At the beginning of the year, Yunel Escobar was struggling in virtually every facet of the game. Escobar was not hitting, and even worse, was not making plays in the field. Even though he was not making errors per se, mental gaffes and poor execution were leading to extended innings and more runs at the start of the season. Escobar’s reputation as an excellent defensive shortstop appeared to have been left behind.
However, as Escobar has become more comfortable in Tampa, his game has picked up. His offense has improved dramatically, but even more importantly, his defense has been excellent. In fact, his defense has likely surpassed expectations, as seemingly every other game, he is making plays that it would seem he should not even be coming close to.
Looking at Escobar’s defensive metrics, he would appear to be roughly league average based on his range factor ratings. Yet, this is one of those cases where the statistics do not tell the whole story. His ability to get to either side and make plays that are beyond the range of most shortstops is somewhat mitigated by the amount of shifting that the Rays use. What the statistic do show is that Escobar is a shortstop that, when he gets to the ball, will typically make almost every play with relative ease.
In watching Escobar day in and day out, it appears as though he is better than advertised. He has made plays that even the best defensive shortstops in the game may have trouble with. In fact, as his defensive reputation is gaining momentum, close plays seem to be swinging in the Rays direction. In their series against the Astros, Escobar made a throw from deep in the hole at short, and it appeared as though the runner was safe at first by half a step. Calls like that go to those with multiple Gold Glove awards – players like Derek Jeter (for his supposed defensive ability), Brendan Ryan and J.J. Hardy. If Escobar can get calls like that, his value goes far beyond what the statistics may indicate.
Yunel Escobar has been far better than advertised defensively, and his offense has truly come around as well. He has truly become one of the more valuable Rays this season.