When the Rays acquired Yunel Escobar in a trade with the Miami Marlins this offseason, they knew that he came with quite a bit of risk given his enigmatic personality but also that if everything went well he had the ability to give them a well above-average major league shortstop. He’s always been a player with substantial amounts of talent that isn’t always accessible to him, and the Rays hope that putting him in a more stable clubhouse presence will help him bring those abilities out. In 2012, Escobar managed a .253/.300/.344 line (75 OPS+) with 22 doubles, 9 home runs, 5 of 6 stolen bases, and a 70-35 strikeout to walk ratio in 145 games and 608 plate appearances. The Rays hope that Escobar can at least get back to his career average of a .282/.353/.390 line (99 OPS+) and chip in a few more extra base hits while also getting back to the 54 walks he averaged per season from 2008 to 2011. Best-case scenario, Escobar will hit between .290 and .300 like he did in 2009 and 2011 and also tap into his power a bit more, getting his home run total closer to the 14 he hit in 2009. With Escobar having all of that potential, it wasn’t surprising to hear Joe Maddon saying something like this.
This guy is a complete baseball player. I don’t think he’s really been given credit for being all of that in the past. But he has all the necessary ingredients — all five of them. And I think you’re going to see them.”
Escobar really does a ton of things well and has the ability to be a great all-around shortstop. But wait a second- does he really have all five tools. His hit tool, glove, and arm are pretty clear, and his power is also impressive for a shortstop. However, Escobar has never stolen more than 6 bases in a season, and just twice in his six big league seasons has he managed a stolen base success rate of 66% or greater. How is Escobar suddenly to become a solid basestealer just because he’s joining the Rays? The answer is that just because Escobar hasn’t stolen bases doesn’t mean he’s not fast, and even if he hasn’t been a great basestealer of the years, he has always been a great runner.
For his career, Yunel Escobar’s extra base taken percentage, meaning the percentage of time he has gone first-to-third on a single or first-to-home on a double is 45%, solidly above the MLB average of 40% since he broke into the major leagues. In 2012, Escobar took 19 bases on plays that weren’t hits or errors (e.g. sac flies and passed balls) and that was tied for the 12th-highest mark in the American League. He also ranked 7th by reaching on nine errors, something that doesn’t seem worth noting except for when we realize that faster baserunners put additional pressure on the defense and cause them to make more errors. 1.3% of Escobar’s plate appearances in the major leagues have ended with him reaching on an error, significantly better than the MLB average of 1.0% (57 to 1 odds of happening by chance alone). But the most compelling measure of Escobar’s speed has to be his ability to beat out groundballs for infield singles. For his career, 14.3% of Escobar’s hits have been on the infield and 3.6% of his plate appearances have ended with an infield hit, both well above the league averages of 11.4% and 2.6% in 2012. The odds of his infield hits divided by hits ratio being so extreme was 333 to 1. For the infield hits divided plate appearances, the odds were just 6152 to 1. Escobar is a hitter who has hit the ball on the ground a lot, giving him more opportunities for infield hits, but you don’t beat out nearly that many without very good speed. Now the question is going to be whether the Rays can help Escobar harness that speed on the basepaths.
Escobar has made subtle but still notable strides in his basestealing the last three years, stealing 14 of 20 bases compared to just 12 of 24 the three years before that. But can the Rays help Escobar improve his reads to the point where he could really be at least a double-digit stolen base threat like his speed would dictate? There are no guarantees, but with the Rays placing a high emphasis on basestealing as they fight to score runs, there could not have been a better place Escobar could have ended up to piece together the basestealing part of the game. Joe Maddon praised Escobar for having all five tools, and by the end of the season, we will see just how right he was.