Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Emergence Of Eddie

A year ago, the Minnesota Twins had a glaring hole in the middle of their infield. While their were some concerns as to what might happen behind the plate with Kurt Suzuki being a regression candidate, it was a shortstop that bigger answers were needed. Danny Santana was given the starting role out of spring training (a move I agreed with), and he hung onto it for far too long. Then Eduardo Escobar emerged.

Following just under 100 games of Santana accumulating errors and failing to make plays, Paul Molitor turned the role over to former utility man Eduardo Escobar. Forever tied to Francisco Liriano for the Twins, Escobar was more than ready for the main stage.

In 2014, Escobar played 98 games at shortstop before going into 2015 spring training as the underdog. A year ago, he ended up starting 71 games at short, and has erased any doubt that he belongs there in the year ahead. Behind a strong offensive output, Escobar gave the Twins production they had not been capable of since J.J. Hardy owned the position.

During his 2015 campaign, Escobar slashed .262/.309/.405 on the season. He followed up his 35 doubles in 2014 with 31 last year, and set a new career high with 12 homers (doubling his previous best). His 58 runs batted in and 28 walks were also new high water marks. There were a few hot stretches that bolstered the Venezuelan's overall numbers, but it was consistency that got him through the year.

With his glove, Escobar may have made even bigger strides. In over 700 innings during the 2014 campaign, Eduardo was worth -6 DRS (defensive runs saved). He improved that number to a positive 2 mark in over 600 innings during 2015. Escobar also set a new career best UZR improving from 21 in 2014 to 2.6 a season ago.

There's some reason to believe that things keep happening for the Twins shortstop as well. His .301 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was down more than 30 points from where it was a year ago. His 13 point average dip from last year took the brunt of that difference. It's somewhat of a curious change as his hard hit rate stayed relatively the same a season ago (28.5% as opposed to 29.2% in 2014). Arguably, the biggest deficiency Escobar saw in his contact was a near 5% dip in line drives. With that number falling, it's easy to see why the average followed suit.

I have some concern that Escobar sudden power jolt may not be consistent. He'd never hit more than six homers in a season previously, and his home run to fly ball ratio pushed 10 last season, again nearly doubling the 2014 mark. Having hit just over 38% of batted balls in the air, Escobar could face some regression in the upcoming season. It was a 4% jump over his 2014 mark, and a new career high.

At the end of the day though, Escobar took the main stage and ran away with the starting role. The Twins needed someone to step up and hold down the role for the immediate future. Despite Engelb Vielma being a defensive wizard, and Nick Gordon being the presumed future, along with the signing of Wander Javier, Minnesota needed an answer now. Escobar provided them that and should continue to do so in the years ahead.

The way in which Francisco Liriano left Minnesota was less than ideal, but the return he provided continues to pay dividends.

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