On October 1 the Royals played the last game of their 2017 season. That afternoon, in the top of the fifth inning, four players walked off the field to a mixture of cheers and tears.
Since that day there has been a lot of speculation about the fate of three of those players; Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain.
The fourth player, Alcides Escobar, hasn’t gotten nearly so much attention.
What has Escobar done for the Royals lately?
If you’re thinking fans don’t care about Escobar the way they do about Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain because Escobar wasn’t as important to the Royals success, I’ve got some numbers that might change your mind.
In 2015, the year the Royals won it all, Escobar was an All-Star, won a Gold Glove and was the MVP of the American League Championship Series. In two trips to the playoffs, Escobar’s postseason batting average is .311; his postseason slugging percentage is .467.
But that was then; what’s Escobar done for the Royals lately?
In the first two months of the 2017 season Escobar hit .186 and people talked about him having a poor season; but from June 1 on, Escobar hit .283 and slugged .418.
Because his first two months were lousy, it was hard for Escobar to move the needle, so people kept talking about Escobar having a lousy season when he actually had a lousy two months; after June 1, Escobar played like an All-Star.
And Escobar played every day.
Say you’ve got two players and one puts up good numbers while the other player puts up great numbers. If the guy who puts up good numbers plays every day and the guy who puts up great numbers takes a lot of days off and spends time on the DL, the good-numbers guy might be more valuable.
And then there are the players who suddenly have a tight hamstring when they’re about to face a certain pitchers. If Dallas Keuchel gives you a hard time and he’s due to pitch for the Astros, you might want to protect your numbers by taking the day off, even though your backup hits Keuchel even worse than you do.
Since coming to Kansas City, Escobar has played all 162 games in three seasons, including 2017 and ’16, and in another three seasons Escobar played at least 155 games. Escobar’s durability meant the Royals had their best shortstop on the field more often than their opponents.
If a shortstop stays healthy, but takes one day off a week, he’ll play approximately 136 games. That means his team will go with something less than their best at short in at least 26 games. And if a shortstop gets hurt, it can be a lot more than 26 games.
Whether it was because they wanted to take days off or got hurt, here’s what some of the other American League shortstops did in 2017:
▪ New York Yankees, Didi Gregorius, 136 games
▪ Minnesota Twins, Jorge Polanco, 133 games
▪ Detroit Tigers, Jose Iglesias, 130 games
▪ Seattle Mariners, Jean Segura, 125 games
▪ Houston Astros, Carlos Correa, 109 games
▪ Oakland Athletics, Chad Pinder, 87 games
▪ Oakland Athletics, Marcus Semien, 85 games
▪ Baltimore Orioles, J.J. Hardy, 73 games
▪ Toronto Blue Jays, Troy Tulowitzki, 66 games
Over and over again Escobar got hit by a pitch or had a collision that made everybody think he would be out for a while, but over and over again Escobar bounced back up and kept playing. It happened so often his teammates started calling Escobar “The Shark” — no bones, just cartilage.
If Escobar does not return to the Royals in 2018 and Raul Mondesi gets the shortstop job, don’t be surprised if Mondesi plays a lot fewer games than Escobar. And if Mondesi isn’t on the field someone not as good as Mondesi will be.
Ask around and Escobar’s defense is still considered above average. Escobar will turn 31 this December, but as guys lose a step they can make up for that with the better positioning that should come with experience.
If Alcides Escobar does not return to the Royals in 2018 they’ll have to replace a shortstop that still provided above-average defense, hit over .280 for the last four months of the season and played every day.
If Alcides Escobar does not return to the Royals in 2018, you’re going to miss him more than you think.