Even as his offensive production has declined, even as his bat has left him, Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar has retained one useful skill: He remains among the most durable players in baseball.
Escobar, in his seventh season with the Royals, made his 212th consecutive start on Friday night, tying the franchise record set by third baseman Paul Schaal in 1971 and 1972.
Schaal, who joined the Royals during their inaugural season in 1969, started every game from April 6, 1971 to June 15, 1972. Escobar is poised to surpass the mark on Saturday against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The club record for consecutive games played (as opposed to starts) is 305, set by Johnny Damon in 1998 and 1999.
“I come in here, and the first thing I say: ‘I want to play every day,’” Escobar said earlier this week. “I want to play 162 games.”
Escobar accomplished the 162-game feat in 2016 and in 2014. He played in 148 games in 2015, suffering a sprained knee in April after a hard slide from Oakland’s Brett Lawrie. Escobar averaged 157 games per season during his first six years with the Royals.
Escobar credits a simple mindset for the Iron Man results. He believes it is his job to play every day. He does not want a day off. His routine is also uncomplicated. He shows up to the park each day. He controls his weight. He spends minimal time in the weight room, but his wiry, lithe frame is well suited to take the pounding of 162 games.
“He just has a special body chemistry,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Man, he just doesn’t wear down very often. He doesn’t. He heals extremely fast. Players that would take three days (to heal), he’s back playing the next day.”
Escobar is in the lineup every day, a constant in the middle of the field, yet his overall value is still the matter of some debate. After 40 games in 2017, he entered Friday batting .184. He has a .214 on-base percentage, the worst mark in baseball among hitters qualified for the batting title. For the last two seasons, Escobar has ranked in the bottom three in baseball in Weighted Runs Created Plus, an advanced metric that measures total offensive value.
Escobar’s future with the Royals remains uncertain. He will be a free agent after the season, and while he remains a bulwark on defense in the middle of the field, his declining offensive production has limited his overall value. In 2014, Escobar compiled 3.2 wins above replacement, according to the FanGraphs version of WAR. In 2015 and 2016, that number declined to 1.4 and 0.4, respectively. In 2017, Escobar has been worth 0.2 WAR.
For now, however, he will continue to play every day. The Royals do not have a natural backup shortstop on their roster, though Whit Merrifield could handle the position for a night. Sitting inside the clubhouse on a recent afternoon, Escobar said he was prepared to play 162 games again.
“He doesn’t wear down,” Yost said.