The flowers were in full bloom. The air was gridlocked with pollen. The children were prancing in the fields looking for candy eggs. Rabbits were frolicking in the grass. As Pablo Escobar took in the sights and sounds, he turned to his wife, penetrated the atmosphere of her eyes, then proceeded to be a rabbit himself. The year was 1988. Escobar was now the richest man in the world, successfully guiding the Medellin Cartel to an entity of extraordinary magnitude for 12 years. He tried to enter the political sphere in Columbia but kept getting rebuffed. The authorities from both his homeland and gringos from the north kept hunting him, pushing for his arrest. Pablo, ever the power-hungry animal that he was, searched for another way to cement his legacy. He needed to diversify. On that April day, bringing a third Escobar into the world was the only viable solution. He would nurture him, groom him, and show him the ways so that one day he could exhibit the power as he had, prolonging the Escobar reign. Unfortunately, Pablo moved on from this world in 1993, cutting the tutelage short. After years of work, sweat, and pain, the child consummated on that April Day, Eduardo Escobar, delivered the power and fulfilled his dad’s vision as he clubbed 35 homers with 94 runs and 118 RBI in 699 plate appearances during the 2019 MLB season. Like father like son, though, the world came crashing down swiftly. In Eduardo’s case, it was the following year. Is there hope for Eduardo for this season, or will he be just a footnote in the history books?
Escobar is 32 years old, 5′ 10″, and 175 pounds. He began his professional career with the Chicago White Sox back in 2006. It wasn’t until 2011 that he made the Triple-A roster. Up to that point, he exhibited little power, clubbing a high of four home runs in a season, but he did steal 20 bases once. He didn’t walk much and the strikeout rate was sub-20%. The batting average was in the .270 range.
In 2012, he was traded to the Twins, where he played five seasons. The hitting profile remained the same until 2015 when some power began to surface. He clubbed 12 home runs in 446 plate appearances in the big leagues that year. That is when the world domination tour began.
In 2017, he hit 21 home runs. The following season, 23. He was traded to the Diamondbacks in 2018, but the change only fueled his power-hungry ways, as he clubbed 35 home runs.
Over that seven-year span, the walk rate was in the 5-8% range, the strikeout rate was 19-20%, BABIP was .277 to .336, and batting average was .236 to .272. The bulk of the time, though, the average was in the .260 range. The ISO didn’t spike until 2015 when it went from .183 to .102 to .195 to .217 to .242. All in all, the numbers were consistent sans the power, but that wasn’t Milli Vanilli-esque. It was there for over three full seasons.
Then the Covid season happened. Four home runs with a .212/.270/.335 slash with a .123 ISO. The walk and strikeout rates stayed consistent. Let’s dig into the numbers to see if there’s treasure to be mined from this 2020 trash.
Looking at the batted ball data, he hit a few more ground balls and fewer fly balls. The line drive rate was fine. The infield fly rate spiked up into the double-digits, though, after being in the five percent range previously. The approach was pretty much the same, as he pulled the ball 40% while going oppo 22%. The hard-hit rate plummeted from 41.3% to 29.9%. The prior year, that number was 38.2%. At least the soft contact didn’t increase.
Let’s check out the plate discipline numbers. The chase rate and swinging-strike rate both decreased. That’s good. The contact rates went up. All good on this front.
Let’s mozy on over to the Statcast data.
The barrel rate was 5.5%. In the prior three seasons, that number was 7, 8.3, and 8.3%. The exit velocity was 88.6 mph, though, a career-high. The launch angle was 18.1, consistent with the prior three years. The xBA was actually a career-high while the xSLG was sub-.400, the first time under in four years. Hmmm, some bad but some good. Similar to the contents in the Costco Pub Mix.
Looking at the pitch tracking data, the distribution of pitchers didn’t change much, as he saw 60% fastballs. The batting average on fastballs was .208 last season. The xBA was .286, though. In 2019, the average on fastballs was .288 with a xBA of .263. The exit velocity against fastballs was 90.1 last season and the whiff rate was 19.2%. Those numbers were 89.4 and 25.4% two years ago.
Against breaking balls is where Escobar really struggled. The xBA was .200 while the xSLG was .284. In 2019, those numbers were .266 and .487. Pitchers used that pitch to put him away 26.8% of the time. In 2019, that number was 18.2%.
The way I interpret all the above data is that Escobar didn’t have his timing down last year. He didn’t change his approach and the increase in pop-ups and difficulty against breaking balls are the main indicators. Remember, he only had 222 plate appearances last season. That’s around a third of a season’s worth.
Now, the BABIP was .244, a career-low in MLB plate appearances. That should normalize back up to the .280-.290 range. If so, then the batting average, which has been fairly consistent, should get back up to the .260 range. The funny ball may have inflated his 2019 numbers but he hit 20+ homers in each of the two prior seasons. Yeah, there was probably a funny ball back then, but he’s batting third and should accumulate over 600 plate appearances. He’s being selected as the 293rd overall player in NFBC drafts this season. Before last season, the ADP was 118. Prior to that, it was 175. Rudy has Escobar as the 228th overall player.
I am but a Son. Rudy is THE wizard and he told me Escobar was a target in his Main Event draft. If that’s not enough, the Queen of the Deep Dive, our own Laura Holt, wrote earlier this month:
“I haven’t drafted Escobar yet and really haven’t been tempted to, but that doesn’t mean I won’t consider him if I need 3B help around the 300th pick of a draft (his current ADP is #291). Most figured his amazing 2019 when he hit 35 home runs with 118 RBI was an aberration, and his awful 2020 (.212 with 4 homers and 1 steal in 56 games — yikes, it was even worse than I remembered) would add further evidence that it indeed was. But if the D-Backs as a team can significantly improve on last year’s hitting, and they can hardly do much worse on that front, and Escobar can get in a groove and settle somewhere in between the high of 2019 and the low of 2020, he could if nothing else be a serviceable corner infielder in deeper leagues.”
Still not satisifed? Damn, you tough to please. How about this from our leader, Grey:
Escobar about to make a well-executed coup against the humidor, and dead balls. Escobar might want to enlist bag-man, Ketel Marte, I’m sure he’d take part in anything to regain his power. “First you get the power, then you get the fantasy value, then you get the women.” That’s Scarface, this guy who is in one of my mixed leagues. Not sure if Escobar can find that 35-homer power he had in 2019, because of previously mentioned hurdles, but all his peripherals appear like he could. By the way, nary a day goes by I don’t shake my head at the implausibility of MLB teams and a commissioner wanting less homers. I’d say it’s a long game being played for arbitration, but doesn’t it just drive up pitchers’ salaries instead? Also, it’s not the long game, anymore.