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July 14, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Shortstop Swap: Fantasy Impact

by Craig Brown

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Just before we kick off the second half of the fantasy season, the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays shake things up by dealing their starting shortstops.

Those of you in NL-only leagues with Yunel Escobar on your roster are probably breathing a sigh of relief as he’s been one of the biggest fantasy busts of the season.  After posting a .291 TAv in ’09 while scoring 89 runs for the Braves, Escobar has nosedived to a .240 TAv in 2010 with just 28 runs in roughly half the plate appearances.  

It’s difficult to pinpoint the root of Escobar’s offensive woes from a statistical standpoint.  His contact rate is static and he’s putting the same percentage of balls in play.  His BABIP is down, (he has a .270 BABIP, off from last year's .314 BABIP) which is certainly a large part of his lower batting average, but it certainly doesn’t fully explain how he lost almost 65 points off his average from a year ago.

Given his “normal” contact rates, perhaps the problem is the type of contact he’s making.  However, Escobar has always been primarily a ground ball hitter, and that remains unchanged.  He’s putting the ball on the ground roughly 51% of the time - right in line with his career rate of 54% and slightly higher than last year's 50% ground ball rate.  

With all those ground balls, and persistent questions about his attitude, perhaps Escobar is not running out his worm-burners like he has in the past.  A quick check reveals Escobar is batting .207 on ground balls this season.  Maybe we’re onto something… Except he hit .193 on grounders last year.  (For his career, he hits .241 when the ball is on the ground.)  

None of that explains his power outage.  After clubbing 14 home runs last year, he’s yet to leave the yard this season.  Accordingly, his ISO has tumbled from a career best .146 to his current .046.  In the past, (we have to refer to Escobar’s power in the past tense) his power came from pulling the ball to left-center.  He hit a few opposite field home runs, but most of the time when he went to right or right-center, he just made loud outs.  Overall, this season has just been a disaster.

As referenced above, there’s been some talk about Escobar’s attitude.  Or rather, his apparent lack of effort.  For Escobar, his trade could be one of those classic “change of environment” deals that ultimately benefits the player.  His past performance and current potential certainly make him worth a play in an AL-only league, where shortstop is a particularly thin position this year.  There are plenty of question marks about Escobar, but right now, in a standard AL-only league, there are only four or five shortstops I’d start ahead of him.  

Plus, the shortstop position in the AL just got thinner with the departure of Alex Gonzalez to Atlanta.  Gonzalez led AL shortstops with 17 HR and 50 RBI and will undoubtedly be missed by those unfortunate owners in AL-only leagues.  His .274 TAv in the first half ranks him only behind Cliff Pennington among shortstops in the junior circuit while his 4.8 WARP leads the league at his position.

Gonzalez puts gobs of balls in the air, as you would expect from someone who is hitting with so much power.  As such, his average will always remain on the low side.  His career BABIP is .283, which is fairly close to his current .274 BABIP.  While his current .259 BA sounds low, put in perspective of his position, he’s right in the middle of the pack.

With Gonzalez, it's all about the power.  However, it should be noted, according to Hit Tracker, Gonzalez leads the AL in the category of "Just Enough" for a home run, with 10 of his round trippers falling into this classification.  And six of those came in Toronto..  He'll be moving to a park in Atlanta where some of those "just enoughs" could become long outs.  Still, his splits this year (a .239 ISO at home compared to a .237 ISO on the road) suggest he'll still provide enough power going forward.
 

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

Related Content:  Yunel Escobar

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Premium Article All-Star Game Preview:... (07/13)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (07/13)
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