Friday, April 29, 2016

Alcides Escobar Must Bat Lead-Off

Danville, Kentucky -- Folks, it didn't take long, but the spreadsheet gazers of the world are already questioning the wisdom of World Series Champion™  Ned Yost. Overreacting to a couple of games of lukewarm offensive production in April, folks are calling for ALCS MVP Alcides Escobar to be demoted from the lead-off spot of the batting order. The calls are growing louder and louder.

The fine folks at Baseball Prospectus KC are demanding it. Some dude from Topeka is demanding it. Even Jesse Newell, a great man and lover of Kansas Football, has criticized Mr. Escobar. But they're wrong.

It's a bigger over-reaction than the Dodd-Frank legislation passed by Congress in the aftermath of the '08 financial crisis. Like Dodd-Frank, any rash decision to displace Esky from the top of the Royals' lineup would both stymie productivity and introduce massive uncertainty.

Let's look at the likely alternatives, for starters.


Folks, I love Jarrod. The man has speed. The man has swagger. He isn't afraid to bunt, steal, and stunt on fools; an all around nasty old-school player with an attitude that's hard to come by in the age of moneyball. However, putting Dyson in the lead-off spot makes no sense. Keeping Dyson's lefty bat in the #9 spot, Esky's righty bat in the #1 spot, and lefty Moose's bat in the #2 spot gives opposing managers headaches when it comes time to make late-game relief pitching changes based on righty/lefty match-ups. That's a huge edge for the boys in blue. Moreover, Dyson is right at home in the #9 spot -- it's like having a second lead-off hitter after the 1st inning. Dyson is putting up great numbers from the #9 spot this year, and looks very comfortable. It would be unwise to move Dyson away from a role where he is currently excelling.


Putting Alex Gordon in the #1 spot would be a real Terry Francona move. Francona recently promoted DH Carlos Santana to the lead-off spot, citing his ability to get on base via plate discipline and walks. Terry Francona's team, the Indians, are currently in 3rd place. There's a reason why Ned just won a World Series while Terry is most well-known for running the Indians into the ground for several straight seasons. Folks, I know Gordon has a shinier OBP than Esky. But leadoff hitters aren't supposed to chase walks and clog the bases. The top of the lineup needs to be quick, and put the ball in play. Do the Royals win Game 1 of the 2015 World Series if Esky draws a walk instead of hitting a first-pitch inside-the-park home run? I doubt it.

I love Mr. Gordon. But he Ks too much for the lead-off spot, and the Royals need Gordon's power bat lower in the lineup, where he can drive in runs. Don't move Gordon. OBP is overrated. Give me a quick guy who can put the ball in play any day.


Folks, I'd defend Omar to the death. He's got more World Series experience than just about any player in baseball not on the San Francisco Giants. But Omar is a doubles machine. The Royals need Omar's doubles later in the batting order, to cash in base-runners and score runs.


Being a baseball player is just like any other job: a man needs certainty. I once worked on an oil rig. I loved drilling black gold, and I was damn good at it. I had great hand-eye coordination and could implement the drilling plans our petroleum engineers drew up, no matter how complicated or risky. But if you had changed my role -- taken away my job as a driller, and made me a Service Unit Operator, for instance -- I'd have failed miserably. I just don't know how to read and interpret all those thermometers, gauges, and pressure indicators, folks. A baseball team is like an oil-rig: it's a finely-tuned machine. You can't go switching key parts of a machine willy-nilly, unless you're trying to cause Deepwater Horizon 2.0. You could inadvertently destroy the entire chemistry of the Royals lineup if you take Esky out of the lead-off spot.

Alcides Escobar is an MVP, an All-Star Game starting shortstop, and a fantastic lead-off man. You'd have to have a very short memory to flirt with removing Esky from a role he thrives in.

Do these people not remember Alcides' clutch single in the 8th inning of ALDS Game 4, which kept the line moving and ultimately led to a season-saving rally?

Have the critics forgotten about Escobar's RBI single in the 3rd inning of ALCS Game 1, which ended up being the only run the Royals needed in a 5-0 victory?

What about Esky's sublime bunt single in the first inning of ALCS Game 4, setting the table for a Ben Zobrist 2-run bomb? That's prototypical lead-off man stylings, folks.

The first-pitch inside-the-park homer wasn't even Esky's finest offensive contribution in last year's World Series. Don't forget his RBI single and RBI triple in World Series Game 2. Or his RBI double -- a crucial insurance run -- in the decisive Game 5 of the 2015 World Series.

In the past two postseasons, Mr. Escobar has posted a .311 batting average, with 9 doubles, 3 triples, and 14 RBI. He's earned his spot as the lead-off hitter.

Fortunately, Ned is a man with patience. Ned knows that if Esky was good enough for the World Champion 2015 Royals, he'll be good enough for the 2016 Royals too. Just give him time. Don't mess with something that works. Batting Alcides Escobar at the top of the Royals lineup made Kansas City great. Those that want to make Kansas City great again should hope he stays there.