On Wednesday, the Kansas City Star's Andy McCullough sat down with Omar Infante and it didn't take long for the conversation to steer towards the defense of Alcides Escobar, who Infante called "the best in the American League."
Infante is dead on regarding the Royals shortstop. In 2013, Escobar ranked second in all of baseball in UZR for a shortstop. This comes just two years after ranking fourth in 2011. Unfortunately, sandwiched in between those two seasons was 2012, when the Venezuelan ranked 20th out of 21 short stops in UZR (only ahead of Derek Jeter).
My guess is that there were some positioning issues with Mike Moustakas and Escobar in 2012, which results in Mike Moustakas posting an enormous UZR the year before last. This is why I personally don't think Moustakas took a step back defensively last year anymore than Escobar rebounded from 2012. The more important issue is that while the Royals left side is stout defensively, they both need to hit in order to continue to hold down Major League jobs.
Last season, the Royals shortstop posting a wRC+ of 49. This mark was the lowest produced by a qualifying player since 2010 when Cesar Izturis hit .230/.277/.268 with the Orioles in 150 games.
Of course, former Orioles manager Dave Trembley had the sense to bat this kind of hitter at the bottom of the order and Izturis only appeared in three games hitting either 1 or 2. Ned Yost on the other hand hit Escobar in the leadoff and two spot 74 times in 2014. When you talk about lineup optimization, there might not have been a more egregious decision made repeatedly in 2014, than Yost hitting Escobar 2nd.
Fortunately for the Royals the top of the lineup should be out of Escobar's hands in 2014. This should lessen the blow if Escobar is as atrocious offensively as he was a season ago. At the same time, it would be a nice boost to the offense if somehow Escobar could get back to the .293/.331/.390 line that he posted in 2012.
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