The Braves' Yunel Escobar has undoubtedly had a disappointing first half. Part of the reason for this, however, is that the expectations were so high. Many people (including me) considered him to be one of the five best all-around shortstops in baseball coming into the season. While he has fallen short of those expectations so far, it would be unfair to dismiss him altogether. In fact, even in the midst of a disappointing season, Yunel has been a valuable player.â†µ
Below, I compare Yunel to the 19 other shortstops who are currently qualified for a batting title to break down what he's been good at and what he's been bad at so far in 2010.â†µ
Batting Average: BAD
Yunel's .238 mark ranks 19th of 20 shortstops. That's obviously not very good.
Plate Discipline: GOOD
Yunel has walked in 12.9% of his plate appearances, which is the best mark among all shortstops. Because of this excellent walk rate, Yunel's on-base percentage (.339) ranks 7th out of the 20 shortstops, ahead of (among others) NL All-Star Jose Reyes. He has struck out in only 12.9% of his at-bats, good for 5th-lowest of the 20 shortstops. Looking at it a different way, Escobar has swung at the fifth-fewest number of pitches outside the strike zone (21.7%) but the fifth-most pitches inside the strike zone (67.5%). That's exactly the kind of approach you'd like to see from a hitter: swing at the strikes but not at the balls.
This is where it gets ugly. Yunel has no home runs, which obviously ranks last--though two other shortstops (Elvis Andrus and Ryan Theriot) also have yet to homer. In addition, Yunel's slugging percentage of .283 is dead last among shortstops. His isolated power (which is just slugging percentage minus batting average) of .046 ranks 18th.
Though advanced defensive statistics are not particularly meaningful with only a half-season worth of data, it is worth noting that Yunel ranks 3rd in Ultimate Zone Rating (+4.4 runs). Another defensive metric, Defensive Runs Saved, ranks Yunel as the 2nd-best shortstop so far (+18 runs). These stats fit perfectly with my eyewitness observations, which tell me that, aside from a few mental mistakes, Yunel has been excellent defensively this year.
Putting all of this together, we find that while Escobar has had a rough year in some ways, he has also had an excellent season in other ways. For those who haveâ†µâ†µbeen frustrated by Escobar's struggles and occasionally petulant attitude, have patience. He could easily be one of the five best shortstops in the league during the second half of the season.