy Low: Yunel Escobar

Buy Low: Yunel Escobar
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Following the demotion of Rockies shortstop/second-baseman Josh Rutledge to Triple-A, fantasy owners in deeper leagues are scrambling for middle infield replacements. Owners should look no further then struggling Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar. Escobar is currently slashing an uninspiring .211/.277/.352, but there are a few reasons for optimism.

Batting-average-on-balls-in-play (BABIP) analysis is widely overused. Specifically when using a broad stroke of the proverbial paint brush and deeming performance by Player-X “lucky or unlucky”. When used properly though, BABIP can be quite useful in the process of prognosticating an about-face of production.

The 30 year-old Escobar is just two years removed from a stretch in which he enjoyed a batting average of .285 or higher three times over four seasons. During that four year stretch from 2008 through 2011, Escobar didn’t display power he has shown so far.

Year BB% K% ISO (Slugging minus Batting Average) BABIP AVG
2008 10.1 10.6 .113 .311 .288
2009 9.4 10.3 .136 .317 .299
2010 9.9 10.1 .062 .282 .256
2011 10.3 11.9 .123 .316 .290
2013 7.0 12.7 .141 .220 .211

The pessimistic approach is to take note of the noticeably low walk-rate and uncharacteristically high strike-out rate for Escobar thus far in 2013 as possible reasons for the BABIP struggles.

The optimist would look at this chart:

Year PA BB% K% ISO BABIP
2007 (with Triple-A Gwinnett) 195 7.2 13.8 .122 .382
2013 (with Rays) 150 7.0 12.7 .141 .220

 

Surely these stats cannot be consolidated and perhaps this comparison holds little intrinsic value, but it does highlight that Escobar’s strikeout and walk rates are indeed independent of his batting-average-on-balls-in-play.

What has plagued Escobar, strangely enough, has been the fastball middle-in. Take a look at this chart via Baseball Prospectus. Escobar is hitting 2-15 (.133) on fastballs right down the middle and middle-in. In 2011, his most recent successful hitting campaign, he hit .300 (15-50) on fastballs in those spots.

Year GB% FB% Infield Hit % GB% on Fastballs Middle-middle and middle-in
2011 57.2 24.7 7.5 52%
2013 45.8 33.1 1.8 20%

 

If Yunel’s tendencies to try and hit for more power hold up, we could be looking at a middle infielder hitting .260 with 14 HR, 8 SB, (will run more under Joe Maddon).  That sounds quite a bit like a poor man’s Josh Rutledge, err, well, actually it is Josh Rutledge.

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