(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)
One thing that is always worth keeping track of is playing time changes. When Jorge Polanco was suspended for 80 games Eduardo Escobar was handed the keys to the shortstop position for the Twins. Escobar has always been a very light hitting utility player. His career batting average is right around .250 and until 2017 his career high in home runs was 12. Escobar always did keep his strikeout rate around 19% and therefore wasn’t a total drain on the lineup. His ability to play pretty much anywhere in the infield has made him a fairly useful utility player.
In 2017 he was afforded more opportunity throughout the season as Miguel Sano spent some time on the Disabled List and during the final two months of the season Escobar was playing just about every day. His games played by month went 11, 19, 24, 20, 26, and 28. While this was entirely a benefit of having injuries in the lineup around him, Escobar also excelled during his increased playing time. Well, I will admit that “excelled” isn’t exactly the right word because he did have a wRC+ of 96 on the season which isn’t entirely out of line with his career standard of 87. What he did do was hit a career high in home runs, 21. As you are probably already thinking, that this bump is probably just a cause of the “juiced balls” and Escobar simply got the same power bump we’ve seen all across the league in players like Scooter Gennett and Chris Taylor. That may be the explanation here but let’s take a closer look.
Whenever I want to examine the legitimacy of a power increase the first place I always look is what we’ve all been hearing over and over: launch angle, launch angle, launch angle. Well in 2015 Eduardo Escobar’s average launch angle was 13.5 degrees. 2016 it was 15.0 degrees and in 2017 it was 17.5 degrees. That’s interesting for sure in its own right. Changed ball or not, there was a clear increase in Escobar’s launch angle and this is certainly going to result in more home runs. Exit velocity is next factor on the list to check out. In 2015 Escobar’s average exit velocity was 86.0 mph, in 2016 it was 85.3 mph, and in 2017 it was 86.4 mph. All three of those years he falls in the bottom third of hitters, therefore we know we at least have the same light-hitting bat.
While Escobar’s exit velocities are certainly prohibitive from being a 30 or more home run hitter, they might not stop him from hitting in the 20 home run range again. From a fantasy perspective, 20 home runs and a .255 average should get you into the 10-15 range at shortstop. It’s not always the easiest thing to believe it when you know the player doesn’t necessarily have the ceiling for more, but there are always endless needs for injury replacements.
xStats.org also has a few things to say about Eduardo Escobar. Value Hit % is a percentage of batted balls that have a very high likelihood of going for extra bases, batted balls with just the right launch angle, exit velocity, and direction. All the good hitters top the leaderboard in this stat such as Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Judge, and J.D. Martinez. Escobar’s season mark in 2017 was 7.0%, which is right about at the average league-wide. In September, this number jumped to 10.3%, a number only topped by 20 other hitters during that month. Escobar popped 9 home runs in September and was good for a 127 wRC+. His launch angle went all the way up to 18.6 degrees and his exit velocity remained right in his normal range at 86.1 mph. What he may have had was simply a lucky month of home runs, but we certainly can see that Escobar has realized this increase in launch angle has brought on more home runs.
So far in 2018 Escobar is hitting 5th or 6th in the lineup. It has only been 4 games so far for the Twins but Escobar has been good for 4 doubles and 1 home run already. I don’t want to get anyone too excited but I certainly have enough data to at least be intrigued. No one should expect Eduardo Escobar to go and hit 30 home runs this season or be the next big thing, but he is no longer an irrelevant bat. His impact is real in the Twins lineup and he might just be worth using as a MI in your deeper fantasy lineups.
Eduardo Escobar has always been known to be a hard worker and always ready to play wherever and whenever needed. Teammates like him and he’s always ready to take any opportunity he can get. Jorge Polanco getting popped with an 80-game suspension isn’t a good thing but it does give Escobar the first 3 months of the season to play every day and show if he can keep up the power boost. After that, who knows? My guess is if Escobar does excel then he will see the playing time stick around for him. Newly acquired Logan Morrison is going to be clogging up the DH spot all year but Escobar could theoretically steal most of Max Kepler’s time. It has been a couple years since Escobar has played much outfield but he did start 27 games in left field in 2015. Escobar can basically sub for anyone on the diamond and therefore he could make it into 5 or 6 lineups a week even after Jorge Polanco makes it back from his suspension. If Escobar can’t keep up the power boost then perhaps he goes back to being a regular old utility player, getting 15 starts a month. I don’t know what the future holds but it’s worth keeping an eye on.