Thursday, December 22, 2016

By Robert Cunningham, Senior Writer - 

Author’s Note: If you missed the previous installments you can find Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here, Part V here, Part VI here, Part VII here, and Part VIII here.

So let us talk about Yunel Escobar.

First of all he is not a great baserunner, nor a base stealer. He just doesn’t add much value there if any.

In regards to his defensive ability, as member ‘Dochalo’ said, here, “I think defense bores him and he loses focus.”

At one point in time Escobar was a good defensive shortstop but his move to third base has been lackluster at best and blundering at its worst. Doc is probably correct.

However, we should note one thing regarding his defense as seen in the two graphs, below, contrasting a really good defensive third baseman and Yunel:

Clearly Arenado has superior range but the interesting thing to note is how confined Escobar is to the third base line.

This has to be due, in part, to the Simmons effect as Yunel probably has been instructed to stay tight to the line (and rightfully so) to prevent down-the-line doubles and triples and to let Andrelton do his thing.

When you look at the components of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) for infielders you see it consists of double play runs above average, range runs above average, and error runs above average.

Clearly Escobar has made errors, which is all on him. However, it could be argued that his confinement to a limited area on the third base side, due to Simmons in 2016 and Espinosa in 2015 when he was with the Nationals, might artificially limit his ability to turn double plays (opportunities are low) and show his lateral range (because of Simmons).

We are not making an argument that he does not commit errors. It is an argument though that the defensive metrics over the last two years may have been a lot harsher regarding his actual ability when compared to league average third basemen.

This may (and this is pure speculation) contribute to Escobar appearing bored or, in fact, being actually bored. No matter what though it is apparent his defense needs some improvement and FanGraphs projection systems seem to agree that it will recover a bit in 2017.

All of this talk about what he does not have brings us around to the primary thing that he does have: His bat.

In that article they have a ‘BIP Profiles’ matrix graph and there are three very interesting characteristics that stand out regarding Yunel.

One is the really low pop up percentage where Escobar is over one standard deviation less than average for the group at 1.1%. There was only one other player, Nick Castellanos, who did slightly better in 2016. This simply means that Yunel avoids easy outs this way (slightly increasing his BABIP).

Item number two is his low strikeout percentage which is also over one standard deviation less than average sitting at a tidy 11.8%. This has been a key component of Escobar’s modus operandi which is to not walk or strikeout much and put the ball in play often.

The third item was the most interesting of the three characteristics regarding his extremely low 19.7% fly ball percentage. This, too, is over one standard deviation less than average and is a major contributor to his high BABIP rate of .339 in 2016.

It was so low it made me curious to pull up a leaderboard on FanGraphs of the lowest fly ball percentages league wide with a minimum of 100 PA’s. There was another interesting name, Cesar Hernandez, near the top of that list who, as we all know per Jeff Fletcher, the Angels were pursuing earlier in the offseason:

Basically over the last two seasons Yunel has managed to drop his fly ball percentage by about 2-3% and increase his line drive percentage by about the same amount. This combined with his ability to spray the ball to all fields, particularly up the middle, makes for a dynamic 2-hole hitter.

Now of course the Angels utilized him as their lead-off hitter in 2016 and he did well in that capacity but if they do start the 2017 season with Escobar on the roster it would not be unsurprising to see them put Maybin in at the top of the order and slide Yunel down a spot.

If Cameron can recreate his .383 OBP in 2017, having Escobar bat behind him could really recreate some of the old magic of Scioscia’s previous pressure type offenses by putting on hit and run plays and going first to third, challenging the opponent’s defense.

Of course the Angels could simply keep the same top four of the batting order that they had last year because of the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality which would be perfectly acceptable.

Escobar is in his last season of control at a reasonable $7MM salary for 2017. This is almost certainly the last time we will see Yunel in an Angels uniform as Eppler will likely look to the free agent or trade markets to replace his production.

There is always a possibility that the 3B market doesn’t pan out to Billy’s liking and he re-signs him to a one year deal to bridge to a highly prized free agent like Manny Machado for instance (one can always dream and Lozano’s his agent right?).

Finally we should discuss the possibility that Yunel could still be traded pre-season.

Technically the Angels could see Maybin as their new lead-off hitter and Escobar as someone that can be upgraded, particularly on the defensive side of the equation.

The same problem the Angels had finding a 2B this offseason would also apply to 3B, perhaps even more so because the best two defensive 3B on the market, Turner and Prado, have been signed. Only Stephen Drew, Luis Valbuena, and Chase Utley remain and those seem like tertiary options rather than primary or even secondary ones.

It is possible the Angels could trade for a 3B but, again, the options are not particularly expansive. Someone like Mike Moustakas is in his last year of control but the Royals seem, at this point in time, more likely to make one last run with their core group and if they are out by the deadline then sell off those expiring parts.

Frazier, who is in his last year of control, is certainly available but he is out of the Angels reach financially in all likelihood at close to $13MM. Chase Headley might be more achievable and Eppler might be able to pull off a “two birds, one stone” or possibly even “three birds, two stones” type trade with his former club the Yankees.

Nick Castellanos is probably on the block too but he is similar to Yunel defensively although he has more pop in his bat. Other hitters like Jake Lamb and Eugenio Suarez might also be obtainable but they would cost Eppler quite a bit of prospect currency making them very doubtful.

Of course all of this trade talk is predicated on the Angels finding a trade partner for Yunel Escobar and his remaining $7MM salary which may prove hard to execute in the current environment.

In the end this is fine. The Angels have use for him and, with Simmons playing to his left, Escobar can continue sticking to the third base line and working some magic with his bat particularly against left-handed pitching which he destroys.

Let us leave the reader with a personally selected photo from member Glen’s very private, special file:

What is this man thinking about?
Love to hear what you think!

Listen to "A Fish Like This" Tribute song to Mike Trout's Greatness

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