It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but Yunel Escobar is scheduled to return to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday after spending time on the DL with a shoulder injury. On first thought, one would think that the return of a starter would be a boost to the team. But is that really the case with Escobar?
Coming into this season, Escobar was expected to be a lockdown defender, as well as a good bottom-half of the order hitter. But, Escobar has not done that. This year Escobar has already made 8 errors in just 225 chances, but last season he made just 7 in 610 chances. Even more shocking is the drop off in his UZR/150, which went from an outstanding 12.2 in 2013 to a shocking -26.4 this year (small sample size red flag does apply). At the plate, Escobar was a .256/.332/.366 (100 wRC+) hitter in 2013, but this year he has regressed to .244/.322/.328 (87 wRC+) this year. Escobar has been disappointing since signing a 2-year extension at the beginning of the year.
In his stead at shortstop, Ben Zobrist has been doing great. Zobrist’s .266/.352/.406 line is much better than Escobar’s, and he has been even better since taking over at short, hitting .367/.457/.583 in his last 15 games. Also, Zobrist has been playing much better defense than Escobar. If Escobar returns to the lineup, but cannot improve, especially on defense, then the Rays will be missing out by moving Zobrist back to second.
Escobar’s return also means less playing time for Logan Forsythe. Since Escobar went down with injury, Forsythe has played 12 of the teams 15 games at second base and another at DH. He has cooled down lately, not getting a hit in his last 13 plate appearances. But despite that he has still been a great fill in, hitting .271/.333/.479 in his past 13 games. The Rays have had a resurgent offense lately, and it was Forsythe who began it. He has also ranked as a good defender, with his UZR/150 coming in at 5.2, though that is in a very small sample size.
In the end, it all depends on how Escobar can perform when he returns. If he can come closer to his 2013 levels of production, especially on defense, then his return will be welcomed. However if he cannot, it would become hard to justify playing Escobar over Zobrist, who hits better and has played better defense at short this year, and Forsythe, who, for the most part, has been a good player over the last couple of weeks.