Now that the 2020 MLB season has hit the three-week mark, we’re at the point where we can start looking into some sell-high and buy-low candidates. With sample sizes increasing from the “far-too-small” to the increasingly indicative, we begin to ask ourselves questions like: “is Dylan Bundy actually good now, or are hitters just being thrown off by his dusty, pathetic attempt at facial hair?” Translation: are the results we’re seeing legitimate? If you’re willing to make a calculated gamble, this is as good of a time as any to find excess value in the trade market and/or dump an early star destined for decline to the league dingus. One such player I’m looking at adding shares of at present is Eduardo Escobar of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who entered the week of Aug. 10 batting .164/.233/.255 with just two extra base hits across his first 55 at bats of the season. After finishing draft season with an ADP of 113 overall as 2B13/3B17, Escobar looks to be an obvious bust from the outside looking in — but let me tell you why he’s a major buy-low candidate for me for the rest of the season.
Heading into 2020, Escobar — nicknamed El De La Pica, meaning “the one of the pike,” was coming off an excellent three-year stretch from 2017-19 where he slashed .266/.322/.486 with pro-rated 162-game totals of 30 home runs, 102 RBI, 86 runs scored and five stolen bases. Why is Escobar “the one of the pike,” you ask? Well, in the off-season, he travels across hundreds of Minnesota lakes spear fishing over both water and ice, attempting to haul in a prized pike to feed to his favorite teammates during Spring Training. Escobar was especially great following his trade from the Minnesota Twins to the Diamondbacks in 2018, exploding for a career year in 2019: .269/.320/.511, 35 home runs, 118 RBI, 94 runs and five steals.
If nothing else, the launch angle/fly ball revolution helped Escobar morph into an entirely different player compared to what he was in the early stages of his career. In 2015 and 2016, when Escobar popped a mere 12 and six home runs, respectively, his launch angles sat at 13.9 and 15.2 degrees. As Escobar took off from 2017-19, his launch angle rose to 17.8 and 18.9, before resting in at 18.4 in his career year in 2019. Those increases are not overly drastic, but clearly indicated an adjustment that powered Escobar to new heights as a hitter.
Despite the fact Escobar would be playing the entirety of the 2020 campaign as a 31-year-old, he really wasn’t a heavy bust pick for much of the industry, as his ECR of 81 was much higher than his overall ADP of 113. Even in a full-length season, a repeat of his 35 homers and 118 RBI was highly unlikely, but even taking that into account, Grey ranked him as his preseason No. 10 second baseman and No. 17 third baseman.
Rightly so, too, as age didn’t seem to be catching up to Escobar over the past three seasons. His exit velocity remained the same at 86.5 MPH from 2017 to 2018, and actually improved from there to 87.7 MPH in 2019. Escobar even increased his hard hit % from 27.6% in 2018 to 31.4% in 2019, after taking a small step backward in that category from 2017-18. Perhaps most importantly, Escobar cut down on his K% last year while notching a career high in homers: 20.0% in 2018, 18.6% in 2019. None of these statistics point to Escobar falling off in 2020 due to being an aging hitter who needs to cheat on pitches to produce. In fact, it appeared as though he was improving.
That takeaway is especially important to keep in mind as we dive into Escobar’s batted ball metrics in 2020 in search for a reason why he’s struggling. First stop, exit velocity: 87.7 MPH in 2019 vs. 88.3 MPH in 2020. He’s not a poster boy for exit velo by any means, but he’s actually hitting the ball harder this season than he ever has in his career. Next up, hard hit %: 29.8% this year, down just 1.6% from 2019 and up 2.2% from 2018. Although this hard hit rate isn’t very high compared to the rest of the league, it’s still the third highest mark of his career at present and not far off from where he was last year. In terms of sweet spot %, again, much has remain unchanged: 38.8% in 2018, 38.6% in 2019 and 38.3% in 2020.
Escobar is even making consistent contact with pitches inside the zone, as his 85.7 zone contact % in 2020 is the highest it’s been since 2017. On top of that, Escobar’s current BABIP sits at a measly .217, much lower than his respective marks of .308 and .283 in 2018 and 2019. All of these aforementioned statistics are reasons to be optimistic about a rest-of-season bounce-back for my favorite person with the initials EE — on that list, he heavily out-ranks Edwin Encarnacion, Emilio Estevez, Ernie Els, and Ericsdotter Eufemia (the former Swedish princess and heiress of Sweden).
Now, not all signs are good. With EE struggling as badly as he is, that would be statistically impossible — or I should say — improbable. Escobar’s strikeout rate has gone up 7.1% this season, from 18.6% last season to 25.7% so far this year. One of the primary reasons for this is that Escobar is chasing more pitches than he ever has in his career, as his 40.9 chase % is 3.2% higher than last year and 5.7% higher than in 2018. However, considering the type of hitter Escobar is — a switch-hitter with a career 19.5 K%, his 130 Ks in 2019 representing a career high — I don’t think it’s far-fetched to say that his strikeouts will begin to decrease as he gets more live at bats and sample size increases. As it concerns EE, I don’t believe these strikeouts indicate an aging hitter. Remember, we’re seeing clear evidence in 2020 that hitters need a full Spring Training more than many have speculated in the past. It isn’t just the pitchers who need it to stretch their innings out and condition their arms. The hitters also need it to perfect their timing and hit the ground running.
Although it’s early, I truly believe Escobar is going to be fine and ultimately return his relative draft value. He just needs to be more patient at the plate, which is backed up by his 71.4 first pitch swing % — by far a career high and 9.9% higher than it was last year.
Now, my young Padawan, don’t expect pro-rated 60-game totals of 13 home runs, 44 RBI, 35 runs and two steals that reflect his unbelievable 2019 campaign — but don’t be on the verge of dropping him or executing a hefty trade to replace him in your lineup, either. Quite to the contrary, I would be looking for value by means of trading for him at this point. If anyone in your league was dumb enough to drop him, do two things: 1) add him and 2) find a new league to play in because your league is crap.
I would take Escobar over any of the following players for the rest of the season at 2B or 3B: Jean Segura, Justin Turner, David Fletcher, Maikel Franco, Colin Moran, Tommy Edman, Wilmer Flores, Cesar Hernandez, Jonathon Schoop, Starlin Castro, Howie Kendrick, Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter and Kevin Newman — among others.
As always, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs.