The Slick Fielding Alcides Escobar
When Alcides Escobar was working his way through the Milwaukee Brewers farm system fans heard many stories of the amazing defense this guy played. One scout was even reported to have said that Escobar made one outstanding play each game. While there were questions about how his bat would translate to the big leagues, there seemed to be little question about his glove. However, halfway through his first full season in Milwaukee, it seems as though those advance reports might have been a bit oversold.
Yes, Escobar is just a rookie, and — yes — he will likely get better with experience. But when I read things like this, I just scratch my head. I have watched and/or listened to just about every game this season and, at this point, don’t see why the Brewers are so excited about Escobar’s play in the field. I don’t think he’s bad out there, but he doesn’t stand out and makes more than his share of errors–only Ian Desmond of the Nationals has more errors at SS than Escobar, who ranks 20th of 22 in Fielding Percentage.
Before I go further, let me state that I don’t buy into the school of thought that soft-pedals the issue by saying that they are “mostly throwing errors” or that they are a result off his “getting to balls that others wouldn’t.” First, throwing errors still count. In fact, they probably hurt a team more than misplaying a ball because throwing errors often result in the runner(s) taking an extra base. Part of being a plus defender is knowing when to give up on a play and put the ball in your pocket.
As for errors being dismissed because of his supposed outstanding range, the stats suggest that just isn’t the case. As of this writing, Escobar’s Zone Rating ranks 12th in the majors out of 22 shortstops that qualify for the ranking. (A side note: Craig Counsell’s Zone Rating is better than Escobar’s this year, although CC doesn’t qualify for the official MLB ranking.) Moreover, Escobar’s Range Factor isn’t much better, landing him 11th out of those 22 players.
So I am perplexed as to why the Brewers are reportedly so pleased with Escobar’s defense. I haven’t see the wizardly fielding we heard so much about while he was coming up. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be much of an improvement over JJ Hardy, whose fielding stats from last season show that he was, across the board, better than what we’ve seen from Escobar so far in 2010.
Perhaps by the end of the season I will be singing a different tune. Surely, by the end of 2011 that will be the case. For the Brewers sake, I hope so because Escobar’s offense leaves much to be desired.