Eduardo Escobar is not going to blow anyone away, although his mini-breakout last year put his name squarely on the waiver radar and savvy owners were probably looking at him as a versatile fill-in at the MI position who could also be slotted desperately into the OF. I picked up Escobar in my deep, 28-team dynasty league a couple years ago during the Rule 5 draft, so his increasing relevance was quite a pleasant surprise.
I have not watched any Twins game this year, but just by the stats, Escobar has not performed quite the same. 2016 is still young and Escobar has amassed not quite 100 ABs (so, keep the small sample size in mind throughout this post), in part due to Eduardo Nunez’s surprising effectiveness. However, Escobar is not hitting with the quite the same authority as last year. Through 95 ABs he has yet to hit a home run, which he did at a career-high clip last year (12 in 446 at-bats). Even at a more pedestrian 2014 rate, expectations are that he would have jogged around the bases at least once by now. His slugging–only 5 XB hits this year–and WOBA are way down.
It begs the question: has something changed, or are we seeing Escobar through a small sample size lens?
Looking at batted ball statistics on Escobar’s FanGraphs page, we can see that he’s popping up more and pulling the ball much less (OPP% increased to offset). In addition, his hard speed percentage is noticeably lower, which could reflect the increase pop-ups. Exit velocity and launch angle are also slightly higher (2016 EV 84, LA 18 vs. 2015 EV 81, LA 15.5).
This is my first time really looking at exit velocity and launch angle, but I found an interesting chart in Rob Arthur’s article “The New Science of Hitting” which I’ve reproduced below. Estimating on the plot, it would seem that Escobar’s 2016 EV and LA would actually result in lower run expectations.
The more obvious change, though, is in how pitchers are attacking Escobar. Whereas in 2015 pitchers would attack the zone more, now they they are pitching on the outside corner and off the plate. The charts below only reflect RHP (Escobar is a switch hitter, so I selected the handedness against which Escobar had the most at-bats).
There is a noticeable shift in pitch location. Additionally, there is a noticeable shift in Escobar’s swing rate as well on outside pitches.
Not shown is his 2016 whiff rate on those outside pitches, but is practically non-existent. He is making contact, but it is highly likely that swinging at, and hitting, those outside pitches is having an impact on his batted ball stats (pop ups, opposite field, softer speed). His average is in line with 2015, albeit with a slightly higher BABIP, but the decrease in slugging is concerning since it will most likely result in an empty average MI with much fewer runs and RBIs.
This is my first time digging into a player this way. Constructive feedback would be awesome; particularly if I have interpreted–as little as I attempted this time–anything wrong. Or, if there are other tools that could be useful, please feel free to share.